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"Introduction" by David Ojcius and Nicolas Renard to Special Issue: "Reinventing Plastics"

Plastics are yesterday’s hero and today’s villain – their fall from grace precipitated by their success. As with many materials, plastics were perfectly acceptable as long as their use remained marginal. But now that plastics have conquered the planet, their use has become a problem. After cement and steel, plastics are the third most-widely manufactured material in the world. And production of plastics will continue to grow in the decades ahead, driven by demand from emerging and developed economies alike. This is bad news for the environment, unless we find ways to improve the management of end-of-life plastics, which generate high volumes of waste that degrade extremely slowly in nature. A symbol of modernity, plastics have become ticking time bombs that threaten human and environmental health. A major factor is the paradox of the life cycle of plastics: designed to last for a very long time but used only briefly, almost half of all plastics are turned into packaging that is discarded almost immediately after the product is purchased. Plastics are all around us: in toys, household appliances, sports equipment, classroom supplies, medical equipment, as well as every trash can, every outdoor space and every sea and ocean. The challenge is how to remove the scourge of plastics from the economy and the environment. We cannot do without plastics completely, but we can restrict their use to vital applications for which no substitute exists. Many countries are already implementing legislation to curtail the use of single-use plastics. But the real solution lies in the circular economy, which converts waste into a valuable resource ...

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