The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is upending our lives and the global economy in ways unimaginable until recently. While the overall impacts are still difficult to quantify, ramifications are sure to be felt for decades to come. Providing secure, reliable, and affordable resources for all without causing devastating environmental consequences is perhaps the greatest challenge of the 21st century. But the pandemic has significantly altered dynamics and changed priorities. How is this impacting the quest for sustainability?
In this paper we analyze these challenges by focusing on the plastic industry. There is no doubt that plastic has molded society in many ways that make our lives easier and safer, but it has also created a global environmental and sustainability crisis. In order to curb our addiction to plastic, the world had been waging a war against virgin plastic, but the pandemic has turned an enemy into a much-needed ally. How can we leverage the advantages of plastic without contributing to the world’s environmental crisis? This dilemma poses a significant challenge, but also opens an opportunity to address sustainability at a systemic level through circularity and the transition to low-carbon alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.