An interesting word has taken over many of the sustainability discussions currently ongoing in industries and manufacturing across the board. That word is decarbonisation. In its literal sense, decarbonisation means the reduction of carbon.
What’s interesting about this word is the sheer ubiquity of its use; and the fact that decarbonisation tends not to refer not to the reduction of carbon at all but rather to a reduction of the carbon emission intensity. It’s an essential difference.
Carbon is an essential part of life on earth. It is the backbone of every known biological molecule. About 12% of any human being’s body atoms are carbon atoms. We have carbon in our DNA.
And, of course, carbon is the building block in most polymers.
Decarbonisation, as Deloitte explains it, ‘is the term used for removal or reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) output into the atmosphere….it is about reducing CO2 emissions resulting from human activity, with eventual goal of eliminating them’. Fossil fuel use is the primary source carbon emissions from human activity as when fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. Greenhouse gasses are called so because they block the heat radiating from the earth from escaping. As the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere rises, the planet warms up.
The idea behind decarbonisation, is therefore to reduce the level of CO2 emissions derived from the burning of fossil fuels for energy or for producing plastics, and instead to draw on sources of renewable carbon: carbon that is already in circulation, derived from waste, biomass and even CO2, thus bringing a circular carbon economy within reach.
While by no means a new idea, just a few short years ago it was treated with a striking lack of concern in general, and with complete disregard by business and industry - including the plastics industry.
That has all changed. Today, a sense of urgency seems to have suddenly taken hold. This is strikingly illustrated by the fact that, for the first time ever, climate protection, and by extension, decarbonisation, is one of the main themes at this year’s K fair in October.
Carbon jargon permeates the news releases from companies across the plastics industry; carbon accounting and greenhouse gas reporting are emerging as main topics of interest, terms like scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions are common knowledge. Developments in alternative feedstocks, needed for the production of ‘low-carbon’ plastics have skyrocketed.
Rightly or wrongly, carbon, it would seem has truly become the new C word.
‘Know your enemy’, writes Efrat Friedland in her ‘carbon journey’ on page 14 of this issue.
Still, the question is: is that really carbon?
I’m with comic strip character Pogo, who famously said: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.”
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