Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
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Whether it’s using the carrot of incentives or the stick of regulations, change is possible — and strongly desired. So, what can brands do? Be proactive and make the extra effort to find and choose recycled plastic whenever possible.
Heat waves, floods, wildfires and the like are an ongoing reminder that climate
change is already here. Mankind’s actions have permanently changed the world and
it’s only getting worse.
The news is full of constant reminders of the urgency of the crisis and the need
for mitigation. A key part of this is identifying opportunities to make
meaningful changes wherever they may lie. Human activity has increased the
amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million to 416 parts per
million in the past 150 years, and plastic
has contributed more than many realize.
is a scourge many environmentally conscious individuals and organizations
bemoan; but concerns usually focus on plastic’s impact on shorelines, marine
and risks of proliferating
Unfortunately, plastic doesn’t get a free pass when it comes to climate change,
either: Manufacturing virgin plastics emit significant levels of CO2 — between
one-and-a-half to three times their weight. And the very building blocks of
itself are highly problematic from the moment they’re unearthed.
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Retracing the steps of common plastic items reveals a trail of destruction that
few consumers or businesses truly internalize. To begin with, plastics are
created using petrochemical — which must be extracted from underground — and
those drilling, mining, fracking and other processes are both destructive to the
surrounding environment and consume large amounts of energy, burning fuel and
sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Manufacturing plastic resins with that petroleum is also a carbon-intensive
activity. PET, the plastic commonly used for bottles and other packaging,
creates 2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of manufactured resin.
Other plastics range from 1.5-3 metric tons of CO2 for each ton of plastic
Further, after plastic products and packaging have served their intended purpose
— which may not be for very long for single-use
— it enters the waste stream. An average of three-quarters of the plastic
created annually becomes waste within the year. The best-case scenario is that
plastic winds up in landfills; however globally, roughly 25 percent of it ends
up incinerated. When that happens, 1.37 metric tons of
is released into the atmosphere for every ton burned, not to mention the other
dangerous gases and
released during this process.
When added up, one ton of plastic can be responsible for three to five times its
volume in dangerous, and even cancerous, greenhouse gases that directly
contribute to climate change.
In most regions, there’s already enough potential supply of recyclable
to meet current demand. Technological advances — from automated sorting to
— exist to recycle the vast majority of plastics.
That means, with the proper systems and motivations enacted by local
virgin plastic could easily become the exception rather than the rule. Today,
only 10 percent of plastic is recycled worldwide; but up to 50 percent of
plastic waste has the potential to be commercially recycled, so there is a huge
opportunity. Already some forward-thinking entities do just that — such as the
and the Canadian province of
holding producers accountable for the recyclability of their packaging. Other
governments are also incentivizing the use of recycled and easily recyclable
plastics. The European Union began taxing non-recycled plastic
this year; and the United States is exploring a Plastic Waste Reduction and
Whether it’s using the carrot of incentives or the stick of regulations, change
is possible — and strongly desired. 94 percent of US
are worried about the environmental impact of product packaging; this is a rare
majority spanning generations and the political divide.
Now is the time for manufacturers and brands to step up, do the right thing for
the planet, meet customer expectations, and even save costs. So, what can brands
do? Be proactive and make the extra effort to find and choose recycled
whenever possible. Beyond that, design packaging such that it minimizes material
and is reusable, easily sorted and recyclable to close the loop.
The solutions are within reach and change is coming; and that change is driven
by the motivation and small decisions made by suppliers, brands and consumers.
To learn more about how you or your company can reduce your carbon footprint by
choosing recycled content, visit oceanworks.co.
Published Sep 17, 2021 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.