Time to read: 9 minutes

Decomplexifying the topic of reducing CO₂

By: Dan Andersson, Olli Posti

For years, the chemical industry has been working toward reducing CO₂. But while some companies are already carbon neutral, or are working towards being carbon neutral, many still don’t know where to start on their journey. 

This article uncovers the complexities of CO₂, its most common misconception, and actionable solutions to get started or improve your sustainability journey.
Dan Andersson Sales Manager Global Sustainability Coordinator Plastic and Additives IMCD Sweden

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Defining CO₂ reduction

Reducing CO₂ for the advanced material industry requires an evaluation of how things are currently being produced and the search for alternatives that need less energy or materials to do the same thing.

Materials that support CO₂ reduction are made from recyclable and renewable sources and reduce waste, weight and energy.

Complexities of reducing CO₂ in production

CO₂ reduction serves as the umbrella approach to moving towards sustainable practises for the industry. It’s not just one approach that works, and it’s not just one outcome that we strive for.

For example, when we talk about reducing CO₂ and the goal is to reduce energy, we might be considering a few approaches to this one goal. This is why reducing CO₂ is considered complex; there’s more than one answer to the question: How should we reduce CO₂?

The answer is straight forward although not always simple: we need a holistic approach, tailored to your unique production needs, that we can measure

CO₂ reduction requires a holistic approach

With CO₂ reduction, everything needs to be looked at from the bigger picture. It’s everything from the material selection to the manufacturing processes, and machine running time. Additionally, depending on what you’re producing and manufacturing, your path will be different; it’s not a copy and paste solution that worked for a similar organization.

All factors, both internal and external must be considered to develop a unique plan.

IMCD Expert Solution

Internal factors

Consider the waste hierarchy, starting at the top and working down. Ask yourself:

  • What type of material are you using?

  • How long will it be able to last?

  • Is it effective and good quality to last longer?

  • How is it produced?

  • Can we improve the process?

  • Can we make the changes between the materials shorter?

  • Can we increase the efficiency for unit energy?

External factors

After organizing your internal factors, look external and think of what happens once your products leave the production factories. Ask yourself:

  • How will it be transported and stored?

  • How will it be used by consumers? 

  • How will it reenter the cycle?

CO₂ reduction doesn’t always start in design

Many companies are looking for ways to move towards carbon-neutral without making massive changes to their current product design. Although this isn’t our recommended approach, this is technically possible, and here’s why.

Think about the last time you booked a flight. You may have been asked the question: Would you like to contribute to CO₂ reduction? If you checked yes, then you likely supported the company in a CO₂ reduction effort, like planting a tree. The challenge with a neutral option, like this one, is that it is only a short-term solution; there aren’t any changes that will benefit reducing CO₂ in the long run.

IMCD Expert Solution

It would be more powerful to look at what they are producing and consider better ways to reduce CO2 from the start with different materials and processes in place while also considering the neutral options as an addition.

No standard measurement in place

As of now, there is no standard, global approach to measuring CO₂reduction. It’s difficult to measure because, again, every approach to reducing CO₂ is different.

For example, if the goal is to reduce energy and you’d like to take the approach of using less materials, then measuring this path will be very different as compared to using less energy in the transportation of goods.

IMCD Expert Solution

At the onset of your CO₂ reduction planning, sit down and ask yourself?

  • What are the primary ways we will reduce CO? (energy reduction, weight reduction, etc.)

  • What are the key factors that need to be considered in measuring this? (less materials, efficiency with machines, etc.)
  • How best can we measure these? (original numbers compared to goals, etc)

Want to learn how IMCD supports and measures a sustainable future?

Read our latest Sustainability Report here.

Misconception about CO₂ reduction

A common misconception about CO2 reduction is that plastics play a problematic role. But today, it’s still one of the most energy-efficient ways to create products on the market.

When considering a common alternative to plastic water bottles, people normally think of glass. But what many don’t know is that when taking the holistic approach, many studies show that a glass bottle is a less sustainable alternative than plastic.

As an example, let's think about a product's weight. Consider glass reusable water bottles and plastic reusable water bottles. Both need to be transported, but when plastic bottles are transported, they are still very small and light. This is not the case for glass water bottles that are heavier and larger so the environmental advantage that glass has often gets erased during transport and production. Also, when glass reaches its end-of-life, in contrast to plastics, it takes a lot of energy to clean and melt glass down to be reused.
a glass bottle compared to a plastic bottle in weight and packaging

Ways to reduce CO₂ emissions

To achieve a goal in reducing CO₂, we must consider altering materials and processes to have the same quality and efficiency, or better. One approach to doing so is to follow the waste hierarchy; reduce waste at the top, reusing plastics for longer, recycling at end-of-life and so on. But there are other key strategies that help in reducing CO₂, including switching to renewable source or recycled materials and reducing weight, waste, and energy.

Switch to renewable source and/or recycled materials

Switching to renewable source or recycled materials can support your move in reducing CO₂. When making this switch, it's important to look at your application, the intended market, how it will be used and what happens to it at its end-of-life; this assessment will help you determine whether renewable source or recycled materials is the best option.

IMCD Expert Solution

It’s important to look at this through a critical lens. Sometimes, making materials switches isn’t the most sustainable approach. As of now, using a petroleum-based polymer could be the most sustainable option when considering the bigger picture of processing, availability and transportation. And if using a petroleum-based polymer is in fact the best option, there are ways to consider reducing weight, waste and energy as an alternative.

Reduce the weight of products

When things are lighter, they use less energy; enter weight reduction as a strategy to reducing CO2.

Consider a car; cars today are made of 12-15% plastic, replacing materials like metal and steel that were previously used to produce cars. This allows them to need less materials and energy to go the same distance.

IMCD Expert Solution

Weight reduction can be achieved in many ways, but let's explore two: 

  • Downgaging. Downgaging is the process of reducing the amount of materials used inside a product. Think of packaging: When you make thinner packaging, you are using fewer materials to do the same job and it weighs less, resulting in less energy used when it’s transported.

  • Polymer compounds. Creating polymer compounds is the process of enhancing your current polymer with other components to make it lighter. Glass spheres are just one example. Instead of using a solid polymer, you can infuse it with glass spheres to reduce its weight. This is a common practice in automotive. Another example is the use of blowing agents; the process of creating space in the material to make it lighter.   

Reduce waste created

Waste reduction is often one of the easier approaches to tackle, because it can be entirely managed at your production facility. To reduce waste, the processes and materials used in production must be reexamined. The goal is to make the process of producing more efficient, so that production runs smoother and there is less scrap waste at the end of a production run.

At first glance, this approach to reducing CO2 can deter people because it comes with an upfront investment. Although, it’s important to factor that the initial costs create long-term efficiencies and cost savings.

IMCD Expert Solution

Waste reduction can be achieved in many ways, but let's explore two: 

  • Reintroduce scrap waste. By reintroducing scraps into your process, you can use it to make products, reducing the amount of waste. 

  • Introduce additives. Introducing additives adds an upfront cost, but can reduce the long-term costs in production efficiencies, reducing the amount of waste generated.  

  • Purging compounds. Using a purging compound not only cleans and reduces the downtime of machines, but it also ensures faster transition times between production and colour changes, reducing wasted products. 

Reduce energy consumption

Each method we’ve discussed so far, switching to renewable source and recycled materials, weight reduction and waste reduction, are all strategies to reducing energy consumption. But there are a few other considerations about optimizing processes in production and factory halls that help companies make strides in reducing CO2.

IMCD Expert Solution

Reducing energy consumption can be done in a few ways: 

  • Lighting. Switch your light bulbs to more energy efficient bulbs to use in production halls and office.  
  • Heat. Repurpose the heat you generate in production to heat you building as well. This will reduce the amount of energy needed to keep your building warm. 

  • Green energy. Use green energy that is produced with solar and wind power. 

  • Lean production. Implement lean production strategies to improve the work flow and processes in production.
  • Modern production machines. This has a big impact on the energy consumption of machines, such as injection moulding or extrusion, especially as electricity prices rise.

Not sure where to start?

You’re not alone. We have conversations every day with our customers about how we can support their move towards more sustainable practices, and in each conversation, we hear the same question: Where do we start?

Contact our experts today to learn more about how you can make moves towards utilizing greener solutions.

About Dan Andersson

Dan Andersson  Sales Manager and Global Sustainability Coordinator, Plastic & Additives IMCD Sweden
Dan Andersson is a sales manager in Sweden as well as IMCD Advanced Materials’ Global Sustainability Coordinator. With more than 10 years in R&D management, Dan has spent most of his career developing colour masterbatches and compounds for customers like LEGO, IKEA and across markets. To transfer his knowledge and experience, Dan hosts regular educational seminars about sustainability to support our customers in their move towards greener solutions.

About Olli Posti 

Olli Posti Sales Manager, Plastic and Additives IMCD Finland
Olli Posti is a Sales Manager in Finland, an International Product Manager for Elastron-TPEs, and a member of IMCD’s Sustainability Task Force. He has over 15 years of experience in plastic raw materials sales for both converting, and compounding customers - with expertise in elastomers and bioplastics raw materials.