Climate Innovations in the Plastic Industry: Prospects for Decarbonisation

Fredric Bauer, Karin Ericsson, Jacob Hasselbalch, Tobias D. Nielsen, Lars J. Nilsson

Research output: Book/ReportReportResearch


Plastics are efficient materials for many purposes, e.g. packaging and construction, but are also associated with significant problems. These span from littering in forests and oceans, toxicity of additives, to the fundamental dependence on fossil resource for the production of the plastic material. This report aims to give an overview of the challenges for decarbonisation of plastics, i.e. moving away from a dependency on fossil resources for the production. Firstly, it identifies different possible development pathways for the industry towards decarbonisation and the key arguments for and against these pathways – reduced use of plastics, recycled plastics, and bio-based plastics. Secondly, it presents an analysis of structural characteristics of the industry that affect the potential for low-carbon innovation. This includes identifying and understanding the potential that traditional as well as new types of agents have to affect the direction of development. The report presents decarbonisation initiatives and engagement throughout the system of plastics, i.e. not only by primary production firms but also by knowledge organisations, intermediary firms, consumer groups etc. As the development pathways are contested and challenged both on technological and other grounds, the issue of power becomes pressing. The formation and use of coalitions to support and/or counteract certain developments is important, as political regulation of this highly globalised and diffuse sector has previously been difficult. The interaction between geographical particularities and scales must be given due consideration. Finally, the aspect of materiality is a key concern for the development of a system of specific materials. This relates of course to the limits of different types of feedstocks and material properties, but also to other resources and their exploitation within a system that is deeply entrenched in a system with capital invested in technologies and facilities adapted for processing fossil resources into fuels, plastics, and other products. Despite the strong carbon lock-in that the plastics industry is in, the identified pathways show that there are possibilities for decarbonisation. New types of actors are creating pressure for the sector to move towards a future plastic sector that is both circular and independent of fossil resources.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLund
PublisherLunds Universitet
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9789186961374
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes
SeriesIMES/EESS report

Bibliographical note

This report is written as part of the REINVENT project which is funded through the European Union Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under agreement no. 730053. The work has benefited from results, discussions and insights from several colleagues and other projects, notably STEPS (Pathways to Sustainable Plastics) funded by Mistra – the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research.

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