Veolia Institute Conference: 'We must all play a role in reinventing plastic'

Following the publication of its FACTS Report review, the Veolia Institute organised a conference-debate on 'Reinventing plastics' on 21 March at the Group's head office in Aubervilliers. Four guest speakers were invited: Eric Brac de la Perrière, founder of Yoyo; Jean-Marie Julien, Packaging Expertise Material Strategy Manager for L'Oréal; Maria Luiza Pedrotti, researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and at the Villefranche-Sur-Mer Oceanographic Laboratory; and Laurent Auguste, Veolia's Senior Executive Vice President, Development, Innovation, and Markets . The debate was moderated by Dinah Louda, Executive Director of the Veolia Institute.

Soft, durable, lightweight, waterproof, and cheap: plastic makes life easier. However, all the plastic found in the wild degrades natural ecosystems. This is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons, where individuals acting in their self-interest collectively degrade the value of a shared resource. 
Although plastic pollution results from our individual behaviours, we must all play our part in deplastifying the world. We must completely reinvent the plastics value chain, innovating right from the design of objects up to the management of their end of life, to bring about a circular plastics economy.

Making the transition from a throwaway society to a resource-efficient society

Maria Luiza Pedrotti (CNRS) recalled the findings of the Tara Expeditions Foundation exploration in 2014. 100 % of the Mediterranean Sea is polluted by plastic, and microplastics are colonised by bacteria, with detrimental effects on marine biota: 'a plastic bottle thrown on the ground quickly ends up in the ocean. It travels up the food chain and impacts human health because microplastics can become a vehicle for spreading bacteria.' 

Jean-Marie Julien presented L'Oréal's commitments and solutions for more sustainable plastic packaging, such as eco-design, integration of recycled plastics, and bio-plastics, and said that 'L'Oréal will use 40 % of recycled PET by 2020 and is aiming for 100 % recycling by 2025 and "zero fossil fuel" by 2050'.

Laurent Auguste stressed that 'for the last two years, unprecedented mobilisation of industry and brands has accompanied consumer awareness. The circular plastics economy encourages all value chain stakeholders to work together to find recycling solutions on a global scale. By giving more value to recycled plastic, it makes it easier to pay those who collect plastics in developing countries to make this economy more inclusive.' He recalled the January 2019 launch of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and the some thirty multi-national members which have pledged $1 billion over the next five years - with the goal of $1.5 billion - to deploy plastic waste reduction and management solutions and promote plastics recycling. 

Eric Brac de la Perrière presented the collaborative platform Yoyo which rewards people who sort their plastic bottles for recycling more and better. 'The 20 000 families, who are members of Yoyo and who recycle 100 % of their plastic bottles, receive rewards for their good sorting practices, such as cinema tickets, driving lessons, and sporting events.'

The contributions of the Veolia Institute's FACTS Report review on Reinventing plastics.

Excerpts from the various insights into uses and the future of plastics showcased in the review.

  • In India, Kabadiwalla Connect uses a technology platform to reduce landfill waste through the informal ecosystem of urban waste recyclers. The start-up helps communities recover post-consumer waste in an efficient and inclusive way.
  • To help solve the problem of plastic pollution, the WWF created two platforms: Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance and Cascading Materials Vision, to help assess supply chain risks and promote the use of secondary materials.
  • Nicolas Grégoire and Igor Chauvelot presented Danone's new commitments and actions to ensure the circularity of its packaging and accelerate the transition to a 100 % circular packaging economy worldwide by 2025.
  • Toni Gallone and Agathe Zeni-Guido of Renault recalled that European car manufacturers use a million tonnes of plastic every year and that the regeneration of automotive plastics, especially polypropylene, meets regulatory end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recovery objectives. The increased polypropylene recovery yield is already supplying the 52 000 tonnes of recycled plastic used by the Renault Group every year.
  • For André Abreu (Tara Expeditions Foundation) and Maria Luiza Pedrotti (CNRS), plastic fragments are ingested by organisms in the marine ecosystem, and, by absorbing harmful hydrophobic pollutants, they enter these contaminants into the food chain.
  • Based on the observation that 50 % of marine plastic waste comes from five countries (China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand), the project STOP, launched in Indonesia, aims for 'zero leakage' into the environment through resource efficiency and plastic recycling while, at the same time, bringing benefits to local communities. Only 45 to 60 % of solid urban waste is currently collected in Indonesian cities. This project, aimed at bringing together the various stakeholders in the area, accelerates the transition towards a plastic waste-free environment.
  • Plastic Bank fights the plastic pollution in the oceans by enabling the exchange of plastic waste for money, goods, or blockchain-secured digital tokens making this material too precious to be thrown away.
  • Carola Guyot Phung, researcher, i3-CRG laboratory, École Polytechnique, recalled that Europe’s plastics industry employs 1.5 million people and its 60 000 businesses generate revenues of €350 billion.  Human-robot collaboration and blockchain allow businesses to develop recycling.

Figures on plastics

9 billion tonnes of plastic accumulated since 1950.
Only 9 % of plastic is recycled.
150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans.
95 % of plastic packaging is discarded after use.
335 million tonnes produced in 2016 and 1 100 million tonnes expected to be produced in 2050 if nothing changes.
1 tonne of plastics recycled saves 5 barrels of crude oil.
A plastic bottle takes 450 years to decompose in the wild.
Plastics industry: 1.5 million jobs in Europe and 27.5 billion euros contributed to public finances.