Written By Peggy Smedley
The conveniences we enjoy from living in a disposable society have led to our single-use throwaway culture. The linear take-make-waste economy, where we see material flow directly from resources extraction through manufacturing processes to landfills and our oceans must be reformed.
Environmentalists and individuals are sounding the alarm, postulating that if we continue at the rate that we’re going, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. Industry and governments are beginning to see that more exploitation isn’t the answer. We are within a decade of pure carbon collapse, yet the trend in resource extraction and greenhouse gas emissions still flows in the wrong direction.
Case Study: A step toward change
In light of the need for a transformation from our wasteful ways, some efforts have formed to help restore the earth’s natural systems. Consider the example of the NextWave Plastics Coalition, a consortium of multinational technology and consumer brands gathering together to rapidly decrease the volume of plastic litter entering the ocean. Member companies, which include Dell, HP, IKEA, General Motors and others, are committed to diverting a minimum of 25,000 metric tons of plastic — the equivalent of 1.2 billion single-use plastic water bottles — from entering the ocean by the end of 2025.
The coalition’s goal is in alignment with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 14.1 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and other marine resources for sustainable development by preventing and significantly reducing marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based debris and nutrient pollution.
Each member company has committed to following 10 principles as the foundation for its practice of decreasing the volume of mismanaged plastic waste before it enters the ocean. These include:
1. Encourage transparency – Share information both internally with respect to other members and externally with the public at large.
2. Remain open source – Donate publications, processes and other joint intellectual property.
3. Utilize science – Employ peer-reviewed science and develop an external, objective scientific advisory group
4. Collaborate – Partner with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to build upon its New Plastics Economy Initiative
5. Add to existing efforts – Undertake to complement the Clean Seas Campaign and its Sustainable Development Goal 14.
6. Strive to do no harm – Minimize social, environmental and financial costs, while maximizing benefits to the environment.
7. Advance – Develop a long-term initiative together.
8. Use objective measures – Collect volume and weight of reduced and recovered ocean-bound plastics and marine litter to measure performance.
9. Cooperate – Work cooperatively rather than under a single leadership or member’s direction.
10. Respect proprietorship – Honor the rights of members to own their intellectual property and other proprietary, non-public, confidential and market-competitive information.
These 10 principles can be instructive for other coalition-type efforts to reduce waste and pollution.
The rising circular economy will design out waste and pollution and ensure continual reuse of products and natural resources. This means that we will keep resources and materials in use as we attempt to regenerate natural systems. Consider the example of computers, for which much of its materials can be recycled and reintegrated. Dell manufactures about 40 percent recycled plastic, while HP plans to increase recycled content in its products to 30 percent by 2025.
Simply, the more circular we become, the less waste we generate and the more we restore natural ecosystems while continuing to drive profitability.
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Peggy Smedley is an award-winning journalist and technology expert. During her 25-year career she has extensively covered IoT, manufacturing, construction technology, and most recently sustainability, circularity, and resiliency. She is founder and president of Specialty Publishing Media (SPM); editorial director of Constructech and Connected World; radio host of The Peggy Smedley Show, and author of her new book Sustainable in a Circular World, which follows her first book, Mending Manufacturing (2004). Learn more at sustainablecircularworld.com.