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Plastics are the most popular materials around the world today. From plastic packaging to carrier bags, children's toys to surgical equipment, plastics of different strengths, thicknesses and malleability have millions of applications.

Plastic is so useful, it’s little wonder that globally we consume 320 million tonnes of it each year. Unfortunately, conventional plastic can lie or float around for decades if it gets into the open environment. As well as being harmful to wildlife on land and in the oceans, it attracts toxins and breaks up into microplastics that are now beginning to impact the human food chain.

This has led some governments to tax or ban some plastic items: from a legal requirement for shops in the UK to charge for shopping bags, to Kenya’s system of imprisonment and fines of up to $40,000.

Until now, the focus of the plastics industry has been on making plastics to specifications that are only relevant while they are being used, but Symphony Environmental Technologies is upgrading plastics so their performance is just as good, but they will biodegrade at the end of their useful life much more quickly than ordinary plastics. The key point is that they do not just fragment, but their molecular structure is dismantled so that they are no longer plastics. They are then recycled back into nature by naturally occurring bacteria and fungi, leaving no fragments or toxicity as a problem for future generations.

Symphony Environmental chief executive Michael Laurier points out that the environmental problem of plastic is caused by littering, but taxes and bans are not going to solve the problem in the foreseeable future, and they are depriving some of the poorest people of a very useful and inexpensive material. Fortunately, we can now upgrade the plastic by adding 1% of Symphony’s d2w plastic technology to normal polymers. This can be done quickly and easily with existing machines and workforce at little or no extra cost. Laurier adds that his company has spent millions on scientific research to prove that it does indeed biodegrade much more quickly than ordinary plastic, and can be safely reused and recycled during its useful life.

Plastics are changing: different countries have different regulations for the types of plastic they use. Europe, the UK and US are still relatively behind when it comes to innovative solutions, but countries such as Saudi Arabia are already insisting by law that the plastic be upgraded with d2w or similar. They have not opted for “bioplastics” as they are too expensive and contain a high proportion of oil-derived material. They cannot be recycled, and as they are designed for industrial composting they don’t solve the problem of plastic litter in the open environment.
Companies like Symphony have a vision for a future in which the downsides of plastic are balanced by technological advances. We don’t have to ban or tax plastics – they are much too useful for that.

Thinking about plastic has become as adaptable as the material itself.

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