UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering Expert Available for Interviews
Media Contacts: Emily Gowdey-Backus, director of media relations, and Nancy Cicco, assistant director of media relations
Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey’s plan to prohibit state agencies from purchasing single-use plastic bottles is a “good move,” but must not diminish recycling efforts, according to Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline, a UMass Lowell plastics expert available for interviews.
On Monday, Sept. 18, Healey announced she would sign an executive order to prohibit state agencies from purchasing single-use plastic bottles. Reports indicate Healey plans to sign the order Thursday, Sept. 21, and it will be effective immediately. Along with water and soda bottles, items made from single-use plastics include plastic bags, product packaging, and plastic cups and utensils.
“Plastics provide enormous benefits to society, including reducing carbon emissions from both food waste and shipping of goods. The elimination of single-use plastic water bottles at state agencies when refillable bottles or washable cups could be used instead is a smart move,” said Sobkowicz-Kline, a plastics engineering professor. “Not only can this executive order reduce plastic waste, it can save money from purchasing bottled water and the cost of recycling the waste.”
Sobkowicz-Kline noted, however, there are some situations when using plastics remains a good choice.
“PET plastic, which carries the ‘No. 1’ recycle symbol, is the most recycled plastic nationwide. This means that where it makes sense to use single-use plastic containers for health and safety, convenience, or protection of goods, this plastic is a good choice,” she said. “As a state, and within communities across Massachusetts, we need to continue to encourage recycling and incentivize folks to do it at home, at work, and in public. Reducing use of unnecessary plastics must not cause us to be complacent about supporting recycling infrastructure statewide.”
Sobkowicz-Kline’s research projects at UMass Lowell have included a $1.8 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop new uses for plastic waste and new processing technologies to remanufacture products to increase their sustainability. She is also developing new curricula to train UMass Lowell master’s and Ph.D. science and engineering students how to develop sustainable materials and chemicals that will reduce harm to water resources. That effort is funded by nearly $3 million from the National Science Foundation.
Sobkowicz-Kline teaches in UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering. Before her career in academia, she was a field engineer in the petroleum industry and also worked in the municipal water treatment sector.