Bad News Week, Plastic, Plastic Everywhere - And Some Powerful Solutions

November 9, 2019

It's been a week of even more worrying news on the state of our planet and the urgency for action, not the least being the statement by over 11,000 scientists from 153 countries endorsing a Climate Emergency. They reiterated critical issues such as eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels and with it, supporting renewables, eating more plants - YES! - wasting less food, having fewer children, restoring ecosystems, moving the economy away from GDP and growth of affluence, as being part of 6 clear measures to address climate change. With the statement came a stern reminder that there can be no more 'business as usual', of being ignored. We have had over 40 years of major global negotiations on the crisis. Our window of opportunity is diminishing.

Meanwhile, a bill was introduced to the the US federal government - The Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act - a brazen regulatory attempt to stifle the future of cellular agriculture and plant-based meat products. While groups like the US Cattlemen's Association might consider this a 'win' if the Bill proceeds, it is not a win for our planet and the future of billions of people on this planet, especially with a looming protein shortage. Yet again, this is an attempt to narrow the definition of meat. Whey do we keep getting 'stuck' on definitions?? Consumers are not confused. Those with vested interests unwilling to see the huge opportunities in these emerging industries are driving this narrow-minded nonsense. (I have always understood 'meat' to mean a 'substantial meal' - especially in earlier dictionary definitions. When did this change?)

Then State of the Earth 2019 annual message was released on October 29 summarising some key scenarios by 2050 - such as over 150 million people being forced to relocate as a result of coastal flooding, conflicts over habitable land and deteriorating resources. Major citites all around the world will be submerged according to this report published by science journal, 'Nature'.

Despite the bad news, reinforced in this is the power of individual efforts to effect major change in policy and economic frameworks:  The power of one. Nowhere is this demonstrated more powerfully than in the 'good news' that Australia's main grid - the National Electricity Market broke through the 50 per cent benchmark for renewable energy in one trading period on Wednesday, the first time that half of net demand had been met by renewables. That's people like you and me, with our own rooftop solar panels, providing half of the renewables output - followed next by wind, large-scale solar and then hydro. What a great feeling.

When we wander around supermarkets and elsewhere and shudder at the amount of single-use plastic everywhere - and wonder how to pull this back - and quickly, powerful solutions are out there with increasing simplicity and sophistication at the same time. We are even seeing the beginnings of ecommerce circular shopping systems, using the best technology has to offer. I cannot believe that 'anyone' finds it 'cool' to be seen carrying a single use plastic water bottle, however such people do exist - and I have witnessed them walking into our World Heritage National Park in the Blue Mountains, Australia, carrying these bottles in their hands! (Where DO those plastic bottles end up!?) 

In an ideal world, single use plastics would cease to be manufactured immediately, but even if this were possible, copious amounts of existing plastics abound with compelling evidence to suggest we need highly-organised, inventive ways of reusing these plastics before they end up in our waterways and oceans. Plastic Bank offers the opportunity to make real impact here. Their mission is to stop ocean plastic by 'gathering a billion people together to monetize waste while improving lives'. A root cause solution to prevent the flow of plastic into our oceans is by 'transferring as much value as possible into the hands of the collectors', according David Katz, Founder and CEO of Plastic Bank. The Bank aims to provide sustainable premiums in every recycling community around the world. By improving infrastructure and paying a Plastic Bank Membership Bonus on collected plastic, recovery has greater value as well as providing a source of income for members and their families. Anyone anywhere in the world can support this initiative as well as Social Plastic (Plastic Bank verified plastic providing premium for the collector which is then processed into pellets, or flake feedstock for organisations to use, alongwith approval to use Plastic Bank marks on packaging or marketing material.) Smaller organisations can also be involved by using Social Plastic Collection Credits to offset their plastic use. This has the potential to provide diverse, branding stories about environmental and social impacts. Individual support is offered through paying online to go Plastic Neutral - starting at just $US44 and equal to recovery of 84kgs of plastic consumed by the average person in a year. In essence, Plastic Bank has created a scalable, international recycling ecosystem, giving manufacturers easier access to recycled plastic, as well as ensuring there is a second life. 

Another exciting development in recycling is the LOOP system by Terracycle. Last week Woolworths in Australia announced their new food delivery system in conjunction with TerraCycle,which lets shoppers buy their favourite products in beautiful, solid containers that can be refilled again and again. Customers will be able to order a wide variety of familiar products, from washing detergent to shampoo - even icecream, in specific packaging delivered in a shipping tote bag.Trusted brands are delivered to customers' homes and then empties are collected later on, for reuse again. Zero waste! LOOP will be available to Woolworths shoppers from mid 2021. The power of this initiative as I see it, is that the other major supermarkets will be forced to follow. TerraCycle was found in the United States in 2001 an operates in 20 countries. Can this be expanded to instore products for inhouse shoppers, even if it means paying a little extra for the sturdy, reusable containers, which could be brought back to the store for deposit refund/account credits at collection banks? 

Australia has a national packaging target by 2025 of all Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable. LOOP goes a creative step further and provides outstanding customer service as well.

Next week the United Nations Clean Seas Campaign begins again with the theme "What's In Your Bathroom", focusing on microplastics, microbeads and single use plastics poisoning sea life and affecting human health. The Campaign targets plastics in personal care products such as cosmetics and toiletries and invites consumers to examine products in use and switch to safer alternatives. The great danger with these microplastics is they are often out of sight, flush down our drains unnoticed. too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants and ultimately are ingested by marine life. Here is where the power of one comes into play: For starters, we can replace toothpaste with tooth powder, shower gel with a good quality vegetable soap, shampoo soap bar instead of shampoo - eliminating plastic containers associated with such products at the same time!

All of this means simplifying our lives in very meaningful ways, renewing our compact with Nature and continually exploring more solutions to effect constructive change in our own lives for a future. Far from onerous, this is deeply-satisfying.

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