Waste Management Sustainability Forum inspires optimism

Waste Management ForumHere’s an update on Waste Management’s ninth annual Sustainability Forum held on Jan. 31 during the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament. In a previous article, I lamented that no one from the plastics industry was going to be participating in the forum. Russ Broome of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS; Washington, DC) contacted me to let me know that a representative from that organization, in fact, would be in attendance for networking.

Kim Holmes, VP of Sustainability for PLASTICS, gave me an update on the event. She noted that she was “struck by the size of the group,” as it appeared there were perhaps 75 to 100 more people at the event than last year, showing that it has grown in popularity. “We appreciate the forum for taking on the challenging topic of marine debris,” said Holmes.

Speakers and panel participants could “inspire innovation” and create new ways to move forward on that issue, said Holmes. “They really did outline solutions with stakeholders and, of course, the plastics industry is a stakeholder,” noted Holmes. The participants in the panel discussion acknowledged “how industry is backing meaningful solutions and how our work feeds into those efforts.”

While I was a bit skeptical of the presentation by Valerie Craig of National Geographic (“Why Plastics? Why Now?”), Holmes stated that she was “really impressed” with Craig’s comments. “At the conclusion she pointed out intervention opportunities and where they can affect change. It was very solutions oriented,” said Holmes.

Everyone on the panel recognized the benefits of plastics. Even Nat Geo’s Craig commented that “we don’t have the option of going back and doing without plastic,” Holmes said.

Generally speaking, Holmes noted that National Geographic’s presentation showed that it is a process they’ve undertaken, which has given them the opportunity to better understand the issues and the true benefits of plastics. “Waste Management’s forum gave them a chance to explore the broader picture,” said Holmes.

The plastics industry is making a global effort, and the work that companies like P&G are doing is not just U.S. focused but is translatable throughout the world. Other plastics trade associations around the world are sharing ideas, supporting research efforts of the Ocean Conservancy and answering questions about materials, providing information, tools and resources as they work to improve the situation across the globe.

“The awareness of that is growing,” Holmes stated. “I think industry can no longer be ignored as to what it is truly doing to help provide solutions. We’ve even seen academics mentioning the benefits of plastics in life-cycle analysis. We’re noting that other groups are telling the industry’s story. I think we’re making headway,” said Holmes.

Even the panel moderator commented, “Wow, I’m optimistic!” said Holmes. “This is a real demonstration of how information can change peoples’ minds about the industry.”

Wow! I’m optimistic, too!

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