The plastics industry is mobilizing quickly on multiple fronts putting out raging firestorms of anti-plastics opinion and activities including bans and other proposed regulations that target plastic pollution and waste. One of the latest and most ambitious of the broad-based countermeasures is the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), which was announced last month and has a specific focus on ocean pollution.
The AEPW is comprised of nearly 30 companies that are making a combined initial commitment of $1 billion (USD) with a goal of $1.5 billion over five years to make progress on these four areas:
• Infrastructure development to manage waste and increase recycling;
• Innovation to develop and bring to scale new materials and product designs that minimize waste and new recycling technologies that create value from all post-use plastics;
• Education and engagement of governments at all levels, communities, businesses and even individuals; and
• Clean-up of concentrated areas of waste in the environment, particularly the major conduits of waste that carry land-based waste to waterways.
One of the Alliance’s founding members is Nova Chemicals (Calgary, Canada).
“This investment demonstrates our commitment to helping to shape a world that is better tomorrow than it is today,” said Todd Karran, President and CEO, Nova Chemicals. “Plastics in our environment is a growing challenge, but a solvable one with strong leadership and collaboration.”
“Plastics are valuable materials that make our modern lives healthier, easier and safer,” said John Thayer, Senior Vice President, Polyethylene Business at Nova Chemicals. “We also recognize the need to work toward the creation of a circular plastics economy that reduces waste and encourages reuse, recycling and regeneration.”
PlasticsToday interviewed Thayer for further details on what the company and other members plan to achieve within the scope of the AEPW.
How much of a difference can Nova Chemicals and the Alliance make?
Thayer: The Alliance offers a tremendous opportunity for a range of key members in the value chain to bring their collective resources and expertise to bear on an enormously complex issue. We believe the Alliance and Project STOP (STop Ocean Plastics), which we joined in 2018, are two of the best initiatives globally that are positioned to bring about meaningful, systemic and permanent solutions to get and keep plastics out of our oceans and the natural environment.
We are incredibly proud to join the Alliance as a founding member and look forward to working with the other members along with governments, institutions, outside companies, NGOs and communities to solve the issues.
Our work will help in the creation of a circular plastics economy that reduces waste and encourages reuse, recycling and regeneration.
What are the company’s plans to align with AEPW? What’s the feedback from the industry?
Thayer: As founding members, we fully support the work of the Alliance. In addition to our monetary investment, we will contribute full participation and expertise as projects are implemented. Where possible, we will take learnings from the work of the Alliance and its members and apply them to our operations, our business, and how we help our customers.
Our customers and others in the value chain have expressed a tremendous amount of excitement that we’ve joined the Alliance, as well as Project STOP. Some have expressed interest in joining one or the other, and we look forward to welcoming them as new members or partners.
What’s the biggest change for the company now?
Thayer: We have long been champions of product sustainability, and sustainability in our operations, our workforce, and the communities in which we operate. This is our Taking Care model. Joining the Alliance both aligns to our existing commitment and expands upon it to include taking action on a global level. We are very proud to be investing in the Alliance and Project STOP, global initiatives that we think will have meaningful, lasting impact.
What’s the biggest challenge to reducing plastic waste?
Thayer: The complexity of the issues. Plastic waste overall and in our oceans, waterways, and natural environment can be drastically reduced with a multifaceted approach. We must work collectively and draw on the expertise and resources of all players, from governments, private industry, NGOs, and all members of society. We also must implement a range of solutions that work best for a given geography, population, etc. One size does not fit all.
What role can reusable packaging and containers play in reducing plastic waste?
Thayer: There are a lot of solutions that can meaningfully reduce plastic waste, including reusable packaging and containers. Lifecycle analysis is critical to ensure that any given solution offers a smaller total lifecycle footprint than its alternatives. For more, read the American Chemistry Council’s Trucost study on this topic.
Regardless of the success of reusables, there will continue to be a very large volume of recyclate globally for which we need to have valuable end markets.
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What role can and should consumers play?
Thayer: Consumers of course play a large and critical role in both source reduction and increasing recycling rates. Their buying decisions affect how much material is consumed that can later end up in the recycle streams, and the conscientious binning of recyclables is crucial to ensuring materials ever have the opportunity for a second life as recyclate.
The plastics industry, government, and others have a responsibility to educate consumers about the value of plastics, their carbon footprint in relation to alternative materials, and how we’re working to get and keep plastics out of the natural environment.
How successful will the Alliance be against the rising tide of the anti-plastic movement that claims a growing number of brands and restaurant chains as participants?
Thayer: We realize that eliminating plastic for other materials seems more rash than strategic, but such is the state of things today.
Ordinary citizens are expressing a real frustration with the end results of the make-take-dispose consumption model—plastics in the environment, and especially in our waterways and oceans, where they are adversely affecting ocean health and animal populations. They’re looking for action, now, and brands (and governments) are responding with a range of initiatives, often around eliminating single-use plastics, that they hope will be perceived as meaningfully addressing these consumers’ concerns. The Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy and the newly announced reusable products initiative LOOP are also aligned to source reduction as a key solution.
Experts know that global actions around infrastructure development and citizen education, especially in Southeast Asia and other rapidly developing countries and regions, as well as recycling and chemical recovery innovations, will have a vast impact in addressing end-of-life plastics issues. The Alliance is one important initiative working in these areas, along with Project STOP, Circulate Capital, and many more. However, the work of these initiatives towards a global circular economy is not enough.
Today, there is more work to do to win hearts and minds. It’s essential to understand the impacts to water, air, energy and human health involved in the total lifecycle of a given material, from sourcing and manufacturing to transportation and end-of-life processing, whether to landfill or into recyclate. A well-thought out, extensive, and sincere public education communications campaign is critical for people to understand these issues better and enable them to make conscientious, well-informed decisions that they feel good about.