Aalto University Magazine 23 – English edition

Page 36

On science

The next material revolution will start in the forest Plastic straws and utensils will soon be history but they will not be missed, as something much better will replace them.

Text: Minna Hölttä Photo: Aleksi Poutanen AT THE START of the year, the EU pub-

lished its first-ever plastics strategy. It is based on the circular economy and related statistics, which indicate the urgency of a change in the culture of material utilization. More than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced in Europe each year. Less than a third is recycled, while the rest ends up as unsorted landfill waste or in the environment. 84% of the waste found on our beaches is plastic, and disposable goods like cotton buds, plates, drinking straws and forks account for 36 / AALTO UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE 23

the majority of this. The EU is now planning a total ban on such products in order to reduce the burden that plastics pose to the environment. “Most plastics are fairly insensitive to moisture, which is part of the reasons for their long-life and persistence nature,” says VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Research Professor Kristiina Kruus. Kruus will assume the deanship of the School of Chemical Engineering in December 2018. She heads the new Academy of Finland-funded flagship

project FinnCERES together with Aalto Professor Orlando Rojas. One goal of this multimillion-euro investment is to challenge plastics with new, plantderived materials, including those from lignocellulose. This is a major challenge, since plastics do have their strengths – and a considerable advantage for now.

Separate and build

The mass production of synthetic plastics began in the 1950s. Since then, a whopping 8.3 billion tonnes have been manufactured. Today, plastics are pro-