Kennedy: ‘Circular economy’ seeks total elimination of plastic waste

'The question is not whether a world without plastic pollution is possible, but what we will do together to make it happen'

Categories: Business, Opinion

The recycle bins in my garage are overflowing – again.

We take our own trash to the town transfer station, and that means depositing recyclables there, too. Sometimes we seem to produce more recyclables than trash, and if we forget to watch the multiple bins versus the single trash can, we get to the current overflow problem.

Now, I’m happy to recycle; it’s the volume that often surprises me, particularly the plastics.

So I took note this week of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. It’s a mouthful of a name for companies and others getting behind the concept of a “circular economy” for the product — producing plastics that are continuously recycled and reused so that no waste results: My plastic shampoo bottle begets more plastic shampoo bottles, which beget more and so on.

The Global Commitment was part of the discussion at a conference earlier in the week in Bali called Our Ocean. Big-name plastics users, like Nestle, signed it; others, such as PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Co. and Danone, in the past week have talked up their own plans to have packaging that by 2025 is entirely recyclable or reusable.

One of those pushing the circular effort is Ellen MacArthur, a British woman who in 2005 set the record for sailing around the world solo. She says she came back with a better understanding of the world’s finite resources, and set up a foundation that advocates for a circular perspective across economies, as opposed to the “linear” one we have used up until now, which is characterized by the shorthand “take-make-waste.”

For the New Plastics Economy, “circular” means eliminating unnecessary plastic items; innovating to ensure that needed plastics are recyclable or compostable; and reusing the needed plastic items so they stay in the economy and out of the landfill, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website.

“The question is not whether a world without plastic pollution is possible, but what we will do together to make it happen,” reads an open letter on the site that calls on business and government to “draw a line in the sand” to stanch plastic waste at its source.

In New York, where we each produce more than 4.5 pounds of trash per day, according to the state, we’re encouraged to “precycle,” or prevent waste before it has to be recycled or thrown away.

That can be done in small acts, says the state Department of Environmental Conservation, such as buying vegetables and fruit loose rather than packaged at the supermarket, or bringing a mug for coffee to the office instead of using a disposable cup.

Maybe if I start with suggestions like that, I can begin to thin my overflowing bins and focus on only those recyclables that “circular” advocates have committed to using again in closing the loop on waste.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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