Why collaboration is crucial for solving our global plastics problem
Plastic is everywhere, that’s not new news. You’re probably sitting on something made of plastic right now, or wearing something that contains plastics.
One of the main problems with trying to solve our world’s plastic issue is that there are so many solutions being sought after in small-scale settings (ie. within a company’s own space). While it is important that people are redesigning their own systems, there is still the need for the system to be changed as a whole.
The plastics problem is a systems problem.
Because the issue is rooted in the system, and not individuals, the key to finding a solution is through collaboration. If the solutions are fragmented between industries and people, the system as a whole will be tougher to fix.
And while I do want to recognize that there are efforts being made in collaborative settings towards this issue, we need to push for even more of it at an even greater scale.
The goal for plastics is to have them never become waste or pollution — this is essentially the circular economy for plastics.
In this video from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, they state that “Recycling alone won’t solve plastic waste and pollution. We must shift our focus to innovation and business models that design out waste, keep our materials in use, and protect and restore our environment.”
A crucial point made in the video, and one that I believe is also a necessary mindset shift that needs to be made overall, is that “materials are designed to be used, not used up.”
How we treat plastics throughout the whole cycle of the system matters.
In the video, the EMF suggests 6 key points of the vision for a circular economy for plastics:
1. Eliminate the plastic packaging we don’t need.
Through redesigning, innovating, and creating new delivery models, we can reduce the amount of unnecessary plastics used for packaging.
2. Reduce single-use products and apply the reuse model wherever possible.
The reuse model keeps the material in the economy, making it important that we aim to design out waste from the beginning.
3. All plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
The ability to actually reuse, recycle, or composite plastics needs be feasible in practice and at scale for it to work. This also requires redesign and innovation in order for it to work.
4. No plastics end up in the environment. All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted.
All used plastics should be collected to be properly reused, recycled, or composted in order to keep it out of a linear system. It’s important that plastics stay in the economy and out of the environment.
5. The need for virgin plastics is drastically reduced and the plastics system is decoupled from finite resources.
This can be achieved by eliminating the plastics that we don’t need and increasing the use of recycled plastics where they are needed. The entire system should also be powered solely by renewable energy in order for the system to be fully decoupled from finite resources.
6. All plastics are free from hazardous chemicals.
There is a greater need for more research and transparency on what chemicals are used in plastics and what their effects are. It’s essential to respect and consider the health, safety, and rights of the people involved.
No single country or company can achieve these goals in silo; we need collaboration among industries and geographies in order to solve the whole puzzle.
About the author:
Sarah is our community manager, working closely with partners and community members to help us transition to a circular economy. She also runs our product community for TGW — a free design thinking and innovation platform for tomorrow’s changemakers and entrepreneurs. You can reach out to Sarah via email firstname.lastname@example.org or come chat with us in our community.