Solutions for a less plasticized world
Is there a definitive remedy for the problem facing our planet with single-use plastic?
This article wants to be an optimistic but critical review of initiatives that are already underway and that try to solve the problem from different approaches.
We published it in connection with the participation of the Go Zero Waste app in the Planet Reset project, a cycle of online talks promoted by Wakatobi to generate dialogue around the great sustainability issues that we face as a society. You can retrieve the other sessions on his YouTube channel.
Here is the full video of the session:
The plastic problem can be solved because humans are capable of everything (the best and the worst)
Just some data to put us in a situation:
- The first electric batteries are from the beginning of the 19th century (200 years ago!)
- Atomic bomb killed 70,000 Japanese in Hiroshima in 1945
- Single-use plastic fully entered American society in the 1950s-1960s
- Man reached the Moon in 1969
- There is evidence of global warming since the 50s, 60s and 70s
- The existence of ocean “plastic soups” has been known since the 1980s
And all this historical data for what? To explain the basis of our optimism: humanity has been capable of extraordinary feats in the last two hundred years as a result of the Industrial and Scientific Revolution.
The above historical facts are not chosen at random. They tell us that more important than technology itself is deciding what we use it for. We are able to create solutions to the problem of plastic pollution because as a species we have shown that we have an enormous capacity to create and collaborate.
The question is therefore not whether we can solve the plastic problem, but whether there really is a will and interest. Are we going to put the necessary economic and intellectual resources to make it possible?
We have decades of evidence on the causes and consequences and, as we will see below, a host of possible solutions underway.
5 facts that illustrate the problem of single-use plastic
Let’s go over some data to put ourselves in context:
- 95% of the plastic in the oceans comes from the land through rivers and highly populated coastal areas according to a 2017 study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature
- 40% of the plastic produced is destined for packaging that is used once and then discarded
- About half of the plastic manufactured to date has been produced since 2000
- Less than 5% of the plastic in the world is
- In 2050, it is calculated that there could be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight) according to the report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics” published in 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum
“At the start of any catastrophic event there is a scientific person being ignored”
Activism and lobbying as an example and engine of change
The most powerful thing about activism is that it is done from the example. Empathize and inspire to awaken consciences.
Some examples of activism against single-use plastic:
- Rob Greenfield, activist and adventurer
- Bea Johnson, the driving force behind the Zero Waste movement is her book Zero Waste Home
- Trash is for Tossers – Lauren Singer popularized the concept of garbage in a glass jar
- Bye Bye Plastic bags Bali movimiento para prohibir las bolsas de pástico de las hermaas Melati e Isabel Wijsen.
- PlasticAttack, Local groups organizing to pressure supermarkets to stop marketing products with so much plastic.
- Plastic Free July annual campaign to mobilize and raise awareness through the “July without plastic” challenge.
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has. Margaret Mead.
The above are examples of local people or groups that often transcend movements. On the other hand, there are all the large organizations that bring together some of these actors and create large campaigns to raise awareness and pressure governments and companies.
Main activism and lobbying platforms:
- Break Free From Plastic
- Rethink Plastic
- Plastic Pollution Coallition
- Zero Waste Europe
- A Plastic Planet
- 5 Gyres
- Alliance to end Plastic Waste
- Fundación Ellen MacArthur
Important advances in legislation and commitments made:
Some of the most important agreements that have been implemented to date and commit governments and large corporations with concrete actions:
- Prohibición plásticos de un solo uso Unión Europea 2021
- European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy
- New Plastics Economy – ONU y Fundación Ellen MacArthur
Ecodesign, new materials and business models: towards the Circular Economy
Here are some interesting examples that demonstrate this:
Redesign everyday objects:
- Cepillo de dientes Everloop de NOS studio
- Reusable packaging of Replenish
- Reusable Home Delivery Package RePack
- Loop store, TerraCycle’s reusable home delivery service
Innovate with new and old materials:
- 💧Algas para envasar agua y otros líquidos de Ooho Water
- 🍄 Hongos para los embalajes de IKEA y Ecovative Design
- 🌵 Cactus (nopal) para crear un sustituto del cuero de Desserto
- 🍍 Piñatex, material para calzado hecho con residuos de piña
- 🍌 Indianes, calzado hecho con fibra de plátano
- 🐟 MarinaTex, un nuevo material a base de pieles y escamas de pescado creado por Lucy Hughes
Create brands from recycled sea plastic or fishing nets
Finally, it is also worth highlighting all those brands that are making clothes and accessories using
- 👕Ecoalf es un ejemplo muy reconocido de ropa y complementos
- 👙 Trajes de baño como las marcas Cabuya y Sloppy Tunas
- 👓 Gafas de sol como Sea2see y Parafina
- O complementos del hogar como una línea especial que creó IKEA
Beware the greenwashing of ecofriendly products
These brands are demonstrating that there is another way of doing things, using waste to make attractive products that can compete in quality with others. Furthermore, they are often committed to their impact beyond the product and have social projects where they involve fishing communities or the people who make the garments.
However, it is important to clarify that there is also a lot of “greenwashing” in many products that call themselves ecofriendly and have more of marketing than mission, vision and impact. There are more consistent brands than others.
It should also be noted that in many cases the products are not made of 100% recovered or recycled materials. You have to look at the proportions. Finally, in many cases, these products are made with only a few types of plastic out of many, mainly PET from beverage bottles and nylon from fishing nets. It should not be forgotten that there are many other types of plastic out there without market value that do not generate commercial interest to be recycled.
We do not intend for everyone to become a sustainability expert, but it is important to have a critical eye and inquire about brands beyond their commercial message.
If you are interested in these types of innovations, we recommend you download the “Reuse: Rethinking Packaging” guide from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for more examples.
By the time a plastic bottle reaches the sea or nature, someone has already designed, manufactured, sold, bought and disposed of it. At the end of the road, the evil is already done.
However, even at the end of the road there is much to do. The following projects, some very famous and with great impact, are proof of this:
- Plastic Bank, For-profit organization created by David Katz and Shaun Frankso that creates plastic collection points in impoverished areas to reduce waste while giving work to the local community in exchange for essential resources.
- The Ocean Cleanup, Non-profit organization created by Boyan Slat that develops technological solutions to extract plastic from the world’s most polluting oceans and rivers to prevent it from breaking into tiny particles that are more difficult to recover.
- Precious Plastic, Plastic recycling project created by Dave Hakkens based on the open source, maker and digital commons philosophy that allows creating small plastic recycling stations for communities to manufacture their own objects based on recycled plastic obtained from their own waste.
- 4Ocean, For-profit company created by Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper that sells bracelets made partially from recycled plastic recovered from beach clean-ups they organize to raise awareness of plastic pollution on the coasts.
It is not enough to collect, you have to classify and identify responsibilities
Cleaning beaches and oceans is fine, but you need to go one step further and
That is why we love the World Cleanup Day initiative, a global beach cleaning by Break Free From Plastic and Greenpeace among many others.
The great difference in this case is that it is held simultaneously on hundreds of beaches around the world and that, once all the garbage is collected, an audit of polluting brands is carried out worldwide: all the waste found is separated by brands and The main world polluters are identified. Coca Cola has been on top of the podium for several consecutive years, followed by PepsiCo and Nestlé:
The Importance of Extended Producer Responsibility
Brand audits are a powerful activism action that points out the importance of detecting to what extent the different actors are more or less responsible for the contamination of plastic and other waste.
The concept of “Producer Responsibility” seeks to add the environmental costs associated with a product throughout its life cycle to the price of this product on the market.
By adding such costs, which are often still considered externalities, manufacturers are forced to take greater responsibility for the environmental impact of the products they put up for sale.
What can you do? Buying is voting
Buying is voting. Assembly of two illustrations by the artist Dase (Dase.es)
We can all change the world with our purchasing decisions. It does not matter if you are not an industrial designer, politician, responsible for sustainability of a large corporation … you buy every day. And each purchase is a vote towards the world you want.
You are part of the solution: things you can do
You can stay informed to build a critical opinion as a consumer
Reduce and prevent waste as much as possible in your day to day.
Try to buy in bulk, in reusable format or solid formats for cosmetics and hygiene
Reuse and repair whenever possible: lengthen the life of your things!
Reject that superfluous, avoid single-use products.
When buying, choose brands committed to social and environmental sustainability
Join a local initiative that tries to improve things
Here we give you 100 more examples!
Conclusions: a less plasticized world is possible
“Something is sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising those of future generations”
I wish we had a crystal ball to see the future and guess the final solution. What we do know is that a less plasticized world is possible as long as we have some things clear:
1.Plastic is not the problem. The problem is its use and the culture of “use and throw away”
2. Each country must be responsible for the waste it generates
3. Recycling is not enough, you have to focus much more on reducing and reusing
4. Every product put on the market should be at least 100% recyclable and its recycling must be guaranteed. Just because something is recyclable does not mean it will be recycled.
5. Mass consumer brands must truly take responsibility for the impact their products generate
6. There is still a long way to go to innovate in ecodesign of packaging and new materials
7. Citizens have great collective influence power through our purchasing decisions, let’s use it!
8. … and above all:
If you made it this far, we can only thank you for your attention and encourage you to share this article if you think it may be of value and inspire other people.
From Go Zero Waste we work to facilitate a life without waste through technology (Go Zero Waste app), communication (talks and workshops) and collaboration between people and organizations of all kinds.
Co-founder and CMO of Go Zero Waste