The anti-plastic movement is evolving from recycling. Its goal is to support an emerging industry and corresponding lifestyle shift that will grow strong in the next decade. There are movements under way that indicate the public is beginning to consider the collective plastic footprint as well as our carbon footprint. Some areas where growth will be prominent:
Zero Waste is a term that rallies the goal that all waste will be recycled or composted, repurposed and preferably never produced in the first place. There are zero-waste restaurants and hotels, even stadiums and conference centers. Cities from Buenos Aires to Taiwan to San Francisco have passed zero-waste resolutions, and have innovative and ambitious plans to reduce consumption, extend recycling and increase composting. In Italy, a zero-waste initiative led by the group Contaria (a coalition of 49 municipalities) has achieved a diversion-from-the-landfill rate of 85 percent. One system it implemented was “Pay As You Throw,” so consumers and businesses can immediately see that it costs more to waste more.
Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR: When the product lifecycle costs, such as for waste disposal and pollution cleanup, are reflected in the price of the product, the result is a market incentive for producers to design better products. EPR legislation has been passed in the European Union and is spreading to most industrialized countries. Over the past five years, the US has adopted the principles of EPR largely through state-level action; nearly half of US states require product stewardship for outdated electronic equipment. Computer giant Dell, now a global leader in EPR, was the first electronics manufacturer to take back its products, without charge, from consumers for recycling.
Governments get it: Dan Jacobson, state director of Environment California, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, believes cities will become allies in the fight so they can save money. “The cost of dealing with plastic pollution is falling on the cities. On the front end, this material is so cheap, it’s almost free. On the back end, the costs are enormous. Cities are constantly looking for ways to spend less money. Now they are dealing with escalating costs associated with unclogging storm drains and cleaning up waterfronts. They are paying more and more tipping fees to the landfill. There will be pressure on retailers to come up with alternative products.”
Make it package-free: VirtueBrush, a member of The Plastic Pollution Coalition, recently started a petition in Ireland recommending that major supermarkets introduce a plastic-free aisle in every store. This mirrors similar campaigns in other countries. All over the world, there are “packaging free” stores and supermarkets where you can bring your own packaging and buy food and even household and personal-care products in bulk. At the website Bepakt.com, you can look up these stores by country and city.
Ontrendpreneurs®: Smart entrepreneurs are catering to the need for replacement products. The Davos Report by the World Economic Forum predicts that plastics’ share of global oil consumption will escalate from 6 percent in 2014 to 20 percent in 2050. As oil becomes more expensive, so will everything made of plastic. Now is the time to roll out alternatives.
Companies like Life Without Plastic provide lightweight cloth bags for purchasing produce, tin and glass containers for food storage at home and endless products to replace throwaway coffee cups, water bottles and plastic shopping bags.
Bioplastics are a new type of plastic made from plants. Though there is much less carbon dioxide produced during production, a product footprint is left behind. They also release carbon dioxide during the biodegrading process and do not biodegrade easily in all environments. Some, in fact, some do not biodegrade at all. However, they are less toxic.
Innovia, an international company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, created NatureFlex products. They look like any plastic food packaging that one might expect to be used for nuts or dried fruit. However, they are made from sustainably sourced renewable wood pulp. They have a high moisture barrier and are fully biodegradable — even in the ocean. In 2010, the company tested its products in seawater and discovered that nearly all disintegrated within four weeks.
The Lexus Design Award in 2016 went to AMAM, a Japanese team developing a super material made from seaweed that could replace bubble wrap. It incorporates Agar, which is made by boiling a specific type of red algae, which results in the collapse of the plant’s cellular walls. These products decompose naturally and will not harm marine life should the packaging end up in the ocean. It is still in the development stages, but may ultimately have the potential to replace plastic products such as shopping bags, cable ties, toothbrushes, cutlery and ballpoint pens.
Hemp is about to explode: Plastics can now be derived from plant cellulose. Hemp is one of the strongest fibers known to man. At least 16 states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes and 20 states have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs. It is an extremely efficient crop that grows up to 60 feet in just 90 days. It requires few pesticides and no herbicides. Biodegradable materials made from hemp can be injection- or blow-molded into almost anything. The company Hemp Plastic has a composite material that can be injection-molded for any number of plastic items like cosmetic containers, caps and toys.
They are not alone. There are now thousands of plastic-replacement hemp products on the market, from scooters to CD cases, furniture, consumer electronics, fiberglass and other construction materials. Door panels of some BMWs, Mercedes and Bugattis are manufactured using a hemp fiber basis. Hemp plastic is said to be five times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene plastic.