Noticing that litter is a problem is the first step in taking action to create a cleaner, more sustainable planet. The next step is taking action. Partner with community members and local organizations to get involved and create meaningful change.
“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
An estimated 207 million PPE items — from masks to gloves and more — were littered across US roadways and waterways in 2020, according to Keep America Beautiful’s National Litter Study, released last month on Earth Day. The PPE has been linked to the entanglement and deaths of birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe. Specifically, according to OceansAsia, more than 1.56 billion face masks alone entered the ocean last year.
While these figures represent yet another set of staggering statistics in a profoundly difficult year, they also highlight an opportunity for people to take action and rally around a safe, healthy environment through community clean-ups.
Clean-ups work: Multiple studies have shown that clean-ups are important for supporting tourism and local economies, protecting wildlife and raising public awareness of the threat of litter to both wildlife and communities. Prolific litter in underserved communities and neighborhoods can misrepresent the area and contribute to health risks and low levels of self-image. Keep America Beautiful has been benchmarking litter rates in the US since 1969 and found that rates have dropped by 61 percent over a 50-year period. This is exciting, meaningful progress toward stopping waste.
That’s why Dow is excited to kick off another year of our #PullingOurWeight clean-up campaign. In 2020, Dow collected more than 1.2 million pounds of waste globally, working alongside team members and partners across the world. This year, Dow is aiming for an even more impactful program model centered on education, collaboration and recycling to keep communities clean.
Empower: Supporting people to make a change
More than 90 percent of Americans reported that litter is a problem in Keep America Beautiful's Public Attitudes Survey — and noticing a problem is the first step to getting involved. Identifying local needs around waste presents ample opportunities to partner with local and regional organizations and invite community members to join in local clean-up efforts.
Here are some quick tips to learn more about recycling litter if you plan to attend a clean-up:
Sort litter and other discarded materials into three categories: landfill, recyclables and compost.
Bring multiple bags to the park or beach to make sure materials can be collected separately. If possible, rinse off plastic and glass that’s been collected to ensure that it can be reused in the circular economy.
Collaborate: Igniting action across the value chain
Once materials are collected in a clean-up, they are sorted, recycled and transferred to manufacturers that recreate the material into another everyday product such as a recycled bottle or laundry detergent container. This journey is what’s known as the full value chain — and collaboration with each entity along the way is essential to making recycling work.
Here’s how to link into the value chain:
Look for collection bags that are produced with Dow’s partners, such as Polykar and the Bemis Company, and are made from industrial plastic scraps.
Take the #PullingOurWeight Pledge and join in with Dow’s partners and offices in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and North America. When every player in the value chain commits to collaborate for sustainability, change really begins to take off.
Recycle: Making the whole system work to keep our oceans and communities clean
Education and collaboration are key to ensuring there’s enough supply to meet the demand for recycled products. That’s why businesses, brands and individuals are rallying around a circular economy, which envisions that materials have a continuous lifecycle — continuing to be used, recycled, reused and so on.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher, especially for our oceans. A recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation study predicted that by 2050, there will be more waste in the ocean than fish. That’s why Keep America Beautiful’s new addition to litter research on waterways is so important. The new benchmark found that there was substantially more litter along large perennial waterways, which are rivers and streams with constant flow of water that often go toward an ocean. With this research, we can better identify where large sources of ocean waste originate.
The good news is that there are increased opportunities to stop the flow of waste down these waterways, pivoting materials that might otherwise become litter into recycling systems. A 2020 study found that consumers are demanding more recycled products, thus encouraging business to increase investment in product innovation and new technologies. For example, advanced recycling is a burgeoning new technology that can process previously hard-to-recycle materials, such as food packaging, to recreate new materials for a continuous life stream. Instead of discarding waste by our waterways — which is hazardous to the local communities that use those rivers, streams and beaches — why not ensure that these materials get a second chance at life as a recycled product?
Here’s how to save our oceans and step into a circular economy:
Separate waste into three categories — recyclables, landfill and compost — at home and at work.
Organize a community clean-up or find an existing one in your area.
Download the Litterati app to help researchers identify, collect and monitor the world’s litter.
Taking action: Getting started
Noticing that litter is a problem is the first step in taking action to create a cleaner, more sustainable planet. The next step is taking action. Partner with community members and local organizations to get involved and create meaningful change. And there’s no time like the present to get involved in community and civic activities to feel more agency in a complicated era of climate change and COVID-19. Join #PullingOurWeight or the clean4change.org challenge, and take an active role in protecting our Earth.