What a waste
We use plastic like there is no tomorrow. Regardless of the value this material may still have after use, we toss and burn almost all of it after not even 5 minutes of use.
Bluntly put: this behavior results in highly destructive consequences, to say the least. It can also be seen as immoral, considering how we live in a world with limited resources.
Someone needs to set boundaries in the use of plastic. Given the public outcry about all the plastic polluting our soil, air, water, animals and our very own children, I would say we have enough people in favor.
Politicians care to agree and are increasingly setting standards for so-called ‘responsible use’ of plastic. The EU has its European Circular Economy Action Plan, with lots of (upcoming) directives on plastics. Focus shifts mostly towards the recycling of plastic.
This may sound promising to a layman. However, all models show that with the expected increase in plastic use, so will the amount of plastic ending up in our environment. Our system proves time and time again to be broken: plastics are leaking outside of the economy and into our environment, unchecked and harmfully unmanaged. We can not recycle our way out of this broken system. That’s where you come in. We need to consume less, avoid use of materials, re-use solutions and work with different business models that imbed circular use of materials. Tricky thing is, we can’t even seem to get recycling set up right.
But there’s light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel
Current ‘waste management systems’ are loosely applied practices and the use of the word ‘recycling’ gets corrupted by lobbyists. As a result ‘recycling’ rates are unfortunately often misrepresented.
Recently, the European Commission agreed to have input for recyclers count as the rate of plastics recycled in a country, instead of the output from recyclers.
It must be clear to everyone that input tells you how effective the collection system is, but output tells you the effectiveness of recycling in a country. Why then still take the input?
There are three types of reasoning behind the choice to have input for recycling operations count as rate of plastics recycled in a country, instead of the output:
- ▪The quality of the input material is too variable from one region to another to make the recycler responsible for the quality at the output.
This is a nice way of saying the sorting of plastics is no good.
- ▪Output from recycling operations would have meant less performance (approximately 30% operational loss) on European recycling targets. Key industry players state that the European recycling objectives would have zero chance to be reached.
- ▪Collectors, sorters, and recyclers all have different interests. Collectors and sorters want to collect as much as possible, as they are being paid per ktons sent to recyclers. Recyclers, packaging producers and brand owners are interested in high quality materials.
The greater good
But don’t legislators have a task in setting boundaries and creating the framework for companies and systems to operate in? As of January 2021, all European countries will be taxed for their “unrecyclable plastics”. If the definition of “plastic recycling” is already flawed, how will this help us switch to a truly circular economy?
The next generations will not be able to clean up our mess, if we do not get our act together.
So here is a very clear call to politicians and people willing to speak up: ask for clear boundaries in the use of plastic!
Five take-away points to consider:
- Be honest
Call out the sore spots and quickly tackle them by putting in best-in-class technologies and best practices from elsewhere. Do not cover up issues by creating false definitions.
- Be open
Make transparency mandatory for plastic value chains. Now, nobody knows what happens to plastic recyclate shipped outside of national borders..Limit the options
- Standardize the type of plastics per application (e.g. group them into food/non-food) and phase out hard to recycle plastics with no effective use at end-of-life.
(NB: for the ‘clever’ ones out there: burning is not a circular solution.)
- Care about quality
Trash in = trash out. We need financial incentives based on quality output, and more ambitious mandatory % of reuse and recycled content. Design for Recycled Content (vs only Design for Recycling) and Right to Repair will push markets in the right way. Trigger collectors and sorters in the right way, so the whole value chain is aligned on a common purpose: to effectively close the loop.
- No free ride
Put in more legislation. High-end recycling is in the know. Brand owners are putting together their own reporting to monitor effectiveness of recycling and reuse in different countries. Freeriding companies need to be put to a halt.
Once broken down into a smart and manageable process, the solution proves to be simple. If anything, the Covid crisis has shown us that quick behavioural change is possible, as is shifting in budget allocation.
There are policy makers and leaders of change out there, bringing forward successful interventions like a virgin plastic tax, a CO2 tax, mandatory reuse of materials and/or recycled content in materials. I am sure more is to follow.
We have entered a moment in history where broken systems are being fixed, where humanity can evolve into a caregiver for the planet rather than a parasite. Circular economies ARE the future and not only in plastics. In close collaboration with companies, we can make the future happen TODAY.
This is your chance to take a stand and fix what is broken. The time is now to collectively adapt for the world of tomorrow. A greener, cleaner and more responsible world. Searious Business invites you to make tomorrow happen today.