Pioneering plastic and polymers sustainability: Future Days

When you think about plastic, are you optimistic? For many today, the answer is likely ‘no’. We’re more aware today of problems like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the potential harms of microplastics than we were even 10 years ago, and it can feel overwhelming. But at the heart of our recent Future Days: Plastics and Polymers event was a positive thread: a path towards a more sustainable future in the plastics and polymers industry is opening up.

Future Days Plastic and Polymer speakers

The event included a series of expert talks, with our speakers presenting their innovative insights and pragmatic solutions. Each presentation was a fascinating and optimistic testament to the industry’s shared commitment to addressing environmental challenges and building a more sustainable future.

Embracing circularity in plastics

We were proud to welcome guest speaker Esther van den Beuken from the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) to share her vision for fully circular plastics. She underscored the pressing need for change and the importance of circularity in combating plastic waste.

Her talk illuminated the societal and technical challenges that have slowed or impeded progress, including the energy transition, the feedstock and materials transition, and infrastructural needs – plus TNO’s strategies to overcome those challenges.

Esther also highlighted the role of innovative recycling techniques and the integration of circular design principles from the outset, as the Design for Recycling initiative picks up speed in Europe. She emphasized the importance of lifecycle assessments in understanding the environmental impacts of plastic products, and collaboration across industries and government was also a recurring theme – as Esther advocated for a systemic shift towards reuse and recycling at every stage of the plastic lifecycle.

Microplastics – a macro issue

Shifting the lens to a microscopic level, Andrea Brunner’s exploration of microplastics revealed the complex nature of this pollution – including the elements we don’t yet understand – and how we can build a more complete picture using precise analysis.

Examining the proliferation of plastics and their breakdown into microplastics, Andrea explored the possible implications of these tiny particles for both people and the environment, and the challenges involved in understanding these risks.

Her presentation made it clear that accurate and in-depth characterization of microplastic particles is fundamental both to forming a complete picture of the risks, and to creating workable solutions. Important parameters to track include particle size and shape, as well as polymer type. Andrea dug into some of the current methods being used to achieve this, including X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to characterize elemental composition and static light scattering for particle size distribution. Finally, she called for further research and policy-making to understand and address the fragmentation of microplastics into our environment.

Sustainable solutions in plastic production

Last but certainly not least, Florine Aalders dived deeper into the specific way that XRF is used to characterize plastics and polymers, particularly microplastics – and, given the global context, why this is so important. Her focus was on the methodology’s precision and non-destructive nature, and how this makes it very a promising tool in identifying and quantifying microplastics in environmental samples.


Florine explained how XRF spectroscopy works, the importance of proper sample preparation, and the detailed spectrum analysis that follows. She delved into the challenges of detecting microplastics, due to their varied composition, and the need for a broad analytical approach. However, she also underscored that XRF is an effective tool in our toolbox as we tackle the microplastics issue – and explored how further research, in areas like water and earth filtration for microplastics, could make use of this technology to improve both our understanding and management of microplastic pollution.

Throughout plastics and polymers edition of Future Days, the message was clear: the industry finds itself at a key moment in history. With collaborative effort and continued innovation, there is good reason to believe that we’re on a journey towards a more sustainable industry and a healthier planet. We just need to work together!

Missed our Future Days: Metals event, or need a refresher? Register to watch the recordings here.

Explore all our solutions for the plastics and polymers industries here.

Further reads