Plastic on a Budget:

A Step out of the Crisis?

Topics on plastic produce negative headlines. However, a plastic-free world appears neither realistic nor desirable when viewed in a differentiated way. The project Plastic Budget aims at a new approach to the responsible use of the material of our age. The Röchling Foundation took part in the kick-off conference.


Emission limits for greenhouse gas have been set. It has been calculated quite precisely how much carbon dioxide mankind may emit in the coming decades in order to not exceed a certain level of global warming. A budget, so to say, on which states base and legitimize their decisions. In the context of plastic there is no such thing – why not?

The research team around Jürgen Bertling, Fraunhofer UMSICHT, asked themselves this very same question as they are working on a project called Plastic Budget. A project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Primarily, the scientists are concerned with the question of how much plastic is acceptable in the environment and how long plastic remains present in the environment until it is completely degraded. The answers to these questions will be used to calculate a national per capita budget, the plastic budget.

The project is accompanied by a team of sociologists and cultural scientists from the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI) in Essen. They examine the social acceptance, consensus and participation possibilities of the project.

The fact that plastic waste has already had a lasting impact on the world is also shown by the humanities debate about plastic as a marker of the Anthropozoan era. Since 2016, geologists and historians have been discussing what characterizes the proclaimed age of modern man. Franz Mauelshagen from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam believes technofossils and thus plastic as markers of our age. Where previously biological fossils could be found in sediment and rock layers, today plastic is already encountered. Thus, plastic is also becoming the object of research for historians and geologists of the present and the future.

The fact that plastic is currently perceived rather a curse than a blessing is largely due to the association and handling of the throwaway society. Scientists involved in the project believe that the challenge depends on several factors: appreciate the material in regard to its advantages in medicine, nutrition, technical innovation and mobility, as well as work on enhancing its life-cycle, its environmental compatibility and the overall reduction of its use.