Photo via erix! via Flickr CC
Kodak and Novomer are working together to figure out how to turn our CO2 into plastic wrap. Novomer is creating a new wrap that is 50% from fossil fuels and 50% from CO2, and Kodak is creating a pilot scale facility that Novomer can use to manufacture and test the new plastic wraps and coatings. It is supposedly better for food, but is it just turning one un-green thing into another?
According to Greentech Media, the new process could be a boon for reducing oil use. The article states, "Currently, plastics manufacturing and plastics themselves consume about 10 percent of the oil in the U.S. If Novomer's process somehow went universal, fuel consumption could be dropped by 5 percent... It could also bring the percentage of oil imports down from the current 65 percent plateau to where oil imports were in the middle of the decade." Also pointed out is that the new process could mean another potential market for CO2, helping companies working on carbon capture technology.
However, that also underscores the point that the plastic isn't from 50% fossil fuels and 50% CO2...it's 100% fossil fuels still, since the CO2 is coming from burned fossil fuels.
"Traditional plastics are 100 percent fossil-fuel-based, and ours are 50 percent CO2-based and 50 percent fossil-fuel-based," explains Mike Slowik, the company's manager of strategic planning and analysis.
Looking at it from a bigger-picture perspective, this seems like a glaringly narrow statement.
"The company's secret sauce is a series of chemical catalysts discovered by Cornell professor Geoffrey Coates that can prompt a reaction between epoxides (a fossil fuel material) and carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide at low temperatures and pressures. Right now, Novomer uses industrial grade carbon dioxide but it should be able to accommodate scrubbed gases from smokestacks."
Xconomy reports that Novomer is using an $800,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which supports green-energy commercialization projects in the state.
Here's the rub: Are plastics created from 50% CO2 - even though that CO2 is from fossil fuels - still a step in the right direction? It's fodder for a hearty debate.
While there could be a few immediate benefits to the new plastic wrap, there are also things to be wary of, such as greenwashed products. The company could easily market products made from this material as "green" when in reality, they're not any more sustainable than older versions of plastic wraps and coatings. In fact, it's already being written up as a "green" plastic option.
While it might end up being less damaging than current plastic manufacturing methods, plastic wrap from fossil fuels simply isn't green. Ever. It's really a matter of choosing the item with the lesser impact, though in order to be truly sustainable, we have to move into genuinely green options.
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