Industry to help set new course for greener chemicals

7 May 2021

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has joined with industry partners to clean up chemicals used in consumer products.

The new Sustainability Task Force aims to make polymers in liquid form (PLF) — used in millions of everyday products — more sustainable.

PFLs are found in millions of consumer and industrial products — from paints to shampoos and detergents. RSC estimates that 36 billion tonnes of these materials, enough to fill 14,500 Olympic sized swimming pools or Wembley stadium 32 times over, are made and sold each year.

Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, says PLFs haven’t previously received much attention because they are ingredients rather than products.

“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.”

The RSC points out that more than 36.25 million tonnes of PFLs are recovered after use worldwide each year but accepts many are hard to recycle, and only a small proportion of the materials can be re-circulated.

Welton says there are technical challenges in creating sustainable alternatives but argues that “overcoming these challenges would offer colossal sustainability benefits”.

Some of the world’s largest players have joined the RSC taskforce in tackle this issue, including Unilever, Afton Chemicals, Scott Bader, and Crown Paints. Jason Harcup, Unilever’s Global Vice President for Research and Development, said his company is “delighted to join the task force and be part of the solution.

“By bringing together the latest material science and technology, we can create new innovations that further improve ingredients and formulations used in everyday products for the benefit of people and the planet.”

The taskforce aims to explore various bio-based and biodegradable alternatives to fossil-based PLFs, and will research new ways to recycle and reuse existing fossil-based PLFs.

Further information about the taskforce and its work can be found here.