Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament goes for the green

golf ball and tee

Waste Management, sponsor of the Phoenix Open golf tournament, is once again promoting sustainability at the event through a multi-pronged approach.

The company announced yesterday that, like last year, it will be a “zero waste” tournament, with lots of opportunities for people to do the right thing and choose the appropriate bins for the mountains of waste created at an event expected to draw more than 700,000 fans during the week. Janette Micelli, spokeswoman for Waste Management, said in a television interview that the company will be offering many ways to collect and recycle plastic and other waste for reuse, compostability and energy use.

I’m happy to hear that Waste Management is implementing this multi-pronged approach to keep waste out of the environment. Plastic will be the most valuable material collected for recycling at the event—what can’t be recycled (bioplastics used for bottles or containers, for example) is very beneficial for waste-to-energy programs, where plastics’ high BTU value can be captured. There will be plenty of paper, as well, which will have to be sorted to eliminate coated paperboard and papers with food waste on them. There will also be bins for metal (aluminum cans, mostly) and glass.

However much I admire Waste Management’s efforts to make the golf tournament a zero waste event, however, I’m a bit disappointed to read about the company hosting its ninth annual Sustainability Forum on Jan. 31 at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Looking at the agenda, which is mostly about plastic in the environment (obviously, no paper, metal or textiles ever litter the environment), there is a glaring absence of anyone representing the plastics industry!

While no one from Dow, BASF or the Plastics Industry Association is scheduled to speak, Valerie Craig of the National Geographic Society will deliver a presentation titled, “Why Plastics? Why Now?” We’re all aware of Nat Geo’s floating plastic bag ads that have become ubiquitous.

I actually believe someone from the industry could answer Ms. Craig’s question. And I’m sure he or she would be more than happy to explain plastics’ many benefits, including the health and well-being of people and the environmental sustainability that plastics offer over many alternatives, such as glass and stainless steel, currently being proposed.

Waste Management’s President and CEO Jim Fish will offer his annual State of the Industry Introduction, before turning the stage over to Craig. That will be followed by a panel discussion on Plastic Waste in the Environment (again only plastic waste—no mention of all the other types of waste that can be found in the environment), moderated by David Pogue, New York Times columnist, CBS Tech contributor and Nova host. Panel members include Nicholas Mallos of the Ocean Conservancy, Steve Skira of Proctor & Gamble and Jason Hale of SystemIQ.

The next speakers are Mick Ebeling, founder and CEO of Not Impossible Labs, discussing “The Fallacy of Impossible” and Dr. Leyla Acaroglu, designer and sociologist speaking on “Changing the Status Quo by Design.”

After the lunch break, Waste Management’s Vice President of Recycling, Brent Bell, will deliver a recycling update, followed by a presentation from advisor and author Andrew Winston on “Global Environmental Trends and Local Impacts.”

Those speakers will be followed by another panel discussion, “Cities of the Future,” led by Pogue. Panelists include Clarence Anthony, Executive Director, National League of Cities; Rob Kunzig, Senior Environment Editor, National Geographic; and speakers Andrew Winston and Dr. Leyla Acaroglu.

It’s easy to see from this “all-star” lineup that, except for the presentation on recycling by Waste Management’s Bell, it will be mostly a day of plastics bashing. With no one from the plastics industry to educate and inform the audience regarding the benefits and advantages of plastics as an extremely sustainable material, attendees of this lop-sided forum will go away with plenty of justification for hating plastics.

It’s not doing the general public any good to leave the plastics industry out of the conversation. There is plenty to say about the benefits of plastics as sustainable materials that help reduce energy use, mitigate food waste and improve public health. Leaving us out of the conversation won’t make us go away.

Image courtesy sculpies/Adobe Stock.

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