Turning the Tide on Plastic Waste
This bi-monthly blog series will focus on the growing global issue of plastic waste in the environment. In it, we will discuss the threat plastic waste poses to the environment and economies around the globe, solutions on the horizon, as well as companies and organizations that are, like Resinate, working to make a difference.
Each year, we are producing over 300 million tons of plastic waste, nearly equivalent to the weight of the human population.1 That level of production, paired with inadequate infrastructure for collection and recycling, has resulted in undeniable consequences. A middle of the road estimate on how much plastic waste ends up in the ocean each year is 8.8 million tons – equivalent to five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world.2 Every year, one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals are injured or die due to ingesting plastic or becoming entangled.3 Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, while the remaining 79% percent has ended up either in a landfill or the natural environment.1 So, what are we going to do about it?
Governments are beginning to lead the way to change – 60 countries have signed on to the UN Environment Clean Seas campaign to tackle marine plastic pollution. India, who as of 2017 was among the top four biggest plastic polluters in the world4, has announced that it will eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022.5 This month, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that they will ban harmful single-use plastics by 2021. In this announcement, the Prime Minister points out not only the effect plastic pollution has on animals and the environment, but the effect on the Canadian economy – estimating that the plastic waste thrown away by Canadians each year represents $8 billion in lost value.
Businesses are receiving pressure not only from new legislation like these, but from the public, and even their investors. In June of last year, a group of 25 investors managing more than one trillion in assets demanded that Nestlé SA, PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., and Unilever NV reduce their use of plastic packaging. Nestlé, the world’s largest packaged food company is taking this pressure seriously. The company has begun eliminating all plastic straws in its products, transitioning them to paper. This is the first step in Nestlé’s promise to eliminate all single-serve plastic from its line and to make 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. This promise applies to its 2,000 brands. To accomplish this task, Nestlé has created the Nestlé Institute of Packaging Sciences, dedicated to the “discovery and development of functional, safe and environmentally friendly packaging solutions.” The largest market for plastics today is packaging, and packaging waste now accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated globally – most of it is never recycled or incinerated.2
Plastic is a versatile material that has improved and become essential to modern life – offering performance at a low cost, often with environmental benefit. According to the British Plastics Federation, alternative materials to plastic would result in 2.7 times more greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetime.6 Plastic itself is not the culprit, it is our design and use. 40 percent of plastic is used just once before being thrown away2, with only 14 percent being recycled.6 Innovation and collaboration are required to create circular solutions for these valuable molecules. At Resinate, we are working to do our part in solving this issue by developing partnerships and technology to create new outlets for plastic waste, like water bottles. If you are interested in some of the innovations being developed today, we were recently featured in an excellent report by Closed Loop Partners: Accelerating Circular Supply Chains for Plastics – A Landscape of Transformational Technologies that Stop Plastic Waste, Keep Materials in Play and Grow Markets. We look forward to sharing more on this subject in the coming months.