3 Solutions to Tackle the Plastic Soup

Cooking up new business models to address a societal issue
3 Solutions to Tackle the Plastic Soup
Publ. date 17 Nov 2014
Over the years the global community has spent more time admiring and talking about the great plastic waste problem than finding a solution. Luckily, a number of organizations has started to take matters in their own hands. They engage the right stakeholders, create a solution to address the problem and make a profit along the way, by re-engineering their business model and sustainable innovation.

Sizing the problem 

The plastic waste problem affects us all. Nearly every piece of plastic ever produced on this planet still exists today. 85% of the total amount of plastic waste is not recycled and accumulates on our landfills and in our oceans. With increasing global development and consumption, the problem only seems to be getting worse. Predictions are that the amount of plastic waste doubles each decade. Considering we produce about 300 million tons of plastic each year, this means we are in deep trouble. 

Ocean plastic causes a lot of damage. Where the big chunks of plastic impair ships and pollute our beaches, the smaller pieces get ingested by marine animals who clog up inside and die a slow painful death. Below the surface, the problem gets even worse. Since plastic is not biodegradable, it breaks down into ever smaller pieces: micro- and nanoplastics. The nanoplastics are especially nasty: not only do they attract and bind toxic chemicals from the water, experimental research has found that nanoplastics travel through cell membranes. This means that if you are a seafood lover, you are accumulating particles of toxic nanoplastics in your body each time you eat seafood. 

Measuring plastic use to reduce business risks

Many businesses are directly affected by the plastic problem. Especially the packaging industry and food and softdrinks producers are vulnerable to the risks associated with the plastic waste problem. Examples of business risks include:

  • Reputational risk: branded waste
  • Market & product: loss of market share
  • Compliance: inaccurate estimation of the costs & risks associated with plastic
  • Operational: price increase of raw materials

Reduce, reuse, recylce  

In the past few years, a number of initiatives have emerged that address different areas of the solution: preventing the increase of additional plastic; the extraction and re-use of existing waste, and finding feasible methods to recycle the plastic waste. All these initiatives have at least one thing in common: they rethink business and engage and activate different groups of stakeholders to address the problem. For example:

  1. Reducing additional plastic waste: the Plastic Disclosure Project
    The Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) is an initiative aimed to increase accountability and transparency in plastics management. The PDP helps businesses and institutions to measure and manage their ‘plastic footprint’, and to develop innovative strategies to use plastic more efficiently, or to find alternative materials. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative supported by the global sustainable investor community, UNEP and the Bill Gates Foundation. 
  2. Reusing the plastics in the ocean: The Ocean Cleanup foundation 
    The Ocean Cleanup foundation came to life when a young Dutch student obsessed with the plastic problem, designed a concept to extract plastic waste from the oceans as a high school assignment in 2012. The concept turned out to be 'likely technically feasible and financially viable', and the recovered plastics can be turned back into oil. Recently the founder of the foundation has won the 2014 United Nations Environment Programme award for charting new territory in his quest. 
  3. Recycling: Envision Plastics & Method
    The collaboration between Method (sustainable home care & personal products) and Envision (a producer of post-consumer resins) resulted in the world’s first bottle made with ocean plastic. Method teamed up with local cleanup volunteers to collect plastic debris from the beaches of Hawaï to use for their ocean plastic bottles. Being a small soap company, Method is aware that they cannot solve the entire plastic problem, but they can be part of the solution by raising awareness with their small-scale solution. 

Rethink: material issues as opportunities for business rather than threats 

The three examples mentioned earlier, have in common that they rethink the status quo to come up with new business models and sustainable innovation in order to create value. Are you ready to address the sustainability issues of your business in a way that creates value for the company and society? Please contact Josée van der Hoek, at josee@finchandbeak.com or call +31 6 28 02 18 80 for more information.

Sources: 
UNEP (2014) Valuing Plastics: The Business Case for Measuring, Managing and Disclosing Plastic Use in the Consumer Goods Industry, Wageningen University dossier on micro-and nanoplastics research

 

About Josée van der Hoek

Experienced strategic issues management specialist with expertise in strategy development, food waste and DJSI. | josee@finchandbeak.com

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