Alternative carbon sources for plastics – is circular bio-based plastics a solution?


Plastics are an extremely useful material because of their light, durable, strong and flexible characteristics. The production, consumption and poor waste management of plastics have huge environmental impacts. The complete avoidance of plastics in our society is, unfortunately, still impossible. What are the alternative ways to produce plastics to minimize environmental impacts? Can bio-based plastics provide solutions? What are the technological solutions to make plastics more circular? In the past decades, technology innovation has been intensively focused on these areas. But will we create new problems by adopting these innovations?

LCA can be used as a tool to assess innovative technologies. It’s a useful tool to understand the environmental tradeoffs before a decision is made. But there are also challenges for LCA practitioners, especially in the context of a circular biobased economy, where the border between ‘cradle’ and ‘grave’ becomes blurred, and carbon removal and storage become critical.

Speaker summary

Dr Li Shen is an assistant professor at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. She was a mechanical engineer by training but has been attracted by the interaction between material/energy systems and the environment. So she became an LCA practitioner a decade ago. Her research keywords are “technology assessment”, “circularity assessment”, “plastics”, “biobased chemicals and plastics”, “plastics recycling” and recently also “CO2-based chemicals”. She is also a teacher in the Energy Science Master Programme where she teaches research methods and tools in the course “Advanced Energy Analysis”.

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