The special show “Plastics shape the future” at the Düsseldorf Exhibition Centre is very popular these days: a varied and thematically focused programme ensures that both trade visitors and interested laymen, numerous media representatives and important stakeholders of civil society find their way to Hall 6. The opening already saw committed statements from the trade fair, the K President and the Chairman of PlasticsEurope Germany in the direction of a commitment to more efficient circular management. On the theme day Saturday, the focus was on marine litter: Is the action of industry and politics sufficient to effectively tackle the problem of (plastic) waste in the sea? What measures and initiatives are needed to reduce the discharges of waste into the environment?
Such and similar questions were addressed by experts from politics, science, industry and non-governmental organisations. In a number of presentations, they will examine the causes of increasing marine pollution and possible solutions from their respective perspectives. Irrespective of whether Dr.-Saskia Ziemann from the BMBF research focus “Plastics in the Environment”, Susanne Dorasil as head of department in the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dorothea Wiplinger as representative of the plastics industry of Borealis or Michael Schmidt from the NGO Ozeankind e.V.: “It became clear everywhere that it can only work together to sensitise people for a better way of dealing with waste, to promote the recycling of plastic waste and to consider in parts where plastics make sense and where they might not.
A panel discussion led by Prof. Christian Bonten from the University of Stuttgart later in the day focused on the causes of marine litter. Maria Ciliberti, Borealis, Dr.-Ing. Christoph Epping, Ministry of the Environment, Sarah Marshall, Alliance to End Plastic Waste and NOVA Chemicals as well as Willemijn Peeters, CEO Searious Business discussed the causes. Help with the correct handling of waste, especially for countries where there is still a lot of catching up to do, was an important starting point for all participants in the round. The fact is that around 80 to 90 percent of waste is discharged into the oceans by ten major rivers in Asia and Africa alone. Domestic and industrial waste reaches the oceans via rivers and is distributed by currents and wind. The discussion participants agreed that priority should be given to measures to solve the global problem for the marine environment. The lack of awareness of many citizens about the consequences of marine litter was also discussed. With the help of regional action plans and case studies involving a wide range of stakeholders, the German government is working to identify gaps in the material cycle and prevent further marine discharges. With the STOP initiative, the plastics producer Borealis is trying to sensitize people, especially in threshold and developing countries, to a more careful handling of waste. Collecting, sorting and recycling waste in an orderly manner – such steps should keep beaches clean and increasingly return plastics to raw material cycles. Something that is also supported by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which explicitly invited at the K to join the initiative and get involved. But also in Europe it is important to make more out of plastic waste: Zero landfill, more support for efficient recycling plants, a clear regulation that will be enforced throughout Europe would be important further steps here. Fun fact by the way: plastics made from recycled material make a significant contribution to climate protection, because every kilogram of plastic that the consumer puts in the yellow sack instead of the residual waste saves 1.3 kg of carbon dioxide emissions.
Conclusion of the discussion: Since the protection of the marine environment is a global problem, international cooperation and research projects are necessary and individual solutions for the respective situation in the country are needed. K 2019 shows that the plastics industry is already well on the way to transforming materials that still end up in the sea today as waste into high-quality secondary raw materials in the future.