Every Jigsaw Piece Counts

Written by: Ralph Schneider

The international community is striving for a global treaty to stop plastic pollution, with the next round of negotiations being imminent. In the end, it takes bigger and smaller elements to put together a global jigsaw puzzle – with the help from all of us.

20230523_Ralph-Schneider_3Next week, I will be in Paris. One of the most fascinating and beautiful cities I know. But this time I’m there to observe a five-day international conference that hopefully paves the way to the sustainable future so many of us are dreaming of. Under the auspices of the United Nations, representatives from many countries convene in the French capital to tackle one of our most pressing environmental issues: plastic pollution. Just imagine: about 22% of all plastic waste is not disposed of adequately. A significant part leaks into the environment including oceans each year.

I must admit that as an employee of a manufacturer of high performance polymers I’m feeling that I have to contribute and do my share to change something about this. However, I see no silver bullet solution to solve the extremely complex challenge sustainably. It’s not one single technology, one future material or one policy that could do wonders. In fact, we have to work on a giant global jigsaw puzzle with an incredible amount of distinct pieces, bigger ones and smaller ones. The most important thing is that they fit together.   

As for the bigger pieces, I’m proud and confident to work with Covestro. This is because we are fully embracing circular economy and helping to make it a global guiding principle. If we succeed to keep more and more used plastics in the loop, we have a real chance to stop plastics from ending up in the environment.

For me as a trained engineer and designer, product and service design can create high and lasting user satisfaction in a product while enabling a minimal lifecycle footprint, which also includes the intensive use of circular materials. To further reduce product waste, repairability, recyclability and take-back service can be integrated, as my colleagues in Covestro’s innovation venture NIAGA® do. They offer closed loop solutions for mattresses, carpets and furniture panels.

When products eventually reach the end of their life, industry can do its part by turning waste into a resource for materials, thereby preventing it from ending up in landfills or even the environment. We do this via more than 20 innovation projects in which we develop or improve mechanical and chemical recycling processes, including sourcing, testing and implementing recycled plastics into new products for our customers. One example is CIRCULAR FOAM, an EU project comprising 22 partners from nine countries to research circular solutions for polyurethane insulation foam.

But there are also those smaller pieces that are needed as well to complete the global jigsaw puzzle. Take clean-ups: a simple tool to not only make locations cleaner, but to gain local qualitative insights while strengthening and motivating communities. It is great to see many of my colleagues participate in litter clean-ups in Covestro neighbourhoods across the globe.

I’m also excited about another simple, but very effective jigsaw piece: colleagues in Taiwan offer a storytelling picture book and an interactive app called ‘Brighter Minds for a Brighter World’ to children with and without visual impairments, addressing a sustainable consumption while encouraging proper behaviour around littering. Last year they even invited them to tell their own stories in a contest to positively impact their peers.

So the onus is on everyone: multinational corporations as well small businesses, national governments as well as local authorities, experts as well as normal citizens.

If we work together, locally and globally, we can end plastic pollution by building a true circular economy. By taking steps, sometimes big and sometimes small, we can all do our bit to reduce waste, save resources and close the loop of plastic products.

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