We spoke recently about the idea of Plastic Recycling- Circular Economy Opportunity, and realised the extent of the plastic problem globally. We also discussed the idea of plastic recycling as one potential solution as advanced by entrepreneurs such as Australia’s Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals. Today we will look at the potential list solutions and begin to sketch a vision for the problem and opportunity that is single use plastic.
An inspiring video was made recently by James Roberts, entitled ‘A Plastic Wave – A Documentary Film On Plastic Pollution’ (Roberts 2018- see link below). Here he examines the problem of single use plastic in the UK, and then explores the acute situation in India. The scale of the problem is confronting. Young children in India are forced to live in oceans and rivers soaked with the decaying stench of plastics. Towards the end of the video Roberts discusses with experts a couple of potential solutions, including a banning of single use plastics, and a global effort to clean up key waterways.
These solutions are important, but they do not get at the source of the problem- the demand and supply of single use plastics as a packaging product. There is also a clear link to climate change because all plastic has coal and oil as source materials. If we can solve the problem of single use plastic pollution, we can simultaneously reduce carbon emissions.
Simultaneous problem solving immediately ignites creative thinking. If we re-frame and flip the problem of plastics into an opportunity, then we can begin to sketch solutions and strategies. These include-
- Phasing Out. A voluntary or mandatory banning by a key date, such as 2030. This strategy is simular to the phasing out of CFCs when we dealt with the Ozone Problem in the latter part of the 2020 Century.
- Substitutes. We could create a biodegradable substitute for single use plastics. For example, recycled paper or like derivatives are what we used before the rise of plastics in the middle of the 20th Century. The base materials already exist, we just need to build manufacturing and economic processes, and then scale.
- 3D Printing. The technology of 3D Printing may have an application for new innovations, such as Biodegradable Plastics. Linked to global networks, this gives us the potential for any plastic product to be created in any other part of the world. This can reduce production and transport costs, and so carbon emissions.
- Recycling. We spoke about the idea of using recycled prospects in our abovementioned article ‘Plastic Recycling- Circular Economy Opportunity’. The key here is to raise the price of new plastic as a commodity source, so that recycled plastic is cheaper. Business then will switch to recycled plastic to save costs. Using a new plastic tax (below) could achieve this price shift. Further, used plastic will have value as the new input. A new economy would evolve to gather the old plastic and give it to recycling or manufacturing companies. This consequence is quite relevant to fast developing regions such as India, and simultaneously would help improve global inequalities.
- Clean Up Campaigns. Roberts (2018) discussed these at length in the UK and India. However, these strategies could be linked to a Recycling strategy to provide added incentive, and another cost effective process for companies to source recycled plastic as an input. Recycled glass bottle strategies and the like have always worked well, and there is no reason why they would not work for recycled plastics. These campaigns need regularity to be successful. For example, Australia has an annual Clean Up Australia Day, which is 30 years old in 2020. A quarterly Plastic Warrior campaign could have similar success.
- Plastic Tax. A plastic tax could be imposed by government on businesses still choosing to use single use plastic or new plastic as an input. The revenue raised could be put into a dedicated fund and used for grants, subsidies and other incentives for entrepreneurs looking to undertake, for instance, R&D into alternative or biodegradable plastic products.
- Individual Actions Plans. If we all take responsibility, and create a simple but powerful personal action plan to move to Zero Plastic by 2030, coupled with the Internet, we can have a dramatic impact. Here we can significantly reduce global domestic demand for single use plastics. Similar movements have already occurred in some regions. For example, supermarkets no longer giving out free plastic carry bags. However, this is not enough, and just shifts the problem. We need to focus on the consumer’s responsibility and the power of global demand. Paying companies to issue plastic bags is not helpful. Most consumers will happily pay for a biodegradable, environmentally safe product, such as reinforced recycled papers bags at the supermarket checkout. More importantly, most consumers will reduce or eliminate demand for recycled plastic bags if an entrepreneur provides a convenient and cost effective way to do so.
There are of course other solutions, but these are the main ones. They are not mutually exclusive. That is, they may be used in conjunction through careful strategy. However, a global architecture is also needed, just as we did with the Ozone Layer. A treaty or like international agreement with a key due date, such as 2030- this aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), would be important first steps. This will be enough to ignite the engines of business and investment.
If we can solve the Ozone Layer problem, we can solve the problem of single use plastics. Given this problem is also linked to climate change, creative problem solving becomes our main instrument of change. It has always been. By moving away from industrial, linear models such as: Make – Use – Waste, towards Circular models such as: Make – Use – Recycle, we create systems similar to natural systems. Natural systems have no waste, are perpetual, adaptive, and have worked for millions of years. Our hurdles are belief, motivation and vision. Through Zero Plastic 2030- A Global Vision we hope to have made a start.
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.”- Dr. Edward O. Wilson
By Lee Spano, Creatness International www.creatness.com
Roberts, J, 2018, ‘A Plastic Wave – A Documentary Film On Plastic Pollution’, 19 November 2019, viewed 29 January 2020, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-dpv2xbFyk&t=1301s >.
Spano, L, 2019, ‘Plastic Recycling- Circular Economy Opportunity’ 23 October 2019, viewed 29 January 2020, < http://creatness.com/esg/plastic-recycling/ >.
TED Talk 2019, ‘A Radical Plan To End Plastic Waste’, September 2019, viewed 23 October 2019, < https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_forrest_a_radical_plan_to_end_plastic_waste?trk=organization-update-content_share-video-embed_share-article_title >.