LONDON — Some of the world’s largest companies are uniting to find ways to make a group of key ingredients — worth approximately $125 billion to the global economy — more sustainable and more valuable. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is bringing industry together to plan a strategy to make better use of unrecovered polymers in liquid formulations (PLFs).
Polymers in liquid formulations (PLFs) have a number of practical uses and are found in millions of products from paints, adhesives and sealants to fertilizers, lubricants and cosmetics. They are also used in water treatment, inks production and even household cleaning products such as washing detergent. There are very few ways to recycle PLFs; more than 36.25 million tonnes are not recovered after use every year – enough to fill 14,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools or Wembley Stadium 32 times. Now, the Royal Society of Chemistry is convening an industry task force to plan a way to tackle this poorly known waste stream and drive innovation to tackle the issue, improve waste management and introduce a circular PLF economy. Scott Bader, Crown Paints, Unilever, Croda and Afton Chemical are among the first to join task force and commit to improving the sustainability of PLFs.
Kathryn Tormay, Group Leader Wallpaints Research and Development at Crown Paints, said, “We have always known that post-consumer waste is an industry issue which is why we have many initiatives to take back and reuse paint were possible. However, we can go further which is why we have taken the opportunity to join the PLF task force. We believe by collaborating across industries we can tackle the key challenges set out by the RSC and be at the forefront of innovations and solutions to an industry wide issue.”
Mark Cooper, Group Chief Technology Officer at Scott Bader, added, “Polymers have a critical role to play in solving future challenges across society and we welcome this initiative to drive collaborative industry action to improve the sustainability of PLFs, enabling a more sustainable future for all."
Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said, “PLFs haven’t had enough attention over the years because they are ingredients rather than products. It is their flexibility and usefulness that makes them so prevalent — and therefore implementing a circular economy for these products presents several technical challenges.
“Currently, these valuable chemicals are produced in huge quantities, used, and then never recovered. We simply must develop new technologies and apply circular economy principles to collect them, reuse them as new products and raw materials, and offer further bio-based and biodegradable alternatives.
“There are technical challenges in creating sustainable alternatives, but overcoming these challenges would offer colossal sustainability benefits, which is why we are forming this task force. With some of the world’s largest players in this sector joining us tackle this issue, we have a fantastic opportunity to make real and lasting change. But these are just first steps – solutions will only come through the concerted action of academia, industry and civil society.”
PLFs are incredibly useful and because of this, the market is technically diverse and complex. It comprises hundreds of different polymer types within the categories of acrylic, epoxy resins, polyesters, polysilicones, polyurethanes, radiation curable, vinyl, and water-soluble and other low-volume polymers. Because of their usually high molecular weight, polymers are generally considered as being of low environmental concern in terms of toxicity. They are currently exempted from registration and evaluation within REACH, but the European Commission is currently reviewing this exemption.
Driven by the RSC’s new report, Polymers in Liquid Formulations: opportunities for a sustainable future, the task force will map out a sustainable future for PLFs and establish clear industry leadership regardless of regulatory drivers. It forms part of the RSC’s Synergy program to unite businesses around complex, chemistry-based challenges affecting multiple industries and supply chains.
The task force will convene this year to launch a plan for action in 2022, initially focusing on five key areas:
- Establishing new innovation networks that promote collaboration between academia, industry and policy;
- Identifying and championing key research themes and priorities that will support researchers and businesses to tackle PLF innovation challenges;
- Exploring the emerging need for a consistent approach to PLF biodegradability and stability testing;
- Investigating opportunities for chemistry-based innovations in developing circular economy solutions in key markets such as paints, adhesives and sealants; and
- Engaging with key stakeholders to ensure that a science- and evidence-based approach is used to develop future policy for PLFs.
Cross-sector sustainability initiatives driven by academic communities, SMEs, policymakers and funders will also play a vital role in accelerating and de-risking the innovation needed to reduce reliance on fossil-derived feedstocks, reduce waste generation, and maximize the value of PLFs in liquid and curable formulation systems.
Damian Kelly, Vice President Technology and Innovation at Croda, said, “‘Croda is committed to sustainability and the PLF Task Force is an excellent opportunity to bring industry together to set a sustainable course for thousands of polymers, with the RSC’s priorities providing a framework to drive collaborative leadership and innovation in this field. Croda is an active member of the RSC and we are excited to be part of this Task Force, as we believe our continued success and positive impact on the world is driven by the strength of our relationships, with sustainability at the heart of what we do.”
To read the report and sign up for updates on the task force, visit www.rsc.li/PLFs.