1.1 teratons is an impressive number. It is the weight of all life on earth. At the end of 2020, Israeli scientists provided the following comparison in the magazine Nature*: The human-made mass now weighs as much as the natural biomass. Artificial things include houses, streets, machines, clothing, plastic and more. Building materials are a significant component of the increasing anthropogenic mass. The pace of growth to date has been gigantic - with no end in sight. The website anthropomass.org is worth visiting. Scientists created it to explain their numbers clearly. You will find PET bottles as part of the animation.
We humans use resources to develop products. For the most part, these resources do not return into the cycle - as they do in nature. And they are certainly not kept in circulation without human intervention. Also important to consider: How much energy and water is required to manufacture these products? And how much CO2 is emitted? Currently too much for the cycle.
It is not just about plastic packaging. However, the scientists’ illustrations provide an unsettling perspective and underline that also our industry must establish the circular economy without compromise. There is no other way.
Is it a utopia to strive for a 100% circular economy - a world without waste? Even though hard to achieve, we need to make it our goal. 1.1 teratons clearly show us, as a society and as an industry, where we have to be successfull: avoid, reduce, recycle. Every product from every industry needs a sustainable solution at the end of its life cycle. Nature shows how it is: in the circle of life nothing is lost. In our industry, PET is a prime example of a recyclable anthropogenic material. PET packaging has a remarkable history: lightweight saves material, heatset technologies allow refillable packaging, and mechanical and chemical recycling technologies create the basis for the cycle. It is time to think bigger.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Otto Appel PETnology/tecPET GmbH
* Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J. et al. Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature 588, 442–444 (2020)