by IISD's SDG Knowledge Hub,

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published a report on the benefits of integrating sustainable chemistry into the design process for sustainable plastic products.

The report titled, 'A Chemicals Perspective on Designing with Sustainable Plastics – Goals, Considerations and Trade-offs,' aims to help product designers and engineers make informed decisions about incorporating "sustainable plastic" to ensure better outcomes and a more transparent process.  

Product designers should select materials that pose low hazards, have a commercial afterlife, generate no waste, and use secondary or biobased feedstock.

Building on a 2018 OECD publication, the report presents an integrated approach to selecting sustainable plastics from a chemicals perspective, identifying sustainable design goals, life cycle considerations, and trade-offs between life-cycle phases. Challenges related to creating sustainable plastic products revolve around the selection of sustainable materials, as well as the overall system within which the product circulates. 

The report details considerations during the sourcing, manufacturing, use, and end-of-use phases. It argues that all available information must be considered at each step in order to inform decision-making. The report emphasizes the need to set sustainable design goals in the plastics selection process, building on the following set of principles: maximizing resource efficiency; eliminating and minimizing hazards and pollution; and designing systems holistically and using life-cycle thinking. The report elaborates on sustainable design goals, namely selecting materials that pose low risk/hazard, have a commercial ‘afterlife,’ generate no waste, and use secondary feedstock or biobased feedstock. 

In its concluding section, the report highlights limitations and recommended next steps. These include integrating sustainability design goals earlier in the design process, broadening the scope to include other material families, and involving more stakeholders.

Case studies provided along with the report focus on plastic packaging (biscuit wrappers and detergent bottles) and construction materials (flooring and insulation).

OECD held a webinar on 7 December to launch the report. Speakers shared key findings and provided perspectives from countries and industry. [Publication: A Chemicals Perspective on Designing with Sustainable Plastics – Goals, Considerations and Trade-offs]

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