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Plastic Additives in a safe and sustainable circular economy

Over the last 20 years, global plastics consumption more than doubled and with business as usual, plastics production will grow by a factor of 3.6 until 2050. Over the last couple of years, “the plastics discussion” gained tremendous momentum: as downsides of plastics usage came to the fore, industry has started committing to ambitious goals – e.g. 100% of packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 – and the EU has enacted comprehensive legislation on plastics, among them the single use plastics ban. The discussion has focused on plastics packaging, but new concerns are arising: For example, plastic additives. 

Plastic additives are widely used to contribute to the versatile applicability of plastics, and their functions are imperative to enable plastics usage in applications critical to safeguard uncontested societal objectives (recycling, renewable energy, CO2 reduction). However, additives are subject to increasing scrutiny, as certain groups, e.g., brominated flame retardants, show adverse effects on human health and the environment. This discussion offers both opportunities and challenges for the usage of additives within a circular economy. Sparked by discussions with the chemical industry, we identified the need to describe the role of plastic additives for a safe and sustainable circular economy in a fact-based and neutral manner.

Thus, we started this project with the goal to identify and classify challenges and opportunities related to chemical substances and particularly plastic additives at the recycling and reuse stage. We aim to achieve the goal through an explorative and iterative research approach combining literature research with expert interviews and discussions at stakeholder events. The results, which constitute a scientific publication, shall provide a framework that allows the classification of additive-related effects and impacts in a safe and sustainable circular economy. This framework can be used as guidance for prioritizing future actions by industry, policymakers, and research.

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