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Rethinking the future of plastics

Article and insights courtesy of Danielle Nissen, Research Assistant, CCTNE.

Today´s plastics produced in factories tend to end up in a multitude of destinations. Different types of plastics are usable for different types of products, which means they each have their own lifecycle and polluting effect on the planet. Currently plastic production is not fully optimized and in most parts of the world the production process still works to a linear model, where the amount produced equals the amount wasted.

After serving its life purpose, some plastic goes into storage or landfills. Consequently, the main challenge, is the thousand years it takes to break down, and during that process it releases toxins that get absorbed into the ground which eventually ends up in our groundwater.

Other plastics end up in our oceans which has a devastating effect on marine life. The ocean currents´ vortex locations spiral together and which results in it getting piled up. This phenomenon has culminated into an infamous Island, estimated to be the size of Texas. The Island, as you probably know is called “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

Not only are the toxins slowly polluting our oceans, but animals mistake the colorful plastics for food and end up dying from starvation or getting trapped, resulting in death. You may have already seen videos on social media depicting these tragic and unnecessary events, but what we do not observe is the effect it has on us! After a long period of time circulating in the water, the plastic breaks down into microplastics that get eaten by small fish, then larger fish and eventually by humans.

Some countries have taken national initiatives like in Spain, where retailers are obliged, by law, to charge a minimum of 5 cents per non-degradable plastic bag. Other countries have taken a similar stance in countries such as Ireland, France and Denmark. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that some Third World countries have started to take lead in the field of sustainability, avoiding the same mistake of their counterparts in the first world.

This all might seem like plastic is our enemy, which it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Already, many existing alternatives are coming into production. Biodegradable bags, six-packs, packaging etc. made from other materials instead, like corn and soy. But what about the plastic industry? We must strive toward a circular economy, by ensuring the plastic doesn’t go to waste, and instead returns to the distributor for re-production.

So far, recycling has been the most effective change, and many countries have had a recycling system in place for years. For example, in Denmark you can’t buy a plastic bottle without paying an extra 20 cents per bottle, which you get back once returned.
We must think in similar ways with other types of products, that will make the consumer want to return the leftover packaging to the factory. This new way of rethinking the cycle opens up an entirely new market for investors and a sustainable future, that not only will benefit human health, animal welfare and the planet´s well-being, but also drive a positive impact on long term profits.

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The G7 is an informal group of the world’s advanced economies that meets annually to build consensus on some of today’s most challenging global issues. One of the important key topics they will discuss at this year’s G7 Summit is how to work together on Climate Change, Oceans and Clean Energy.

This is a chance for some of the world’s largest exporters of plastic to put words into action. Hopefully in the process will directly influence the world´s number one exporter of plastic, China, last year´s host for the G20.

This years’ G7 meeting will takes place 8-9 June in Charlevoix, Canada. Read more about this years’ G7 summit

Moving forward, we desperately need all stakeholders, including innovators and world leaders to cooperate on devising a system that will enable industry leaders drive the future of sustainability and a robust Circular Economy.

Meanwhile, we highly encourage end-consumers to speak out on which standards we must strive towards. A very famous phrase “Think Global, Act Local”, tells us exactly how to do so.

It also leads us to an important question. How do we, as consumers impact the market? Often the reason for people not to buy bio-degradable or taxed products, is simply the price. We must rethink our purchases as an investment. If you want to create a larger market with more variety and lower prices, we must show the big corporations where our interest lies. The fact is, most companies´ profits are dependent on their ability to sell sustainable products, which in turn is reliant on their ability to invest and develop within that sector. It might sound Utopian but it’s a simple fact, that if no one buys the product it will eventually be made redundant.

It´s high time we used our purchasing power as an effective voting tool. Let´s vote for a sustainable world.

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* Since 2008, CCTNE – ‘Climate Change the New Economy’ has promoted independent and informed discussion on issues related to climate change and sustainable development, through high quality publications aimed at political business leaders and opinion formers. CCTNE is the only publication focussed on this crucial subject matter present at the G7 Summits. Our purpose & value are two-fold: 1) to deliver effective thought-leadership through our proven advocacy platform 2) ensure as wide a reach as possible via our unique, extensive global distribution ‘hard-copy’ network & associated on-line platforms.

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