Introduction

Energy has always been an important cost element in polymer production, but the world modeling exercises of the 1960s drew attention to the limited availability of fossil energy and for the first time highlighted potential conservation problems [1, 2]. The oil crises of the mid-1970s sharply focused the dependence of most industries on oil and firmly put oil and gas on the conservation agenda.

The petrochemical industry, and especially the plastics industry, has long been aware of its dependency on fossil hydrocarbons, not only for energy but also for its raw materials. It also recognized that, although engineers had traditionally been concerned with improving the efficiency of individual plants, the true energy dependency could only be properly assessed by looking at all of the production steps, starting with the extraction of raw materials from the earth through to the finished polymer at the factory gate.

One of the first reports of this approach was that of Harold Smith [3] at the World Energy Conference in 1969, and this was later followed by the Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) analysis of polymers in 1973 and 1975 [4]. The early 1970s also saw the beginning of the subject area that eventually became known as life-cycle assessment, although at the time it was variously known as energy analysis, resource and environmental profile analysis, and ecobalance analysis. Many of the systems examined in the early reports in this area involved the use of plastics in a variety of applications [5, 6]. However, the data gathering was fragmented and relied on the willing collaboration of a few companies that also saw the value of the approach. Many companies guarded their data

Plastics and the Environment, Edited by Anthony L. Andrady. ISBN 0-471-09520-6 © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

jealously and regarded the development of energy analysis as a threat to their commercial operations.

This fragmented approach to data collection continued until 1990 when the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME) set up a major program of work aimed at evaluating not only energy use but also the raw materials use and the emission of solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes from the systems used to produce polymers from raw materials in the earth [7]. Similar programs were initiated by the American Plastics Council (APC), although their results have never been published, and by the Japanese Plastics Waste Management Institute (PWMI). [Note that when the APME exercise was initially set up, it was initiated by a division of APME known as the Plastics Waste Management Institute (PWMI), which no longer exists. Occasionally, the APME reports are referenced in the literature as PWMI data and care is needed to avoid confusion with the Japanese PWMI, which still exists.] The primary aim of all these exercises was to provide accurate, plant-based data that were truly representative of the industry as a whole so that the earlier fragmented approach, which could be misleading, was no longer necessary.

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