Polymateria: is this a magic bullet for our consumption crisis?
As Christmas approaches, and we all start to spend more time inside hiding from cold dark nights, it’s a welcome invitation to reflect on all that we’ve learnt in, what has arguably been, the longest year ever. It also provides us with the opportunity to start hoping and dreaming of what next year holds.
Of course, whilst the whole pandemic has taken centre stage this year (don’t worry, this isn't a topic I intend to dwell on), it’s fundamentally important to start thinking about the impact that it has had on our beloved planet. Whilst back in March there was some positive news of clear water in the Venice canals, and blue skies from the lack of aviation pollution, do you remember the last time you were able to walk down a street without seeing a discarded disposable mask? No? Me neither.
Whilst we can all take small steps to minimise our waste in this regard by reusing cotton masks, I think what this year has taught us is that plastic is something fundamentally vital in our everyday society. Plastic bottles of hand sanitiser have become commonplace, single-use coffee cups have sadly become the new norm and in some situations, disposable masks are preferable to their cotton counterparts. Like it or not, plastic is integral to our day-to-day lives, and with every passing day, it becomes increasingly woven into our society. This is because- despite its drawbacks- it is a highly effective, strong and cheap solution to the variety of problems we face in our culture today. So, as much as we should try to reduce our consumption, plastic usage is sadly inevitable.
This is where I want to talk and introduce a new development in the environmental science world, which promises to take our consumeristic world by storm.
Led by Niall Dunne, Polymateria is a British company which acknowledges the benefits that plastic has on our society whilst simultaneously aiming to eradicate the fugitive plastic and litter that has become such a common sight on our streets, fields and waterways. They describe wanting to add a fourth component into the standard ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’- ‘redesign’.
By using Polymateria’s special technology, plastic
manufacturing companies can ‘drop-in’ a pellet of the Polymateria patented additive, a formula containing two types of chemicals known as catalysts and cocatalysts. After a period of time chosen by the manufacturer- ranging from a few months to a few years depending on the product- the dormancy period for these two elements end and the plastic starts to break down into a wax-like, greasy substance of biomass.
"On a range of the most-littered forms of packaging – polyethylene and polypropylene – independent third-party laboratory testing showed 100% biodegradation on a rigid plastic container in 336 days and film material in 266 days. The process needed no industrial composting facilities and left zero microplastics behind, nor did it cause any environmental harm in the process." Polymateria, 2020
However, Polymateria is keen to emphasise that the three Rs are our first port of call and that we should always try to recycle the plastic before allowing it to decompose naturally.
This means that soon our plastics could have a very clear ‘recycle by’ date imprinted on them- a revolution in our everyday consumption of plastic.
So how soon will this be implemented into our everyday lives? This is already incredibly exciting as speciality chemical firm Clariant has already signed a deal focusing on the plastic waste created in South East Asia- an area contributing an estimated 32% of plastic pollution which ends up fugitive in our society. In addition, according to the Sunday Times, sportswear giant Puma has also entered into an agreement to tackle the waste produced from their packaging and plastic bags. So, as we start thinking about what the world will do for us next year, British scientists are thinking about what we can do (or what we can decompose) for our world.
*Whilst this article offers a brief insight into this revolutionary company, I highly recommend you check out their website here as it gives a fascinating insight into their product development and answers several commonly asked questions about the technology used.