Designing Sustainable Plastics to Reduce Ocean Environmental Impact: An Interdisciplinary Challenge
Failures in planned end-of-use practices for plastics have resulted in extensive leakage to the oceans. Plastics can degrade to microplastics, and they can leach myriad additives over time. Either way, these impacts threaten marine ecosystems. Reducing the impact of plastics on the oceans starts with more thorough understanding of the fate and effect of plastics on the environment and requires advances in sustainable design. The end-of-use section in the Sustainable Polymer Framework (Wissinger, 2020) outlines major approaches to recapturing value of plastics at the end of their standard life cycle. Much work is underway to enable recycling and reprocessing at end of use. Achieving meaningful progress on environmentally-sound value recapture requires the work of both polymer chemists/engineers and environmental scientists/engineers as well as finding constructive ways for these disciplines to collaborate. Just as green chemistry has brought together toxicologists and organic chemists to chart a path toward more benign molecules, so can green chemistry bring together environmental researchers and polymer researchers to develop guidelines for the design of more sustainable plastics and promote interdisciplinary research. Such collaboration is critically important because some degree of leakage into the ocean environment seems inevitable even from improved end-of-use plastic management practices.
The 2023 Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference is the ideal forum to bring together the range of specialists needed to catalyze development of sustainable polymer design guidelines that focus on reducing the ocean environmental impact of plastics at end of use. The site of the 2023 conference is the home port of Captain Charles Moore, discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Holding this symposium as a virtual/hybrid component of the Conference will enable presentations by leading researchers and thoughtful questions by green chemists and engineers in attendance. Furthermore, this symposium will support the efforts of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI) to constructively address the ocean plastics challenge.
Prof. Robert Giraud, University of Delaware
Prof. Jane Wissinger, University of Minnesota
ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement (CEI)