Researchers have even found microplastics on ice floes adrift in the Arctic. Are you surprised at the poor image that plastics have?
It goes without saying that plastic should not enter the environment or the food chain. But we need to stick with the facts in the debate over plastic. A recent study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology found that nearly 90 percent of microplastics are produced at the use stage. If you include elastomers in the calculation, the greatest source in Germany is tire wear. On average, a car produces the equivalent of 2.2 to 3.3 pounds of microplastics over the course of a year. It is created by the friction between the pavement and the tires, although this is certainly desirable for safety-related reasons.
About half of all microplastic comes from elastomers – the class of materials that is processed at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies.
That’s right. That’s why we see the issue as our responsibility. But you can determine that it is highly unlikely for residue from the abrasion of our products – above all seals – to reach the environment. First of all, we design our seals to produce so little friction that hardly any residue is produced even over relatively long periods of use – and if it does, it remains in the oil circuit of the vehicle or machine.
Do you consider a world without plastics to be inconceivable?
I would naturally prefer to have wood and leather in my environment instead of plastic. But many green technologies, ranging from fuel cells, to electric cars, all the way to solar cells and wind turbines, would be inconceivable without high-performance, technical plastics. And a car with an internal combustion engine would consume significantly more fuel if the roughly 2,000 plastic parts were replaced with their heavier metal counterparts.
Read the complete interview in the current edition of ESSENTIAL.
Dr. Ernst Osen
Dr. Ernst Osen, who earned his doctorate in chemistry, began his career in Freudenberg’s research activities about three decades ago. One of his first important projects was to explore the opportunities for recycling elastomers in the preparation for Europe’s first end-of-life vehicle directive. Today Osen is in charge of global material technology at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies. In his free time, he does volunteer work in local politics and likes to enjoy nature.