I, for one, am excited for the future. I believe the attention this issue is getting will increase consumer awareness of recycling, which will increase recycling rates for plastics to be more in line with that of other substrates. I also believe new technologies will be developed to recover plastics that cannot be economically recycled today.
BENEFITS OF PLASTIC
Plastic is one of the most versatile materials on the planet. Plastic can be customized to be rigid or flexible. Plastic can be clear to draw attention to the product or colored to align with brand colors. Plastic protects consumer goods throughout each step in the supply chain to ensure the goods can be enjoyed by consumers exactly as the brand owner intended.
FEELING THE PRESSURE
But those benefits are not why plastic has been in the news. Recent coverage of plastic has largely focused on marine debris—showing provocative images of waste-filled beaches and waterways. One notable magazine cover read “Planet or Plastic?” Can we not have both? Can we enjoy the benefits of plastics and clean beaches? Can we end plastic waste?
ALLIANCE TO END PLASTIC WASTE
This issue has gotten the attention of the packaging industry. Many leading companies from the packaging value chain made headlines with the mission to end plastic waste in the environment. Companies that not only make plastic, but also companies that use, sell, process, dispose of and recycle plastics have joined together to form the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
Because we all benefit from plastics, it is important for us all to take responsibility. Through this initiative, these companies are collectively committing $1.5 billion over the next five years to develop, deploy and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste and promote post-use solutions to keep plastic out of the environment.
THE ALLIANCE TO END PLASTIC WASTE STRATEGY UTILIZES:
- Infrastructure to manage waste through improved collection, sortation, treatment and recycling, especially in parts of the world where waste management systems are limited or lacking and the challenge of unmanaged waste is greatest.
- Innovation to develop and scale new materials and product designs that minimize waste and new recycling technologies that create value from all post-use plastics with the goal of demonstrating new ideas and catalyzing additional investments from development banks, governments and private investors.
- Education and Engagement of communities, governments, and businesses to enlist them in the fight against unmanaged plastic waste through programs to improve recycling rates and responsibly manage waste.
- Clean Up in areas where plastic waste is concentrated today, particularly the major conduits of waste that carry land-based waste to the sea like rivers.
Does this mean things will just stay business as normal? No, we are seeing a fundamental shift in the way plastics are viewed as brand owners embrace circular economy. Brands are prioritizing package recyclability, and they aren’t waiting until 2025.
Requests for recycled content are more frequent than ever before. We believe this incremental demand will help stimulate both the plastics and plastic recycling industry. The options for improving sustainability extend to beyond recycled content, too. Design optimization, lightweighting and ensuring recyclability remain on the list of impactful ways to make an environmental difference. Brands, manufacturers and consumers will continue to see the demands of creating a more sustainable future. The packaging world is changing: Sustainability is absolutely part of the conversation, and the industry as a whole is making a difference. That is why I’m excited for the future—a world where plastics are part of the circular economy and a world without plastic waste.
Companies of all kinds and even individuals are invited to join in the effort. To get involved, visit endplasticwaste.com.
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