Switzerland – Disruption of global supply chains and lockdowns revealed renewables as a better alternative to fossil fuels and accelerated the transition to a circular economy. According to World Economic Forum chairman Mikhail Karisalov in the coming years we will likely witness substantial changes in technological patterns globally. But as reliance on oil and gas is set to decline, other industries, such as petrochemicals, will increase their economic footprint.
The transition to a green economy will impact the global petrochemicals industry. The market will continue growing while emerging economies will witness a rise in the number of petrochemical companies. Simultaneously, there are increasing concerns about the reliance on plastic and its environmental impact.
Today it is evident that we need a systems-level approach from companies and governments worldwide to address plastic and protect our environment. Last year there was shared anticipation about the eventual decrease of plastic consumption, but the pandemic resulted in a resurgence. The material turned out to be sanitary and effective in protecting against the transmission of COVID-19, and its use in healthcare and related services has been hitting new highs.
Existing limitations on waste services consistently raise pollution concerns. Disrupted waste management and recycling sector will take time to recover. We will not be able to handle massive volumes of post-pandemic plastic correctly and on time. We need more complex recycling practices and policies promoting responsible waste management that rely on extensive networks of transnational ties.
It should be clear to everyone that environmental policies must emerge as a universal action plan. We need to put in place the infrastructure and robust regulatory incentives to boost recycling. Today, less than 10% of all plastics are recycled. Corporations and governments should take a stronger stance on this issue.
Actions against plastic pollution should be combined with more effective handling of the petrochemicals industry. Like any other industry operating amid the disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the challenges posed by climate change, major petrochemical players should strictly commit to environmental, social and corporate governance policies.
Given the growing importance of the industry, countries and corporations worldwide should make coordinated efforts to shape a comprehensive legal framework and introduce improved regulatory incentives.
The petrochemicals industry has the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. From 1990 to 2016, the European chemicals industry cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 60.5% while increasing its production by 85%. Chemical sector emissions of CO2 are set to decline by 45% by 2050 under a ‘clean technology scenario’, while demand for basic chemicals is anticipated to grow by 40%.
Companies should take more proactive steps and endorse responsible consumption and boost investments into research and development to help create new long-term and sustainable solutions.
Regulation should encourage the production of polymers with improved recyclable qualities that would make it easier to put used plastics back into our economy and invest in cutting the industry’s carbon footprint. The use of clean technologies includes technologies for capturing, using and storing carbon, switching to gas fuels, improving energy efficiency, recycling plastic and using alternative raw materials.
The development of effective measures against plastic pollution and the introduction of stronger regulatory incentives for the petrochemicals industry is a complex process that requires a systems-level approach on a global scale. Sustainability, circular economy and a zero emissions target will only be achieved by prioritizing our actions and policies together for the most significant long-term environmental good.