Solving the Plastic Pollution Problem
For the first time at a large international environmental event, plastic was the focus of discussion for a day-long event called Plasticity Rio as part of the Rio+20 Earth Summit. The event, organized by Ocean Recovery Alliance, Republic of Everyone, and Applied Brilliance, attracted over 130 industry delegates, government leaders, educators, and innovators from more than 15 countries to discuss a world where plastic is used, but with a minimized plastic footprint, benefiting the environment, and the ocean as a result.
The conference brought together international experts in their respective fields to create a broad, collaborative discussion on what opportunities exist when we treat plastic waste as a resource, how bioplastics are less carbon intensive, how they can be recycled, how extended producer responsibility can help to reduce waste streams, build brand loyalty, and how even how innovators can approach funding sources. Eben Bayer of Ecovative even showed how mushrooms and fungus can be “grown” into products by using moulds that the spores grow into. They are currently growing replacements for packing material used for shipping electronics and even surfboards. Imagine a world where styrofoam alternatives can be grown.
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“Plastic is great for many uses, but when we throw so much of it away, it is bound to build up in our communities in ways that have negative impacts, and that is what we are seeing today, around the world, and within the ecosystem. Plasticity at the Rio+20 Earth Summit marks a turning point in the way that we can approach the “plastic resource” opportunity as exactly that, a big opportunity. Now is the time to scale-up these technologies, products and processes, to the benefit of brands, companies, and municipalities who understand where the improvements can be made in a new world of resource management thinking,” said Doug Woodring, event organizer, and founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance.
Waste as a resource was an underlying theme, with the challenge being at the municipal and infrastructure level to get the raw material to the proper technology operators who can turn trash into cash. With new sorting technologies, like those of MBA Polymers, virtually any type of plastic can be recovered and turned into its own, pure, feedstock stream, creating value for those companies who want to increase the amount of recycled material in their products. Consumers are also demanding these products in larger quantities, knowing that recycled material uses less energy and carbon, while helping to keep waste out of our ecosystem and ocean.
In the run up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, over 1,000,000 people from around the world voted on the top 10 issues to restore the health of the ocean, and the top result of the vote was plastic pollution. Previous figures by the Ocean Conservancy has shown that over 270 species of ocean animals have been impacted by plastic, and that number has now been shown to be over 700 species from newdata collected.
The goal of Plasticity was to bring out some of the best new solutions that are already on the market, or processes that are available for governments, companies and communities, so that these impacts can be reduced, while creating jobs and improved living environments along the way.
“While we all came from different perspectives and ideas, we all agreed that the ‘future we want’ is NOT the status quo – and that there are much more sustainable ways of dealing with the use and re- use of this valuable material compared with the prevalent one-way use today,” said Mike Biddle, President and Founder of MBA Polymers, and winner of the coveted Gothenburg Award.
Conrad MacKerron, Senior Program Director of As You Sow, said, “the link between poor recycling practices and ocean plastic has resulted in more than 60 cities in California and 100 cities in the U.S. banning or restricting use of expanded polystyrene food packaging, and another 28 California municipalities banning plastic take-out bags. New packaging commonly enters the marketplace without sufficient consideration of and design for its recyclability. Companies that market globally need to factor the lack of recycling infrastructure into marketing plans for both developed and less developed countries.” “This is an opportunity for those who get it right, and can create expanded customer loyalty along the way,” said Woodring.
“It’s been our sense at NatureWorks that “big conversations” like this about plastics have been long overdue. In Rio, the Plasticity event assembled a cross section of leading thinkers from both within and outside the value chain, to begin a solutions oriented discussion around some of our societal issues. This is exactly the type of event the planet needs to see more of,” Steve Davies, Global Head of Communications, NatureWorks.
"The great responsibility of our generation will be to deal with the proliferation of plastic. The path forward is to innovate and become better stewards of all natural resources. Plasticity is helping to provide the leadership and vision to get us there,” says Jason Foster, Founder of Replenish.
“The Plasticity Forum was an excellent opportunity to learn from the world’s leading experts working to reduce marine plastic pollution at its source. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is highlighting these source reduction techniques on a new platform – the Global Goal and Commitment to Stop Plastic Pollution -- at www.stopplasticpollution.org. This valuable convening of experts from government, business, and civil society will support the implementation of the Rio+20 outcomes document, which includes a landmark focus on plastic waste as one of the most harmful forms of pollution entering our oceans from land,” said Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC.
A number of commitments and programs were announced at the event, including an alliance between the Plastic Pollution Coalition (www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org) and the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) (www.plasticdisclosure.org) to work together with university campuses around the world to reduce their plastic footprints, and channelling the plastic waste that is created into resource-use opportunities. The University of California, Berkeley, is the first university to announce their use of the PDP for their campus waste management strategy. The Pacific Vortex Challenge also made its global launch at Plasticity, announcing an ultra-extreme “dream team” relay swimming race from Hawaii to California, through the North Pacific Gyre, to raise awareness of the issue of plastic in the ocean. This will consist of two teams of eight people, and over 16 countries being involved, starting on World Oceans Day, June 8th, 2014.
Winners of the Capturing Gold ideas competition were also announced. This competition focused on PET plastic bottles, and had two challenges: 1) How to best bring the bottles back, en-masse, from our communities, for recycling, and 2) what best to do with the material when aggregated. There were over 100 international ideas submitted, and the platform allowed for others to add to the ideas in order to make them stronger. The winning ideas for “capture” included the “PET Race” and “Turning PET into Pesos,” with the former being a competitive digital game application and the latter being a community/children based collection program where rewards are given from local businesses. The best “use” ideas included the creation of new furniture products via a large brand, and the use of material for making large scale playground equipment.
Due to popular demand, and excitement around this event in the way the discussions focused on opportunities and solutions, Plasticity will be held in Hong Kong, in May/June 2013.
Source: Plasticity Rio
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