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How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

Today more than ever there is a lot of reasons why it is a good idea for a business to become a zero carbon. However, this does raise the question on how this is to be achieved and what are the steps that need to be taken.

Here we will discuss the reasons why it is a good idea to go net zero or to reduce carbon emission totals within a business and how this can be typically executed.

What is Net Zero and Zero Carbon?

In simple terms “net zero” is a phrase that is used to describe the balancing of carbon emissions produced by a company, person or organization. The amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced are balanced with incentives, schemes and processes that remove an equal amount (or more) of carbon from the atmosphere. This is also often referred to as being carbon neutral.

This is different from becoming a zero carbon business – where the goal here is to not generate any carbon in the first place. This can be a hugely difficult proposition to achieve depending on the individual business.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a main cause of global warming and therefore governments around the world have put in place targets for carbon reduction. Decarbonization is a complex process but the climate crisis needs to be addressed before it is too late. This is why emissions reductions targets are put in place to help reduce the billions of metric tonnes of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere every year.

Businesses that are looking to move towards zero carbon can turn to organizations such as the SBTi who have Net-Zero Standards that use a science-based approach to setting net zero goals and providing a roadmap as to how this can be measured and achieved.

Reasons & Benefits of Becoming a Zero Carbon Business

Becoming a zero carbon business is not only about doing the right thing for the environment, it can also help support your business now and into the future.

Of course – as mentioned – this is a complex proposition and often the first step is to move towards becoming a net zero organization. In many cases this is the best case scenario for many organizations, it is simply not possible or within their business model to be able to become a zero carbon business in the short to medium term.

Regardless of the classification between becoming a zero carbon business and being a net zero business, there are range of benefits in becoming a sustainable business. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.

Sustainability Attracts Investment

For companies that are listed on stock exchanges, sustainability can be an important factor since one of key indicators that many investment companies use is something called the ESG Rating Score. What is this score? In simple terms this is a score given to a company based on its management of a broad range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance indicators.

Some of the factors that are covered by the ESG rating include carbon emissions, climate change vulnerability, water use, biodiversity, the use of renewable energy, and waste management, to name but a few of the many aspects.

Ensuring that your business has a good ESG rating means that investors knows that a business is future proofed in terms of its environmental and social impact. It is becoming obvious that companies that do not minimise their negative impact on the world are seen in a less favourable light by both investors and customers alike.

This is why a company that manufacturers electric vehicles will score better than one that still produces cars that only rely on fossil fuels, with no option to to ultimately use renewable energy. At least in theory – since the ESG rating also covers social factors such as supply chain labor standards and product safety.

The ESG score itself isn’t perfect and does come under some criticism since many believe it tries to cover too many factors within its remit, but ultimately it is still something that both businesses and investors take seriously.

Customers Want Sustainable Goods

With a 71% increase in searches for sustainable goods globally there is a demand for businesses to meet the demand from green consumers. This makes for an attractive proposition for companies that are looking to meet these needs.

However, it is important companies do not get carried away in terms of marketing and advertising their green credentials since tokensim is common in this field. Consumers and the press regularly highlight companies that boast about their green credentials while still polluting and carrying out bad environmental practices. These companies often get accused of greenwashing – which is the process of putting a ‘green’ positive spin on their business practices.

Whether a business is a large multinational enterprise or an SME that operates in a local market – more and more customers are looking for providers that are environmentally friendly. Ensuring your company can meet those expectations from an ever increasing market share is more important than ever. It short it is good for business to be environmentally conscious.

 

Future Proof Your Business

Environmental impact is an issue that affects us all and when it comes to business models, those organizations that proactively embrace positive change in their business practices are more likely to be successful in the future. There are many reasons for this, some of which we have already touched on, from attracting investment to gaining new customers looking for greener products and services.

Another important consideration is government intervention – where companies must comply with rules, regulations and laws.

Organization such as the IPCC report on the issues relating to climate change and governments use the knowledge gained to guide climate change policy. The Paris Agreement also was formed to tackle global warming – and with this in mind – corporates need to understand that climate action needs to be high up on their list of issues to address in terms of moving forward with their business in the future.

In many cases if a company waits for a government to intervene through climate policy legislature then they are already behind much of the competition. Waiting until something becomes a law or a regulation can cause a lot of problems within an organization, as it scrambles to hit targets and comply with the new rules and regulations. Often, it is better to move towards these goals in good time, with proper planning and strategy.

How to Become a Net Zero Business

A business that is looking to become zero carbon will need to examine their business in detail with a goal to remove all fossil fuel use from their business practices. For a number of reasons this can be complex and difficult for some businesses to achieve.

With this in mind – many companies work towards carbon neutrality, and instead work to become a net zero business where the amount of carbon they produce is balanced out and offset to help reduce its own climate impact. For many companies – once this is achieved a secondary goal is to move towards becoming a carbon negative business where their carbon impact is offset beyond what they produce.

For a business that is looking more towards becoming a net zero business there is a wide range of incentives and processes that can be put in place to help achieve this goal. Ultimately, it can be problematic for business to meet these targets in the short to medium term, depending on what industry they operate in.

However, even for companies that may struggle to change all their business practices in the short to medium term to meet sustainability goals there are still many things that can be done and achieved to help improve their standing over the longer run.

Ultimately moving towards net zero carbon emissions means that a business needs to do a wide range of things within the business to meet these goals.

Carbon Offsetting

When starting out a business might imagine that all they need to do is to use carbon offsetting schemes to hit their net zero emissions goals. Historically, this might have been the way companies may have tackled the problem but today – carbon offsetting only plays a small part in the process.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t play an active roll in moving towards becoming zero carbon. Companies are increasingly likely to sign-up to carbon offsetting and carbon credit schemes on a voluntary basis.

In fact carbon offsetting schemes have become big business themselves and there are a lot of options for a business to find synergies with their own organization. Most companies will look to work with gold standard or accredited schemes.

Beyond carbon, there are other offsetting schemes that are available to business. For example – for a business that deal with plastic in their products or supply chain you can look at schemes that can support you to become plastic neutral.

Ultimately, the first step of hitting net zero targets is to calculate the current carbon footprint of the business to understand what needs to be achieved. Then through process review, efficiency measures and consultation with stakeholders within the business, a plan and a set of projects need to be put in place.

Once this footprint has been ascertained a business can work out how much resource they want to allocate to improving their own business practices and how much will be allocated to external carbon offsetting initiatives.

Reduce Exposure to Fossil Fuels

Another big area for companies to address in their business operations is to try to reduce their exposure to fossil fuels.

How can a business do this? Here’s some typical ways that a business can tackle this.

Reduce energy use and consumption. Have you noticed that some offices leave their lights on all night burning electricity. Switching off the lights and machinery when not in use can save energy. Carrying out an audit on energy use and where it can be saved can be beneficial and it can raise issues such as heating or air-conditioning use and whether that is properly planned instead of being left on without consideration.

Switching to a eco-energy provider that uses renewable energy sources is another method a company can employ to help reduce their exposure to fossil fuels.

Examining the supply chain and reducing product and supply exposure to processes that use fossil fuels is another way to reduce fossil fuel use. Also think recyclables and sustainable materials instead of single-use.

Switch to suppliers who are also committed to net zero or sustainability. Again, supplier choice can have a knock-on effect on your carbon neutrality performance. Picking more sustainable suppliers is another way to reduce a businesses exposure to fossil fuels.

Review Corporate Expenditure

Not all net zero incentives need incur a cost to the business. In fact – in many situations there are cost savings to be made. Take for example a business that may previously have carried out a lot of business travel, either for internal meetings or to meet external customers.

Today, not only can cost savings be made in the reduction of expensive flights and accommodation, which also has a negative impact on the carbon footprint, but often it is more efficient to remain on-site and use modern technology such as Zoom or Microsoft teams to hold virtual meetings.

Reducing business travel is only the start when it comes to making savings while improving your sustainability. Another example – in this case relating to retailers – is in the reduction and light-weighting of packaging that is used in the products that are sold. How often have you received a package from a company that has used a box is much bigger than was needed? Not only does this increase packaging costs unnecessarily but often it can increase shipping costs that are often included in the prices of the product.

Switching to more efficient packaging – and also ensuring that any packaging that is used can be recycled easily, can improve a company’s profitability, has a positive impact on the customer’s perception of the company itself, and helps the environment.

These are just two examples – there are many more initiatives that a business can take though business process changes that can improve the efficiency of the business, reduce expenditure, while also improving environmental outcomes.

Businesses can also take cost savings from implementing changes to their business practices and invest them in new zero carbon initiatives within the business, further accelerating positive change.

How the Plastic Collective Can Help

Find out more about Plastic Collective and get latest news and info about circularity, plastic recovery and recycling, and the effects of climate change, by subscribing to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

Plastic Collective can also help your business learn more about product stewardship and how you can become plastic neutral.

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

It is hard to miss the news reports on television and in the press showing the effects of plastic waste and the amount of plastic debris in the ocean. From single-use plastic bags to fishing nets there is a vast quantity of plastics that end up in the sea. Most people understand that introducing plastic waste into the oceanic ecosystem is harmful. However, not everyone is aware of the devastating impact the plastic problem has already had and is still currently having on both the marine environment and for human health.

There are many issues relating to plastic waste in the ocean and why it is a problem that needs to be tackled globally. In this article we will explore the issues and look at the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean and marine environment.

Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

When plastic enters the ocean, gyres (a system of rotating ocean currents, tides, and winds) can transport that piece of plastic all over the globe. For example, plastic waste that enters the ocean in Europe can end up on a beach in Asia which is why all countries need to be tackling this issue together since it goes beyond just a local problem.

Fish, sea mammals and sea reptiles such as turtles are also impacted by plastic waste in the ocean. Again, for marine life, entanglement and ingestion are serious issues that can lead to death. The knock-on effect is that longer-term this can impact the overall viability and health of the entire marine ecosystem.

One of the major problems with ocean plastic is that it breaks down slowly. Some pieces of plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose. As plastic breaks down it often turns into smaller particles of plastic, called microplastics, that are even harder to clean up and deal with.

The Effects of Microplastics in the Ocean

What happens to the plastic items when they become marine pollution?

As mentioned, one of the key issues with plastic marine debris is that over time it can degrade into smaller pieces called microplastics. Microplastics are defined as being pieces of plastic under 5mm in size.

These microplastics and microfibers can enter the food chain and also wash up on our beaches and are extremely hard to clean up. Although organizations have been working on ways to filter out this kind of plastic, it is challenging and costly to do so.

Another form of microplastic are microbeads which are small plastic pieces that are often designed for cleaning or cleansing in beauty products. These small plastic beads are made from plastic types such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. Many corporates have removed these from their products having understood the problem that they cause (and due to legislations by governments).

In a number of countries including the UK, US, Canada, NZ and Australia, microbeads have been banned from sale, but as highlighted, plastic contamination in the ocean is a global problem which requires a combined, global effort to address. Sadly, the damage has already been done and these plastic particles have already been introduced into the oceans.

The Problem with Plastic Pollution on Beaches

Anyone who has walked along a beach that has not been litter picked will often notice the quantity of rubbish and waste that is washed up on the shore. Often this waste will consist of flotsam and jetsam from commercial enterprises out at sea such as fisheries, but often you will also find bottles and packaging from household waste.

Unsightly debris on the shore visibly highlights the problem with poor waste management, but it is also only one of the many issues that rubbish has on the overall environment.

Seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other animals that occupy beaches and coastal areas can be harmed by plastic rubbish. From animals being entangled in fishing gear and nets, to ingesting plastic after mistaking it for food, are only two of the issues that plastic pollution in the ocean causes.

The Problem with Plastic on the Ocean Surface

Just as with plastic found on beaches, plastic that is floating on the sea surface can also be problematic. Marine mammals can get tangled in fishing nets and other marine species mistake plastic pieces for food and ingest it. Plastic ingestion can lead to suffocation, starvation, drowning and death.

Plastic on the ocean surface can also contribute to climate change. The reason for this is that with concentrations of plastic on the sea surface, bacteria that live in the oceans can attach themselves to the microplastics. The more plastic, the more bacteria. Since the bacteria consume more oxygen, they also in turn generate more carbon dioxide, which directly contributes to climate change since it upsets the biogeochemical carbon cycle.

The issue of garbage on the ocean surface can be visually dramatic. For example, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California in the North Pacific Ocean is estimated to be as large as 1.6 million square kilometres in size. While the ocean clean-up has begun in this area, the size and location pose a difficult challenge. However, cleaning up the ocean surface won’t solve the issue of plastic in the ocean. This is because surface plastic is only the beginning when it comes to the plastic problem.

The Impacts of Plastic in the Ocean

A less obvious and visual issue with plastic in the ocean is the plastic waste that either floats within the layers of the sea itself or rests on the seabed.

It is estimated that there is 14 million tonnes of small plastic under 5mm in size sitting on the sea bed. It is also estimated that the amount of plastic under the ocean’s surface is thirty times greater than what is found floating on the top of the sea.

While marine mammals may die from the effects of ingesting plastic, smaller creatures such as fish and crustaceans can also eat plastic (often microplastics). This is also the case for plankton, a key food source for animals, which resides in the sunlit zone of the ocean.

When mammals and fish predate on smaller animals, if that animal has ingested plastic waste, the plastic is introduced into the larger animal’s digestive organs. Plastic can have long term health issues for animals. In Molluscs there has been evidence of hormonal changes when exposed to plastic.

The wider implication is that since humans also consume fish, crustaceans and shellfish, it means that plastic, chemicals and microplastics are also in the human food chain.

Often these plastics are so small they go undetected and potentially can end even end up in the bloodstream. In a study carried out by a team at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, polymer particles have been found in 80% of the humans tested.

While the long-term effects of these plastic contaminants are unknown, it is theorized that these plastics could potentially cause cancer and other serious illnesses in humans. The bottom line is that plastic pollution is not only a significant problem for marine life, but it also has the potential to have a negative impact on human health.

Plastic can also have a negative impact on coral reefs, atolls, and biodiversity. It has been found that plastic contamination in coral reefs increases disease 20 fold.

What Causes Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

One question is where does all the plastic and rubbish in the ocean come from in the first place?

The majority of the plastic waste found in the ocean is from land-based household and corporate waste sources. This waste often enters the ocean from the runoff of rivers and waterways.

Often plastic rubbish from single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and other food packaging that has not been disposed of properly through recycling or in landfills can eventually find themselves in the waterways.

A smaller proportion of the marine plastic waste (but still a significant quantity) is from the fishing industry. Fishing nets and other fishing equipment can end up as ocean pollution and can cause damage to marine animals and habitats.

Of all marine pollution, plastic makes up around 80% of it and this equates to eight to sixteen million metrics tonnes of rubbish that enter the ocean each year. To put that in perspective it is estimated that there are between fifty and seventy-five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. This figure is set to increase, without significant intervention by consumers, businesses, and governments around the world to address the issue.

Long term future

Without significant changes in the way we use and dispose of plastic the long-term future for the environment and oceans is bleak. It is predicted that plastic production will double by 2040 and increase by 2.5 times by 2050.

We are already seeing the effects on biodiversity, ocean habitats and the effects of plastic in the food chain for humans. Without significant intervention in our use and how we deal with the problem of plastic, the situation will only become worse. Without a fundamental shift, plastic waste in the ocean could nearly triple in quantity.

Currently only 20% of the plastic used is estimated to be recycled, leaving 80% of all plastic to have the potential for become a pollutant.

Back in 2017 The United Nations Environment Programme launched the Clean Seas Campaign to reduce problematic and avoidable plastics. Sixty-three countries pledged to support this improvement in plastics management, and while inroads have been made, much more needs to be done.

For the individual concerned about plastic waste and the environment there are a number of minor changes that they can make to support the reduction in plastic pollution in the environment. It may feel like the impact at an individual level is miniscule but if everyone made the same changes it would have a substantial impact.

Individuals can support the reduction in plastic waste by firstly avoiding buying products that use single use plastics, such as plastic water bottles. Another important thing is to ensure that the plastic waste you do produce is properly recycled. Helping to stop plastic from entering the environment is a key aspect of improving the problem with plastic pollution.

For corporates looking to improve their green credentials there are a number of things that can be implemented, and they are not always expensive or incur extra costs. Initiatives include the following:

–   Waste Reduction – Businesses should explore the waste they produce and look at ways that recycling and reducing the materials that they need to operate their business. Even small improvements to waste reduction totals can have an enormous impact over a year.

–   Use Sustainable Materials – If you are a business that either manufacturers or ships products then switching to sustainable materials in your packaging and products can have a massive impact on how much extra plastic product waste is generated.

How Plastic Collective helps

Plastic Collective work with communities to tackle plastic waste. We supply education programs and provide machinery and training to create sustainable plastic recycling micro-enterprises. We also provide a marketplace for communities to sell the recycled plastic they produce.

To find out more about the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean as well as latest news and info about plastic recycling, clean energy, and the effects of climate change, subscribe to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

Benefits of Reducing Plastic Waste for Business

Benefits of Reducing Plastic Waste for Business

When plastic was first introduced it was thought of as a miracle and flexible material but as the world has come to realize this material comes at a cost to the environment and health. Businesses have relied on plastic not only as one of the raw materials in the plastic products they manufacture but also as a packaging material.

While this convenience and cost efficiency has often previously outweighed other concerns with governments, organisations and consumers all aware of the problems that plastic consumption poses businesses are learning that adopting sustainable practices can be beneficial for a business in the long term.

One of the main issues that businesses need to address is how single use plastics is used within their businesses. This sort of plastic has the biggest issue since it comes at the highest environmental cost and requires waste disposal. While some plastics can be placed in the recycling bin by the consumer, often there is a large amount of plastic that could be recycled which ends up in landfill or as litter.

Here we explore some of the ways a business can benefit from reducing plastic waste.

Improve Brand Equity

Brands that are not seen to actively work on plastic packaging initiatives can loose a certain amount of positive brand equity with consumers who are increasingly becoming more interested in the lifecycle of plastic and sustainability in general. This is commonly known as conscious consumerism and it is becoming much more popular with many people actively altering their buying and spending habits.

Not only does this impact consumers but also has an influence on employees as people do not necessarily want to work for a company or organization that has poor environmental business practice.

Genuine green initiatives offer companies great PR and social media opportunities (as long as they avoid cynical green washing campaigns) and this can pay dividends on a company’s bottom line.

Reduce Waste Costs

For businesses plastic use can take many different forms. The obvious forms of plastic use include retailers selling plastic products, to manufacturers using plastic in the build of the products they make. However, there are many ways that plastic can be used covering a multitude of different business processes.

Even simple changes from using single-use plastic to reusable in the staff canteen or switching from plastic packaging to something that is recyclable, reusable or compostable can often be done in a way that can save money on the bottom line for the business.

Single use plastic costs add up quickly and it is a great idea to work with stakeholders within a business to look at ways that plastic consumption can be used. This can help on dealing with the cost of plastic waste disposal which can be expensive.

Protect The Business From Change

Changing the way a business operates can be time consuming, costly and difficult but is even more so when forced to do so either by governmental policy, taxes or legislation. With governments setting targets for climate change and the environment, many companies will eventually have to face adapting the way they operate and how they use plastic or ultimately pay a heavy cost and burden when forced to.

For any organization it is better to plan ahead and adapt to change ahead of time- even if that might incur added expenses and costs in the short term.

Avoid Plastic Litigation

Plastic litigation is on the rise – this is where companies are taken to court over plastic pollution. Plastic manufacturing is a cause of greenhouse emissions and climate change and those companies that are the biggest users of plastic, such as ‘big food and beverage’ companies are opening themselves up to plastic litigation. Recently Coca Cola and Pepsi Co have been sued over the pollution caused by their plastic bottles

While legacy pollution is something a company can’t retrospectively protect themselves against, they can adapt to the current green and circular economy initiatives and future proof themselves against damaging litigation that can cost the company a lot of money in pay outs but also a loss of consumer faith in the brand.

With the millions of tonnes of plastic that has entered the ocean and environment and the issues surrounding plastics and microplastics on the health of both animals and humans the likelihood of future plastic litigation is only likely to increase. Therefore companies need to get ahead of the issues and demonstrate a commitment to changing their polluting business practices for the better.

Improve the Value of the Business With Shareholders

When a company is listed on a stock exchange the value of that company by the shareholders and investors are taken into consideration as a whole. Often the price of a business is based on the total assets of that company but also on potential challenges and issues that might arise. While the future of plastic legislation is unknown, many investors are factoring in that there may be issues that businesses will need to deal with in the future.

Take for example how the ban on plastic straws affected the supply chain and performance of some companies while improving the potential market for those firms that produced paper equivalents. A similar process occurred in markets where single use plastic bags were, if not banned, were discouraged from use and supported plastic waste reduction.

These factors can have a negative impact on the company’s share price if they are not seen to be addressing these concerns and issues. Ensuring that a company is tackling their supply chain, the environmental friendliness of the products and services they offer, while having targets for reducing their carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions are all ways that they can also ensure that investors see the company as a long term prospect and not one that has an unstable future.

Support Creating a Sustainable Future

One final reason for a business to tackle the impact plastic waste has on ecosystems is because it is the right thing to do. All companies, consumers and countries need to work together to create a sustainable future and change our lifestyles to support the reduction of carbon emissions by alleviating our reliance on fossil fuels and also to support the reduction of the tons of plastic that are entering the environment.

With the support of businesses moving to recyclable plastics and better waste management, along with supporting the reduction of single use new plastic the future of the planet is going to secured for ourselves and subsequent generations. Ultimately natural resource are finite and the faster we move towards a sustainable future will be better for consumers and businesses alike.

Find out more about Plastic Collective and get the latest news about Plastic recycling, microplastics and the effects of climate change, by subscribing to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

 

Cosmetic Industries Join For Planetary Health

Cosmetic Industries Join For Planetary Health

The cosmetic industry is a thriving growth sector worth a staggering $511 billion in 2022, and growing at a rate of 4.75%. By 2025 it is expected to reach $785 billion.

The cosmetic industry can be divided into four broad categories

  •        Cosmetics (or makeup)
  •        Skin care such as lotions
  •        Personal care
  •        Fragrances

While Personal care products represent the largest section across most retailers, cosmetic / makeup is the fastest growing increasing 32% between 2019 to the projected 2025 figures.

Unlike other industries such as food and beverage, the cosmetic industry is not really regulated against bad practices, such as testing cosmetics on animals or the use of plastic microbeads in products. Often the lack of regulation in various countries has led to consumer protests and targeted actions to force governments to prevent harm to people and animals, supporting best-practice and implementing bans in some countries.

There are a number of innovative and forward-thinking cosmetic brands that are helping pave the way for more sustainable beauty industry practices, such as Pacifica – who ethically source their ingredients and use post-consumer materials in their packaging, Saarinen Organics who grow their own ingredients on an organic farm and hand make their unique products and other sustainable and ethical companies who are cruelty-free, do not test on animals, and other non-harmful practices. But what about plastics used in and around the beauty products – how does a consumer tell between a product that has plastic-free ingredients, sustainable packaging and other important practices that are not guided by law?

We are here to help you. Plastic Collective is dedicated to educating and empowering people with knowledge, in order to reduce carbon footprints, eliminate plastic waste and prevent plastics entering our environment and ultimately the oceans.  Over the last few years we have been developing a range of online training modules which explore the Global Plastic Crisis, Material Knowledge of Plastics, Fugitive Plastics, Local Community Action Plans, Global Alignments & Solutions, as well as Resource Recovery Project Development.

In this series, we are exploring various industries in relation to plastic use and best practices from both the industry perspective, from their customers as well as the impact on the environment. To explore the Cosmetic Industry, this article will outline a number of key issues that brands and buyers can explore more in our online training course coming soon.

Industry Spotlight Series 1: Cosmetics and Plastics

 
DISTRIBUTION

Did you know that the Asia Pacific region represents almost half of the entire global cosmetic market with 46%?  The next largest share is North America with 24%.

MISMANAGEMENT

From the perspective of the environment and oceans, this is alarming because Asia also has the greatest mismanagement of tonnes of plastics, which enter the rivers and oceans – representing a whopping 80% of the global total!  Mismanagement simply means that there are few, to no waste management services available in many of these areas. Mismanagement of waste is also a contributing factor to climate change and GHG emissions.

Source: https://ourworldindata.org/ocean-plastics

POLLUTION

Often in remote and poor communities where there are few services, people are forced to burn, bury in landfills or dump waste plastics such as plastic bottles and soft plastics into the environment.  This is called ‘leakage’ where the plastic pollution escapes into the environment and waterways, like a fugitive on the run towards the ocean.

80% of the entire world’s plastic leakage into the ocean comes from Asia (see table below). 

Photo: (L) Remote island in Sabah Borneo. All waste is dumped on the beach for the tide to wash away.  (R) Nusa Lembongan, Bali. Half of all the local and tourist waste is burnt in the mangroves every evening.

LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS

For companies that sell products in regional and remote areas where there is no waste management and high levels of pollution, it is important to consider product design and ingredients which will impact the health of entire communities.  Considering the full life cycle of plastic packaging for example involves first looking at where the product will end up. If products are sold in a country that has good recovery and recycling, the likelihood of a brand’s packaging ending up in a turtle’s stomach is quite low.

BUT, if their product is sent to a region with 2% recovery and 0% recycling – likelihood is it will end up on a remote beach half eaten by fish and broken into fragments that continuously harm all life that ingests it or smothers coral where entire ecosystems are dependent upon.

This is where Circular Economy redesign comes into play. Products should be design and developed with the end of life in mind, to do no harm. Lets explore this some more further on.

Key Cosmetic Industry Factors

There are 3 essential components that should be addressed when developing and selling products;

  1. Ingredients
  2. Primary packaging
  3. Secondary / tertiary packaging

By considering a range of questions around Formula, Design, Degradation and Recover we can create a matrix of questions for cosmetic brands, product designers and buyers to consider.

  • Are there any ‘poly..’ ingredients? (typically a plastic form)
  • Does it contain Fragrance’ (a strong & toxic smelling ether used in plastic manufacturing)?
  • What type of material is made from?
  • Does the packaging contain chemicals that fish and marine life will eat? (eg. ethers, colours, etc)
  • Is the secondary packaging biodegradable in the environment?
  • Does it contain phthalates? (softeners used in soft plastic manufacturing)
DESIGN
  • Does it contain plastic microbeads?
  • Can it be easily washed and reused?
  • Can it be refillable as a multi-use item ?
  • How many additional packaging layers are used?  Eg. postage
DEGRADATION
  • Are the ingredients harmful to aquatic life?
  • Will the material break into microplastics if subject to UV light?
  • Is the packaging light and easily blown away in winds?
RECOVERY
  • Can the ingredients be composted or naturally break down?
  • Is it recyclable?
  • Can it be made from post-consumer recyclable materials?
  • Are there any recovery/ recycling  programs in the areas the products are sold?
  • Do you have a return program?

In addition to exploring the above 3 areas, tools and equipment (such as sponges, applicators and other tools used in the cosmetic industry can also be included.)

Key Points of Interest

While exploring the above list of questions, businesses can be empowered with education through various training modules, such as material knowledge, global crisis and product development for a circular economy.

Here is a list of some product / environmental impact considerations when designing, developing and buying cosmetic and skincare products;

  • Micro-plastics were first used to replace sand, grit and chalk in face washes, body wash and toothpastes as a cheap, environmentally damaging alternative. Environmental groups and public protests created a movement to ‘ban the bead’ throughout the world, gradually forcing governments to make it law that microbeads should not be used in cosmetic products.  Some countries still use them – look for ‘poly’ in the ingredients, meaning ‘long-chain’ or more often ‘plastic’.
  • PET, HDPE and PP are the 3 most common plastics in use. HDPE is typically used in many packaging containers as it is flexible and an easily recycled plastic. It has a global recycling rate of approx. 12%. In many Asian countries, HDPE and PP are more likely to be recycled if it is a plain white colour, not coloured.
  • Coloured lids are made from LDPE, HDPE or PP. These are polyolefins and will float. When at sea, they release a smell from the additives or colours that mimics krill and attract birds, fish and corals to eat them. They will break down into microplastics when exposed to UV and will also release harmful greenhouse gases – ethylene and methane.
  • Soft plastics or flexibles, are one of the more damaging plastics in the environment. Easily blown away, and having almost 0% recycling rate. Soft single use plastics will sink after a short time in the ocean when algae and microorganisms start to grow on them. They will carry pathogens and harmful marine organisms around the global currents, and can create coral cancer through spreading microbes and blocking sunlight to the corals and seagrass.
  • Plastics can be made with any organic material such as oil, gas (non-renewable organic carbon) or plants, algae, mushroom (renewable organic material). Certified compostable biodegradable plastics can replace harmful long-lasting fossil-fuel soft plastics with minimal impact on ecosystems.

Sustainable Beauty Alliance

Over the past few years, PC has been working with various companies on how to make more products and services more sustainable, ethically and environmentally compliant with the goal of eliminating waste and pollution.

Cosmetic beauty brands and their customers are an important product sector that is ready for change and seeking advice on how to do this. As a result, we have partnered with a number of companies and organisations to form the Sustainability Beauty Alliance (SBA), a collective of brands and communities who want to ensure the cosmetics industry thrives into the future and embraces Planetary Health, Ocean Literacy and Radical Collaboration.

Stay tuned to hear more, we would love your feedback and any ideas you may have…and you can also find out more about Plastic Collective and get latest news and info about Plastic recycling, clean energy and the effects of climate change, by subscribing to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

How to Avoid Greenwashing for Business

How to Avoid Greenwashing for Business

Businesses examining ways they can improve their eco-credentials and sustainability efforts might have come across the phrase, ‘greenwashing’ or ‘green sheen’. Often this phrase is highlighted because of bad publicity. Brands may have wondered how they too can avoid making some of the same mistakes that other large brands have made, who have had their sustainability claims questioned or exposed by the press and environmental organizations.

In this guide to greenwashing for business we explore what greenwashing is, provide examples of greenwashing and offer some solutions for business professionals who wish to avoid this issue within their own organizations.

What is Greenwashing and Why is it a Problem?

Greenwashing is a phrase used to describe when a company makes claims in their advertising and marketing efforts about their environmental credentials which are later found to be either false, exaggerated, or unsubstantiated.

Greenwashing does not always just occur when a business makes claims about their eco-credentials that are either false or unsubstantiated. Sometimes a company will launch token environmental initiatives within their organization. Often this is to address certain environmental issues that help put a positive spin on their business when other parts of their organization or supply chain still continue to cause environmental damage or use non-environmentally friendly business practices.

Due to the increase in consumer demand for eco-friendly products and services many companies become tempted to make claims as to their eco credentials without achieving what they claim. This not only dupes the consumer into purchasing from a company on a false premise, but it also continues to harm the environment since a company can still operate without having to incur the costs and time associated with making their business greener.

This in turn hinders the progress of organizations who are committed to improving their environmental credentials, creating an uneven commercial playing field. This is because companies that are actively working towards a more environmentally friendly business model may incur more costs which is often passed on to consumers.

Many consumers will factor in these cost increases into their purchase decisions. Customers looking for eco options from companies are often willing to pay an additional cost for these products and services because they are considered green. However, with all things being equal, when there are two brands claiming similar eco credentials, often it is the cheaper provider that consumers will choose.

Companies using greenwashing tactics to provide their service at a cheaper cost without fulfilling the obligations that they have claimed to have carried out, impacts the market competitiveness. Green companies cannot always compete with companies that are not investing in green practices, and when greenwashing is introduced, this can impact the environment negatively.

What Causes Greenwashing?

Ultimately, the main cause of greenwashing is organizations deploying green marketing campaigns to convince unsuspecting customers into buying into claims of good intentions and sustainable products when the reality is very different.

There are a number of causes of greenwashing. Whilst a business may wish to benefit from the positive aspect of associating themselves with environmental claims it is important that their sustainable practices are in line with the green claims that they have made. Ultimately, the negative press associated with disinformation can be harmful to the brands reputation, their bottom line, and even in some instances their share price. Therefore, the short-term benefits of greenwashing are not always worth it in the long run.

Other issues relating to greenwashing is when a company carries out some environmental investment and corporate social responsibility activities (and advertising) in their business, whilst retaining other unsavoury business practices that harm the environment. For example, oil and petrochemical companies such as Shell have previously run marketing campaigns that have highlighted their green incentives while continuing their core business practice.

It may be true that some companies have cynically used ‘green phrases’ in their marketing and advertising to garner favour with their customers, but not all businesses that have been accused of greenwashing have made false claims on purpose. Some organizations have simply made unsubstantiated claims because of a disconnect between internal teams such as the purchasing team and the marketing department.

Why do Businesses Greenwash

Climate change, the environment, eco-friendly and sustainability are all buzzwords that have become well known to the public as they are often talked about in the news, media and in advertising. This has had an impact on consumer intentions. In some studies, it is claimed that 81% of consumers favour sustainable brands.

With this level of positive publicity and consumer buy in, there is a desire for a business to be associated with green initiatives. However, it is important for organizations to realize that all their business practices need to be taken into consideration if making green claims. Poor eco business practices can negate any positive environmental benefit claims that they may make, and in turn, can lead to accusations of greenwashing.

Examples of Greenwashing

When it comes to greenwashing, it can be hard to identify false claims made by an organization. Often the language used in advertising can be terms or phrases that are unsubstantiated or use fluffy language. For example, words such as ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, or ‘clean’ imply benefits to the environment but do not necessarily mean anything specific. It is also popular to use images of the earth, trees, or green labelling to imply something is ‘green’, when it is not necessarily so.

Often consumers will take for granted that the claims a company makes are accurate, but many consumers are starting to be more suspicious as to these claims.

Much of this suspicion has arisen from the many green organizations and environmentalist groups that have highlighted greenwashing issues at some of the world’s largest corporates. These scandals have often created a lot of negative press for an organization and in turn dented consumer confidence in the brand.

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal

Perhaps one of the most widely known example of greenwashing that had not only a huge effect on climate change and emissions but also on the health of consumers themselves was when Volkswagen was found to be caught up in what was dubbed at the time, the ‘diesel dupe’ back in 2015.

The scandal related to Volkswagen cars in the US being fitted with a something called a defeat device, which was a piece of software that had been installed to monitor when the car was being emission tested and altered the performance of the vehicle so that it would pass the test. This scandal ended up engulfing a number of countries where vehicles were sold that registered incorrect emissions.

This ended up costing Volkswagen reportedly over 20 billion dollars in recalls and fines. The share prices of the organization fell by 32%, almost a third, and it had a huge impact on consumer confidence in the brand at the time. As reported by Fortune back in 2020, the scandal still had an impact on brand confidence, with the Volkswagen brand ranking behind where it had prior to the scandal.

This scandal also had a knock-on effect on the automotive industry, other car manufacturers, and government legislation such as the EU strengthening its regulatory powers over manufacturers.

The Business of Single Use Plastics

Other companies that have been accused of greenwashing are drinks brands that use single use plastics, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co, and other water brands.

For example: the Guardian Newspaper reports that Coca-Cola has launched campaigns highlighting how it uses 25% marine plastic in its bottles, but the reality is that the company is also the world’s biggest plastic polluter and produces 100 billion plastic bottles a year.

While there have been some improvements in the way plastic bottles can be manufactured and recycled, business and governments have a long way to go to further to reduce the use of plastic in the supply chain before they can consider themselves to be ‘green’.

While some brands that use plastics in their packaging make claims on how they are working to make their packaging better for the environment, the reality is even if the packing is as green as the companies claim, as reported by the EOCD, just 9% of the plastic produced is recycled.

Ultimately, introducing plastic into the environment whether that is in landfills, or is incinerated has a big impact on climate change.

More Examples of Greenwashing

Many other companies have also been accused of greenwashing. The furniture manufacturer Ikea – has been flagged for greenwashing in the past, notably after building a ‘green’ store in the UK which was built over an existing store with itself has green credentials.

Fast fashion is a business area that also has a huge environmental impact from the excessive use of water in cotton production to the fact that clothing styles are designed to be replaced frequently, to follow the latest trends in fashion.

While the move to organic cotton is an improvement, if it is coupled with fast fashion products it still has a negative impact, since the clothing is not designed to last a long time and is instead designed to be replaced as fast as the next trend appears.

Consumers may believe they are picking a more environmentally friendly option, but the reality is, many of the environmental problems caused by fast fashion remain, such as waste generation.

It is no surprise to find that often the claims by fast fashion brands about their eco credentials are not always as accurate as they might first appear. Edie report that 60% of the environmental claims by fast fashion brands could be classed as “unsubstantiated” and “misleading”

Another example of greenwashing is carbon offsetting. Often this can also be considered a form of greenwashing if the company that uses the offsetting is not committed to reducing their own carbon footprint or emissions. Case in point, airline companies that continue to operate but make claims of offsetting their carbon emissions. Take for example the claims of greenwashing made against the airline, KLM.

What Can be Done to Avoid Greenwashing?

While some brands will cynically use environmental claims to promote a positive brand image in their advertising and social media, the takeaway is that eventually any attempts to greenwash their brand will eventually end up generating negative press if their claims do not match the reality of their business operations.

Ultimately, if a company or industry fails to address many of the environmental issues of their business, governmental intervention may be needed.

Even if you run a sustainable brand, it is also important to be aware of the various issues that surround greenwashing since it is still possible to make unsubstantiated claims about what your business is doing.

Greenwashing Education & Courses

For companies that are looking to improve the sustainability of their business then one way to avoid greenwashing mistakes is to provide education for all stakeholders.

Often there is a disconnect within different teams within an organization, especially a large organization. One issue is that marketing teams may not fully understand the supply chain or life cycle of the products or services that a company undertakes and when launching marketing initiatives may make claims that can be considered as greenwashing.

For example, claiming that packaging is compostable when it only relates to a small part of the overall packaging meaning that a greater quantity of material is non-recyclable.

In these cases, marketing campaigns can be improved if markets have a better understanding of the products themselves. Avoiding greenwashing and not making exaggerated claims can be difficult when the marketing team needs to understand the lifecycle of the business in detail. Often it is better to avoid making spurious claims about a product’s green credentials unless it has specifically been designed to be a green product.

A business should compile a green guide to ensure that everything relating to the way the company operates and its impact on the environment is assessed and available to individual teams within the business. This can help reduce unsubstantiated claims or even errors in marketing communications.

It is also good for marketing teams to understand what terms and phrases that should be avoided in marketing collateral. Avoiding vague terminology can help promote products more effectively. This helps retain consumer confidence, as many consumers who are looking for environmentally friendly products are becoming more aware of this form of cynical marketing.

Companies who want to improve their green credentials need to examine all areas of their business to ascertain what changes can be or need to be made. Hiring a person or team to work on this can be a solution.

For smaller companies, employing outside professional consultants can help identify potential issues, and even can run courses to educate staff on green issues and how to avoid greenwashing.

Often, it is possible for a company to have an environmental and sustainable report carried out by a third-party to assess the credentials of the organization in question. This can highlight issues that were previously unknown or not fully considered and this can also help ensure that advertising campaigns are produced and released in good faith.

Plastic Collective is expert in providing advice to brands wishing to develop sustainability strategies around their plastic waste and related greenhouse gas emissions.

Advertising Regulations

In some cases, it is not enough to simply educate companies on Greenwashing as some organizations are less interested in being green than ensuring they make the maximum amount of profit regardless of the environmental costs.

It then falls to governments and policy makers to create, not only rules and regulations that companies must legally abide to, but also restrict inaccurate claims in advertising. In the UK for example advertising standards legislature has been introduce to limit unsubstantiated environmental claims in advertising. These codes of conduct introduced by the organizations CAP and BCAP are designed to restrict misleading marketing.

However, regulations are based on different markets and locations around the world and different countries have a different set of rules and regulations that may need to be followed, which can make it harder for marketing teams to comply.

Third-Party Certification

Another method to help your business promote its green credentials is to look to gain credible third-party environmental certifications scheme.

This is when a third party assesses a business to check if the company uses environmentally friendly business practices and produces goods in a sustainable way.

For companies that want to promote their green credentials but avoid claims of greenwashing, often going down the route of apply for, and complying to a rigorous environmental certification programme, can be beneficial for the business.

There are a lot of different schemes that are available to businesses, and it can be difficult to ascertain which scheme is best suited to a particular organization. Often it is possible to find a scheme that is based around a certain industry type (think, forestry, organic farming, plastics) or based on what environmental aspect it has been designed to support, such as recycling and zero waste or sustainability. For example the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard and the associated Corporate Guide for Plastic Stewardship, which provides a clear pathway for brands to develop sustainable plastic use strategies.

Ultimately, while it may be beneficial in the short term to make unsubstantiated eco claims about a business or to partake in greenwashing activities, environmental activists, journalists, governments, and consumers are getting wise to these tactics. Longer term this can harm the reputation and profitability of an organization, so it is better to ensure that greenwashing is avoided for the overall benefit of the brand.

Find out more about Plastic Collective and get latest news and info about Plastic recycling, clean energy and the effects of climate change, by subscribing to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

Carbon Credits & Offsetting Explained

Carbon Credits & Offsetting Explained

There are many important reasons why carbon emissions should be reduced. Such emissions from carbon dioxide and methane are heat-trapping gases (or greenhouse gases) and an excessive amount of these cause global warming and climate change. Greenhouse gases are a problem for the world as they can lead to a wide range of environmental and health issues, from extreme weather conditions to respiratory diseases in humans.

Our dependence on fossil fuels only increases the effects of global warming in the world and across various ecosystems. While climate action can go a long way in highlighting the issues and helping promote incentives such as reforestation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, one of the key things that needs to be done is to reduce global emissions. Countries such as those in the European Union have introduced legislation to start decarbonizing economies to achieve a net-zero target. However, a lot still needs to be done to achieve a reduction in carbon use to meet these goals.

What Can Be Done About Carbon Emissions?

Most scientists agree that there is a need to significantly reduce carbon emissions by both individuals who produce carbon through their actions and consumption (carbon footprint), to industries that create a large amount of these Greenhouse gases (GHGs) as a by-product of their business activities.

There are several ways that emission reductions are tackled, from changing people’s attitudes as to what they consume, to recycling and bigger changes, such as introducing new technology that puts less carbon emissions into the environment.

It is important to understand that there is no quick fix nor one simple solution that will solve our carbon emissions problem completely: instead it is a combined effort utilizing a wide range of different methods, from carbon reduction technologies to tax incentives and legislation that will be needed. When these are all put together, they can reduce the amount of carbon that is produced globally, for the benefit of the entire world.

One of the ways some industries tackle carbon emissions is to use carbon credits to either limit or to ‘carbon offset’ their Greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon Offsetting and Carbon Credits

One of the first things to understand is that while carbon offsetting and carbon credits have similar meanings, they aren’t quite the same thing. Often both terms are used to mean similar strategies, but there is a difference.

Carbon offsetting is an action or activity that means compensating for carbon dioxide emissions through projects such as investing in forestry schemes. In this example, trees are planted to reduce deforestation, absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus ‘offset’ carbon creation. These projects are designed to actively work on reducing carbon or to store carbon in the environment.

Carbon credits are different. A carbon credit is a permit that allows a country or organization to generate a certain amount of carbon. Typically, one carbon credit is the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon dioxide. The generation of a carbon credit is governed by rules and standards which are transparent and supervised by regulatory bodies. What makes carbon credits useful is that these can be traded with another country or organization for their environmental purposes (i.e., compliance with regulation) and in a manner and cost that makes it economically feasible for them to do so.

This form of carbon trading or emissions trading is very common. For example, it is common for rich countries to buy emission reductions or carbon credits from developing countries which do not use their carbon emission quotas by virtue of them having less emissions of Greenhouse gases.

Types of Carbon Credits

It is important to understand that Governments may operate a mandatory carbon capping scheme based on the carbon targets and Greenhouse gas quotas that they want to reach. These mandatory restrictions are placed on industries and operators that generate pollutants and are regulated.

Mandatory schemes stem from the agreements made at the time of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol were a set of accords that was signed by a number of countries to put caps and quotas on the emission of Greenhouse gases. These quotas are then used by a country to assign amounts of Greenhouse gases an industry and its operators can use.

As already mentioned, one aspect of the quota system is that it is flexible. This means that countries that generate more Greenhouse gases can purchase the excess quota from another country, usually a developing country. This quotas are distributed among industries and is trickled down to a company level. One company that produces Greenhouse gases can acquire more credits from another organization that has not used their fully assigned quota.

With this cap-and-trade system, a company buys a carbon credit in advance, to produce one ton of CO2e pollution and then surrenders the credit back. The amount of carbon that is produced is matched by the carbon credit and will support the company’s predetermined quota or agreement. This is how Governments can control the number of credits that are available and in turn control how much carbon dioxide is produced.

With the alternate and more common carbon offsetting schemes, a company trades in carbon offsets where the CO2e has already been reduced by the offset project and any third-party that purchases the offset does so to account for the pollution they have already produced. The pollution that is produced isn’t reduced- it remains at the same level. Effectively, companies are paying for someone else to tackle carbon emission reductions while they continue to produce the same amount of carbon (if no other GHG emissions incentives are in place).

Who Issues Carbon Credits

Carbon emission schemes may be either classified as voluntary (such as the Voluntary Emissions Reduction (VER) scheme) where a company undertakes a voluntary carbon program as a part of their commitment to the environment, or compliance or mandatory schemes which are legislated schemes that aim to reduce carbon emissions on a per-country, per-project basis (i.e., the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which deal with Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) .

The challenge with voluntary carbon credits is that, as the name suggests, they are voluntary and can be costly for an organization to partake in, given that the market is unregulated. With recessions and drops in profits, one area that organizations may look to sequester budgets is in their environmental projects and initiatives.

For regulatory compliance schemes, the Government issues carbon credits to carbon producing companies who operate within a set of quotas and guidelines and where the credit prices are dictated by the market.

How to Buy Carbon Credits

For companies that operate under Government legislation and quotas, it is possible to purchase additional carbon credits from other polluters. This is referred to as the cap-and-trade market. These can be purchased at auction or from other polluters directly.

Companies use this regulated exchange platform to trade carbon credits. These trading schemes are a perfectly legitimate mechanism, but for companies that must follow a mandate, they must ensure that they have enough carbon credits to cover the amount of pollution they have generated.

However, where it gets complex is that not all carbon credits are considered equal, and the ‘quality’ of the carbon credits is determined by the carbon credit price that they sell for on the trading market. For one, the price a carbon credit would sell for would be determined by such drivers as the country where they are originating from, the industry, the reputation of the company generating the credit, the type of project, and the ability of the project owner to deliver the emissions reductions and get them issued to the market.

For those companies or even individuals that want to reduce their carbon footprint using the voluntary carbon market, there are a number of companies that can sell carbon credits. These companies buy their carbon credits from carbon development companies directly.

This third-party carbon credit market is ultimately where companies and organizations that struggle to achieve carbon neutrality through sustainability incentives voluntarily go to when they are looking for carbon mitigation.

There are several ways to buy carbon credits. One of the most common methods is for a company or individual to work directly with the carbon credit scheme or the project itself. For example, this could be a company that operates a woodland and has a tree planting or forestry scheme. These contracts often take the form of Emission Reduction Purchase Agreements (ERPAs) and are available from individual carbon retailers.

How to Sell Carbon Credits

Cap and Trade quotas can be sold via the official regulatory trading market.

For voluntary schemes, project developers, landowners or farmers can often sell carbon credits on the open market to a company that operates and trades in carbon credits. Because the types of carbon credit projects may vary the price that a seller can obtain from their carbon credit scheme varies. For example, the carbon price achieved from planting a woodland, may be different to that obtained from peat restoration or even plastic recycling.

Carbon Credits and Plastic Recycling

One important carbon market where carbon credits can be created is in the world of plastic recycling. Since plastic is a huge creator of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, any project that can reduce the amount of plastic waste going to landfill can have a positive impact. This is especially important for single use plastic that is often just used once and then thrown away.

Unfortunately, since much of the plastic we use is disposed of in landfills the carbon cost for this type of material is very high. Therefore, plastic recycling schemes are crucial. Not only do they use less raw materials and produce less carbon than by creating new plastic, but they also reduce the dependence on landfills, helping to protect the environment.

Since it uses a lot less energy in the recycling process to reuse plastic (for example the raw materials have already been mined or produced) it is possible for plastic recycling schemes to produce carbon credits since carbon emissions are reduced since the plastic that is manufactured has a lower carbon footprint.

In the plastic recycling industry these are often referred to as ‘plastic credits’, which operate in a similar way to carbon credits.

Understanding Plastic Credits

Plastic credits are a mechanism that are similar to carbon credits. Companies can buy plastic credits to cover the amount of the plastic that they use and produce. As with many of the carbon credit schemes, they are currently voluntary, and a company or organization makes a voluntary commitment to buy plastic credits as a part of their environmental policy or strategy, and not as a result of regulation.

A plastic credit is generated by companies, organizations and schemes who are actively collecting and recycling plastic. When a set amount of plastic is collected and recycled then this accounts for a plastic credit which can then be sold to a company that is manufacturing or using plastic.

There is a lot more to learn about Plastic Credits. To find out more about how plastic credits work, read our guide to Plastic Credits.

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How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Climate Change

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Climate Change

From plastic straws to microbeads contained in body scrubs, it is fair to say that plastic use is widespread. Once hailed as a miracle material that revolutionized the manufacturing industry, time has shown that there are significant downsides to plastic use. From polluting the environment, harming marine life, and impacting global warming and climate change, plastic if far from the miracle material that we once thought.

To understand why plastic pollution affects climate change, the first thing to recognize is that there is not just one reason why the continual use of plastic, and especially single-use plastic, is problematic.

To fully appreciate the impact of plastic on climate change and carbon emissions, it is useful to understand the plastic lifecycle, from sourcing the materials and making plastic, to its use and ultimate disposal.

 

plastic-straws

Problems With Manufacturing Plastic

Nearly all the synthetic plastics that we use today are derived from fossil fuels which consist of natural gas, crude oil, or coal.

This means that the materials used in the production of plastic need to be sourced and extracted from the earth by gas and oil drilling and mining for coal in coal plants and mines. These are all intensive activities that directly contribute to climate change. However, this is just the first step of the manufacturing process.

Once these materials have been sourced, they need to be transported through pipelines or via transport hubs and then refined and turned into other products that are used in the manufacture of plastics.

Different plastic types are made using processes such as polymerisation or polycondensation. These processes are used by the petrochemical industry to turn petroleum products into polymers. Finally, once this stage is complete the materials can then be turned into the plastic products that we are familiar with.

Modern bioplastics and compostable plastics are different because they use renewable and sustainable products such as starch, and vegetable fats. While these plastics are better for the environment than conventional plastics as they do not use fossil fuels, single use plastic made from bioplastic and compostable plastic will still use manufacturing resources that contribute to climate change and cause unnecessary waste.

When these plastic types enter the environment and are not disposed of properly, they can still cause issues such as adding to the plastic pollution problem in the oceans.

Although compostable plastic types are biodegradable and the environmental impact of them is reduced, if they are single use plastics, then they will still not help tackle the climate crisis since so much energy and resources are needed to produce them.

Ultimately, since carbon dioxide is released at every stage of the plastic manufacturing process, the plastic industry contributes to greenhouse gas emissions directly and therefore, also to climate change.

Single Use Plastic

Single-use plastic products (SUPPs) are plastic products that are designed to be thrown away. It is often found on food wrappers, plastic bags, and plastic packaging but its use is widespread. Polyethylene (polythene) is one of the main plastics produced for this.

It is fair to say that there is a plastic pollution crisis. Plastic manufacture and its use are still on the increase and although there is a lost more awareness around reducing the use of single use plastics and the use of plastic in general when it is not necessary, not enough has been done to tackle the problem.

The obvious issues with single use plastic simply relate to the endless need for continual manufacturer of this kind of plastic product and the disposal of the plastic itself. There needs to be a shift towards sustainable products and a reduction in the use of single-use plastic and a move to multi-use plastics.

It is also important to work towards building a circular economy for plastics by ensuring that any waste generated can be reused. One way to move towards this is to use old plastics and recycle them and turn them into plastics feedstocks that can be used in the plastics industry to make new plastics.

Plastic Incineration

The waste management of plastic products has long been a problem. Burning plastic waste is a source of air pollution that is harmful to human health but also releases toxins and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that impacts global warming.

Modern incinerators are more efficient and can turn the waste into energy and reduce the pollution released into the environment, but the amount of energy needed to create a piece of single use plastic still negates any benefit from its incineration and use in power plants.

Aside from any benefits derived from efficient, modern incinerators, since these are expensive to build, in many countries plastic waste is still burned in less efficient ways, meaning carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

There have been a lot of improvements in the way traditional plastic waste can be re-used. From turning plastics into energy and even breaking them down to reuse the components in other ways, using modern processes such as pyrolysis, which turns plastic into hydrocarbons, so they can be re-used again.

However, you still need to source the materials to make the plastics in the first place, manufacture it, use it, recycle it, and transport it to the processing plant. All of which use energy, fossil fuels and contribute to climate change.

burning-plastics

Dumping Plastic Waste in Landfills

As it can be expensive and difficult to incinerate plastic waste effectively, many countries simply dispose of plastics in landfill dumps. Even if a country has a recycling program, much of the plastic waste that is produced will still end up in a landfill, often due to people simply not recycling the waste at all or because the type of plastic produced is not accepted by recycling companies.

Plastic dumped in landfills can take hundreds of years to break down using a process called photodegradation. Over time, plastic breaks down into methane and ethylene which also contribute to climate change, albeit slowly. Other toxins are also released into the local ecosystems causing ground pollution.

Another problem with landfills is that often materials dumped in them do not always stay where they are left and they can transfer to rivers, streams, and the ocean. Worse still, rubbish is often thrown directly into waterways, and this has a hugely negative impact on the environment.

Millions of metric tons of plastics end up being dumped in the world’s oceans every year. The problem with plastic in the ocean, for the most part, is its impact on the well-being of marine life, but it is thought that the problem might even have a knock-on effect on climate change.

Microplastics & The Oceanic Environment

Microplastics are plastics that are classified as being under 5mm in size. These often come from either plastics that are breaking down into smaller pieces or from manufactured plastics, such as microbeads, as used in the cosmetics industry.

In the oceans, plastics have entered the food chain, and this includes microplastics. Aside from killing wildlife and the potential long-term health problems this might cause to all animal life including humans, it has been surmised that microplastic pollution can also have an impact on climate change directly. How is this possible?

The oceans are classified as a carbon sink. A carbon sink can be defined as something which absorbs more carbon than it produces. In fact, the oceans take around half of the carbon dioxide gas that humans produce, and it is then stored at the bottom of the ocean depths.

The way this works is that algae use the carbon dioxide for fuel, and they convert it into organic carbon. As algae is a food source for many sea creatures, they consume the algae and in turn the organic carbon. Some of this carbon is transferred back into the ocean surface and atmosphere but often this is transferred to the ocean floor where it is stored.

One of the marine creatures that consume algae is Salp (plankton) which are a key contributor to helping carbon waste to be deposited on the ocean floor. It is thought that microplastics are interfering with this process and because of this, less of the carbon is making it to the bottom of the sea, and instead is being released into the atmosphere instead. More research is being carried out to understand this process, but the initial research implies that this is yet another way that plastics are contributing to climate change.

Solutions to Plastic Waste

Product sustainability and zero waste goals to help reduce plastic’s climate impact are important. Governments, and ultimately consumers, still need to do more to help achieve these goals.

Unfortunately, without a shift in mentality or further changes in governmental legislation there is little incentive for manufacturers, suppliers, and consumers to change the way they use plastic. The sad fact is that plastic waste isn’t going away any time soon.

In the interim organizations such as Plastic Collective work with communities around the world to help reduce the problem of plastic waste in the environment.

Plastic Collective work by inspiring and helping create community projects, that collect and process plastic waste, to then turn it into materials that can be re-used. Not only does this reduce plastic waste in the environment, but it also supports communities in the process.

Learn more by subscribing to our mailing list today or becoming plastic neutral here.

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