Professor David C. Wilson
Waste & Resources Management Consultant
Visiting Professor in Waste Management
Imperial College, London

Plastics – diabolic or fantastic?

In his October column for the CIWM Journal, Professor David C Wilson reflects on the dominant story of his CIWM Presidential year, how we respond to the crisis of plastics entering our oceans. Which plastic uses are diabolic and should be banned, and which do we really need? One of his starting points was a recent CIWM-sponsored report which proposed a five-fold use-based categorisation of plastics. The other was the July Klosters Forum, which gathered 60 stakeholders from around the World to brainstorm on how to stem the flow of plastics into the oceans.

DCW proposes a three-way classification. At one extreme are the unacceptable, pointless, and often very short term (or ‘diabolic’) uses, which should be banned. At the other extreme are necessary or sustainable (‘fantastic’) uses, such as infection control, light-weighting cars and aircraft, and reducing food waste. In between is the largest category, which he labels as ‘indeterminate’. This can be further broken down into problem plastics, and replaceable plastics, which should both be phased out; and hard to replace plastics, where the focus should be on redesign and consolidation into a smaller number of truly ‘easy to recycle’ plastics used for ‘higher environmental value’ applications, such as preventing food waste.