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Petrochemicals have a future

Petrochemicals have a future

We live in a world dominated by plastics – almost everything we use in our everyday lives is made of plastic or contains plastic components. The accumulation of plastic waste has turned into a serious environmental problem that is not easy to tackle and will take time to solve.

We live in a world dominated by plastics – almost everything we use in our everyday lives is made of plastic or contains plastic components. The accumulation of plastic waste has turned into a serious environmental problem that is not easy to tackle and will take time to solve.

The intensity of emotions surrounding plastic waste has been growing faster than the understanding of how to dispose of it with benefits to the environment and the climate. Science and the petrochemical industry have been looking for long-term solutions in which advantages would outweigh the downsides. Such strategies need to be based on proper diagnosis of the problem. However, even though petrochemical production is a fast-growing branch of industry, its knowledge is quite hermetic and has been filtering to the public much more slowly than emotions.

At PKN ORLEN, we do have specialist knowledge of petrochemicals: we monitor the latest scientific developments and base our business strategies on their findings. We have decided to share that knowledge in order to steer the discussion in the right direction, as intuitive solutions, such as banning plastic production altogether, are beneficial only on the surface.

Is a paper bag better for the environment than its plastic counterpart? The production of each type of bags leaves an environmental trail of emissions and pollution. According to various studies, a paper bag would need to be used between 5 and 44 times to have a lower environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag. Contrary to common belief, not every plastic of biological origin is biodegradable and vice versa. For bio-based plastics to break down in the environment, a number of important conditions must be met, including appropriate temperature and humidity. Failing that, the decomposition process may take hundreds of years.

Various concepts for abandoning crude oil due to pollutant emissions are brought up in current debates on the future of petrochemicals. Searching for alternatives is the right direction, but finding optimal solutions remains a real challenge. We should bear in mind that oil and gas are widely available commodities we can extract and process into usable products in a way that is less harmful to both the environment and climate than is the case with other raw materials. Given the present state of knowledge, it appears we are unable to replace oil and gas with anything that would be more environmentally-friendly. If the petrochemical industry cannot find substitutes for oil and gas, why not ban plastic production altogether? The responsibility for plastic waste lies not only with its producer, but also with the manufacturer of final products, the public and local authorities.

We already know that plastics cannot be eliminated from many areas of life and economy, particularly those that developed after plastic had been invented, such as electronics. Considering that waste is what we throw away, not what we make, the solution to the problem of plastic, or in fact any waste, could be its reusing, proper collecting and recycling, i.e. transition from the linear to a circular economy. These are the topics addressed in PKN ORLEN’s report ‘Petrochemicals have a future’, which will be published on our website www.napedzamyprzyszlosc.pl on October 7th. We would like to invite participants of the 590 Congress to our discussion panel under the same title, to talk with experts and receive a printed version of the report.

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