How One Company Is Working To Address The Global Plastic Waste Crisis
In the epic 1967 film The Graduate, the young lead character Ben played by Dustin Hoffman is given advice about his future by Mr. McGuire – “One word. Plastics.” Indeed, plastics have fulfilled a vast number of functions in modern society.
But particularly when it comes to containers, wrappers, bags and other “single use items,” plastic is also a huge source of environmental impact through litter, microplastic contaminants, incineration, and even the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
The visibility of the ocean pollution problems has served to increase public awareness of this issue and inspired things like a UN Global Plastics Treaty and the “Plastic Reality Project” involving 25 corporate leaders in India. Still, it is estimated that it would require an investment of around $30 Billion per year until 2040 to build the infrastructure needed to fully address this issue in all parts of the world.
The ideal solution would be a system that goes beyond a “circular economy” to one that is “planet positive and restorative.” But the reality is that while recycling certainly does occur in the countries that can afford to invest in waste handling infrastructure, the sorting process is complicated and there is not a secondary market for many plastics.
Actual recycling is in the range of 6-10% of the total. There is an excellent summary of this situation on the Dirt-To-Dinner website.
In the Global South services like curbside trash collection are unavailable, and even drop off sites are rare. Thus, plastic waste all too often ends up being dumped at unregulated sites, incinerated, or simply discarded into the environment.