The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and movement restrictions to stop its spread disrupted all manufacturing operations, including those deemed essential services. On top of all these barriers, weather changes that caused natural disasters across the globe hampered the entire oil and natural gas supply chain. Naturally, this hit the plastics manufacturing plans in various countries hard.
While these factors drastically reduced the production of plastic products worldwide, there has been an unprecedented surge in demand for plastic products. The need for PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), food packaging, computer accessories (due to remote work and online education), and automobile components have grown tremendously in the past year and a half. As a result, the imbalance in the supply and demand chain has increased the prices of plastic products and a severe plastic shortage.
The Future of Plastic
Because of the plastic shortage we’re facing, many companies have started using recycled plastic for manufacturing parts of their products as an alternative. For instance, Dell has set a goal of using recycled materials for more than half of product content and 100 percent recycled or renewable packaging materials by 2030. Acer and Lenovo also boast about the use of recycled plastic in their products. We can expect more companies to follow suit.
You may wonder why industries don’t already use recycled plastic extensively instead of virgin plastic; the main reason is its higher price than that of virgin plastic. But, considering the environmental impact, recycled plastic is a better option than virgin plastic.
As the price of virgin plastic increases due to the factors above and the cost of recycled plastic is always higher, companies urgently need cost-effective alternatives. Though there are alternatives to plastic like steel, glass, paper, wood, fiber cloth, etc., they are either not durable or not cost-effective. Besides, it would be like comparing apples to oranges. Plastic has advantages that are missing in these alternatives.
Catalysts to Propel The Plastic Feedstock Production
Research is underway to identify new chemical catalysts that enable the faster production of feedstock, i.e., raw plastic materials. A noteworthy point is the development of a new chemical catalyst at the University of Michigan, which claims to produce propylene, a feedstock for polypropylene plastic, efficiently. The chemical catalyst is expected to be at least ten times more efficient than current commercial catalysts.
Though this new catalyst is a ray of hope for the raw plastic shortage, it would need a considerable investment to create the catalyst on a large scale. Besides, considering it’s in the research stage, this catalyst is still far from commercial use.
Catalysts such as these hold the possibility of sustaining the world’s propylene supplies. However, it isn’t happening anytime soon, and it’s not practical to wait for this solution.
So, here is another pragmatic solution for companies to implement right away.
The Sustainable and Economical Solution
The best solution for this critical issue of the plastic shortage is for manufacturers to create new plastic parts from their plastic waste to decrease the price substantially. This solution may sound sophisticated, but it is feasible.
Products are readily available to pursue this approach. For example, a plastic shredder can shred plastic waste down in size; the regrinds can be used in 3D printing or injection molding applications. Then, you can use a plastic dryer to remove excess moisture from the shredded plastic; this is a crucial step to ensure that the shredded plastic performs at its best.
Finally, filament makers turn the shredded plastic into filament, ready for 3D printing applications. Alternatively, you can use shredded plastic as the raw material for manufacturing your plastic products.
Whether you procure raw or recycled plastic, this solution removes such dependency on other companies and makes your company more autonomous.
It is high time that all companies embrace this change and start creating new plastic parts from their waste, not only from a sustainability standpoint but also to become more independent and increase their bottom line.
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