Dow joins Royal Society of Chemistry’s task force to improve sustainability of polymers in liquid formulation; materials are used as ingredients in paints, skin care and other applications

Sample article from our Sustainability & Social Responsibility

July 12, 2022 (press release) –

Four household names are the latest companies to join our task force which was convened to improve the sustainability of a class of polymers worth $125 billion every year. The group seeks to provide leadership in creating a collaborative strategy to drive innovation throughout the value chain and across diverse sectors including cosmetics, water treatments, lubricants and agricultural products.

New members to our Sustainable Polymers in Liquid Formulation (PLFs) Task Force, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Dow, Northumbrian Water and United Utilities, join existing members Unilever, BASF, Croda, Crown Paints, Scott Bader and Afton Chemical.

The group was established after our reports showed that an estimated 36 million tonnes of PLFs are made and sold each year – enough to fill Wembley Stadium 32 times over. As a group of thousands of different chemicals, PLFs are used as ingredients for specific functions – for example, they help paint stick to walls or hydrate your skin in moisturisers.

However, due to the huge variety of uses PLFs can have, they can be considered an often ‘forgotten’ group of polymers with common challenges and solutions – which our report highlighted is particularly important when it comes to matters such as collecting waste streams, recycling them or making them using more sustainable methods, as they are currently made mostly from fossil fuels.

Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Our report last year proved to be a real landmark moment. It identified common sustainability challenges facing polymer ingredients used in most households and workplaces – and said that we must address this without delay. Identifying how we can start to provide solutions and giving these chemicals a collective name, Polymers in Liquid Formulations, has allowed us to engage with some of the biggest companies in the world to spearhead action through our task force.

“The seriousness and enthusiasm with which the chemical industry has approached this from several sectors and parts of the supply chain drives home the colossal impact that can be achieved through ambition and collaboration. I welcome our new members who bring a wide range of perspectives from the whole value chain, which will be key to delivering a joined-up strategy.”

The purpose of the Sustainable Polymers in Liquid Formulations Task Force, which had its first meeting in February, is ‘To provide leadership in creating a collaborative and joined-up strategy leading to a step change in innovation towards sustainable PLFs’.

Dr Yves Vandenberghe, Senior Director of Sustainability EMEAI & APAC at Dow Consumer Solutions said: “Creating the Sustainable PLFs taskforce is a critical milestone in support of the usage of polymers across industry application and for the innovation of next generation sustainable polymers. Dow is proud member of this Royal Society of Chemistry taskforce and will be a supportive and active contributor to reach its objectives.”

Dr Charmian Abbott, Chief Scientist at United Utilities said: “The water industry has an important role to play since drainage systems provide the disposal route for many of these products, as well as those used in treatment processes themselves. Northumbrian Water and United Utilities will represent the water sector, as part of its commitment to work in partnership with others to better understand the factors impacting river health and develop plans for progressive improvement.”

Dr Jason Harcup, Global Vice President of Research and Development at Unilever said: “Making a shift towards the circular economy and more sustainable polymers in liquid formulations will require close collaboration across the chemical, formulated goods and waste industries.  By bringing together actors from across this value chain, the RSC task force can help to support changes in the ways polymers are designed, produced and cycled at end of life, leading to products that are better for both consumers and for the planet.”

Dr Andreas Künkel, Vice President of Biopolymer Research at BASF said: “A scientific-based constructive dialogue of all stakeholders is needed to retain the advantages of PLFs and adapt this important material class to achieve a circular economy and a reduced carbon footprint. The RSC initiative will be a good catalyst for this process.”

Professor Ian Bell FRSC, Senior R&D Director at Afton Chemical, said: “I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Sustainable PLFs Task Force, providing a strong consolidated platform for positive change. Formulated products play a critical part in our daily life, with many polymeric materials central to those technologies and the value they bring to society.  In overlaying the environmental challenges we face, it is critical for society that we create new and sustainable solutions that enable value from PLFs in the future.”

Professor Roy Sandbach OBE FRSC, independent Chair of the Sustainable Polymers Task Force said: “Polymers are important building-blocks for a myriad of everyday products, but unlike plastics they’re hidden from ‘sustainability view’. We need to change this. We need a concerted multi-sector and supply chain effort to look for technical innovation that reduces polymer impact and we need to drive a clear strategy to action. Now.”

Last year we examined the sustainability of these chemicals in a transformative report called Polymers in liquid formulations (PLFs): Opportunities for a sustainable future. The research found that leadership and investment in innovation, waste management and the circular economy is urgently needed to make this overlooked group of chemicals more sustainable.

We then launched a follow-up campaign to highlight how progress can be made by establishing circular economies in the paint sector, after research from the British Coatings Federation revealed that 98% of waste paint in the UK was either incinerated or sent to landfill. RSC research revealed that every litre of household paint contains about 500ml of PLFs, and that UK households were stockpiling more than 50 million litres of paint – with 67% per cent of adults admitting they didn’t know if their local recycling facility accepts waste paint. This has led to several parliamentary questions being raised across the UK.

Task force members to date include (alphabetically): Afton Chemicals; BASF; CRODA; CROWN Paints; DOW; Northumbrian Water; Scott Bader; Unilever; United Utilities; Walgreens Boots Alliance.

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