How Engineers and Product Designers Can Help Keep Plastic Out of the Ocean

The plastics waste crisis isn't getting any better. Engineers can help by changing how they design plastic products.

The plastics waste crisis isn't getting better. Last spring, we reported that in 2025 fish in the ocean will outweigh plastic by only three to one, and by 2050 plastic will outweigh fish entirely if something doesn't change. Since then, studies have found microplastics ingested by deep-sea animals at 6,000 feet below sea level, microbeads in seafood we're eating, and over 700,000 microscopic plastic fibers released with a single load of clothes washed.  

Plasticity Forum, plastics, pollution, recycling

Willem De Vos, CEO of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), spoke at the sixth international Plasticity Forum, "Designing for the Future - Plastic and the Circular Economy," in London. The event brought together product designers, plastics experts, and recycling professionals to discuss the future of plastic sustainability. (Source: Plasticity Forum)

So what can engineers do about this? How about reducing plastic waste by changing the way they design plastic products? That was the question addressed by speakers at the sixth international Plasticity Forum , "Designing for the Future - Plastic and the Circular Economy," held in London recently. The event brought together product designers, plastics experts, and recycling professionals to discuss the future of plastic sustainability, against the background fact that less than 15% of all plastic that's ever produced is recycled.

he Plasticity Forum organization takes the view that plastics pollution may be a major problem and a major challenge, but it also represents an opportunity to come up with new solutions for product design that can be used across many different industries, as well as new, more eco-friendly materials. The events aim to bridge the gap between the design community and experts working with plastics, recycling, and sustainable practices that lead to waste reduction. They foster discussion about where opportunities can be created to reduce waste, recycle content, recover resources, and create jobs.

For example, France recently banned the sale of disposable, single-use plastic cups and plates starting in 2020, unless they are made of 50% biologically sourced materials that can be composted in a home composting unit. That's going to require a lot of new materials, and maybe a lot more composting units. The action followed a country-wide ban in July on single-use plastic bags, which the French government estimates at 17 billion per year. That's also a lot of material that either needs to be created, or made in larger quantities. These bans, says Plasticity in a press release, recognize the problems caused by plastic pollution.

A big part of the solution can be product designers. They are "one of the missing links to solving some of the complex solutions related to materials, designing for recycling, and societal process flow in terms of resource recovery," says Plasticity. "Those who know the issues will be better able to drive expansion of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the brands and clients they work for should be striving to meet."

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Jerald Cogswell's picture
Thank you Ann for this article. Clean technology can create a lot of jobs. So maybe it costs more to produce clean plastic goods but that's only measuring it in dollars or francs or yen or whatever. Maybe it costs a little more for clean energy. Europe and Japan and China recognize that there are social costs and generational legacy costs if we do not pay this hidden tax up front. Pay now or pay later with your childrens' distress.

Sadly, in an economy that is left to its own (aka government regulation is bad) cost is the only driving factor. If it looks bad on a balance sheet today it will not happen.

Yes, definitely the plastic recycling crisis isn't getting better; therefore, here in this article, we have found that engineers are looking for ultimate solutions. Through recycling, we can utilize the waste and unused products and helps to protect the environment. Therefore in this article, we can get some quick instructions about plastic recycling. We just hope a better world in near future with these concepts. Thanks for such wonderful instructions.

Jerald Cogswell's picture
With the old Design News interface we used to be able to save articles and quickly access them later by going to our Profile >> Saved by [username]. Has this feature gone away?

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