Who Is Solving the Problem of Plastics?
By Cheryl Harbour

Since the movie The Graduate in 1967, when Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock was told that one word -- “plastics” -- could be the key to his future, plastics have been having an impact on the future of the planet. And it’s not a positive impact. Some people predict if plastic keeps making its way into the oceans, by 2025, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

What if you held a contest to see who could eliminate plastic trash and nobody came -- and our piles of plastic bottles, bags, and food containers just grew and grew? Luckily, the Ellen McArthur Foundation is holding a contest – the Circular Design Challenge – and innovators from all around the world are responding.

The challenge concentrates on small-format packaging items such as sauce packets, wrappers, straws, lids and tear-offs. They make up 10% of all plastic packaging, but they are the hardest to recycle. They’re small and slip through the recycling “cracks.” The focus of the Circular Design Challenge is to come up with solutions that make unrecyclable packaging recyclable or combine materials that nature can handle.

A company in Indonesia is making edible packaging from seaweed. Other companies in countries such as the Czech Republic, Chile and U.K are working to eliminate plastic drink lid waste with ideas that include a subscription service for reusable lids and a new cup design that doesn’t need a separate lid.

More winning ideas were unveiled at the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. Each of the winners is awarded $200,000. According to an article in Fast Company, one of the winners includes “a team from the University of Pittsburgh which is making food packaging from layers of polyethylene (which is recyclable). Each layer is nano-engineered to have different properties (like keeping food dry and unspoiled by light). But when the material is melted down, it returns to the same state as traditional polyethylene, so there are no additional steps in the recycling process.”

Another winner is a California-based company developing a product called PHA that’s made from organic waste and is completely compostable and marine-degradable. When put in a compost heap, it will degrade faster than in other environments (such as store shelves or your kitchen cabinets) because it breaks down according to how much bacteria it’s exposed to.

Getting big companies on board is important. In early 2018, the Ellen McArthur Foundation succeeded in getting 11 major corporations to pledge that by 2025 all of their packaging will be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable. They include Amcor, Ecover, evian, L’Oréal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Walmart, and Werner & Mertz.

Also in early 2018, McDonald’s announced that by 2025 in all of its 37,000 stores, 100% of its customer packaging will come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources and recycling will be available in all its restaurants.

In future babyboomers.com editions, we’ll bring you up to date on innovative solutions to the proliferation of plastic bottles and the progress of laws banning plastic bags.

 




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