Let?s be straight up here. It?s not realistic to imagine that we can end plastics in the oceans completely. It?s too cheap and practical to ever get rid of plastic unless someone invents something even better.
Do you really think your next economy car is going to have a wooden dash?
What we can do, however, is minimize the impact of plastics. We can do that by rethinking how we make, use, and reuse plastic.?Here are some of the best ways to keep plastic out of the waste stream and the water, and attack the mess that we have already made.
1. Society Must Become Less Reliant On Plastic
(and save money along the way)?
The only permanent solution to the problem of plastic in our oceans is preventing it from ending up there. The easiest way to do that is not to use so much plastic.
Of course, that?s only ?easy? on paper. Plastics are so much a part of our lives it would be challenging to eliminate them entirely. But, they can certainly be reduced.
Single-use plastic products are one of the most significant problems but should be one of the easiest to eliminate. Take drinking straws, for example. They aren?t necessary for the vast majority of people, and yet you can hardly order a cold drink at a restaurant without getting one.
It?s interesting to note that, traditionally, the only place you weren?t offered a straw was at a zoo. Most zoos ban straws because they know they end up as litter, and are a choking hazard for the animals. This should have tipped us off a long time ago.
Today, however, many municipalities are implementing, or at least considering, bans on the use of straws. Even without a ban in place, here?s a simple thing each of us can do: when you order a drink, say, ?no straw, please.?
The same goes for plastic water and soda bottles. You don?t have to go far before you find a flattened water bottle lying in a park or on a beach. In spite of being partially recyclable, many of them end up in the garbage or escaping into the wild.
As consumers we have options. That plastic bottle of soda you?re reaching for in the convenience store fridge ? is there a can or a glass bottle you could choose instead? And remember: if you replace your single use plastic with reusable containers, you’ll save money along the way.?
If you use plastics, take responsibility for their disposal.
Need water on the go? Take your home tap water with you in a reusable stainless steel container. (Don?t even get me started on the foolishness of paying a for-profit company for bottled water taken from the same aquifers as your tap water!)
We can also decide to avoid plastics when there?s an alternative. As an example, you can use your own shopping bags. Past that, try choosing consumer goods that don?t come in plastic. Instead, make a commitment to choose products that come in cans, glass bottles, and cardboard boxes, all easily recyclable materials.
Even shopping for clothes needs to be reconsidered. Synthetic fibers add to the problem, too. Choose natural materials whenever possible, like cotton, linen, and hemp.?If you use plastics, take responsibility for their disposal.
Simply by putting your own garbage in a proper bin ? hopefully one marked ?Recycling? ? you?re doing what you can to ensure that particular piece of plastic ends up where it should. Every piece helps.
While it?s easy to say, ?I?m going to use less plastic,? the end-user is only part of the problem. At the top of the plastic pyramid are the manufacturers who have decided plastic is the solution to almost all packaging and manufacturing problems.
To be fair, it certainly seemed like a great idea at the time when plastics first came on the market. Cheap, versatile ? it was a wonder product.
Fast-forward to today, and the use of plastics has become so ingrained in the manufacturing and consumer packaged goods industries, it would be difficult to change course now without a sudden and unexpected burst of corporate altruism.
Still, this really is the place to start. There needs to be a greater allocation of resources to developing plastic alternatives. Producers should also be held at least partially responsible for what happens to their products at the end of their life cycles. This could include producer sponsored programs that manage the collection, reuse, or where necessary, safe disposal of the plastics that they source.
There needs to be a greater allocation of resources to developing plastic alternatives.
Some companies do seem to be at least paying lip service to the issue. But are they really taking action or just greenwashing? ?Increased consumer demand, however, can help convince even a major corporation to alter its course.
Remember the Styrofoam Big Mac containers at McDonald?s? Consumer pressure led to the major decision to do away with them in 1990. Prior to that, McDonald?s used 2% of all the polystyrene made in the US. 28 years later, McDonald?s have now committed to eliminating all foam packaging globally by next year, and using only recycled materials in every location by 2020. It took awhile, but sustained public pressure eventually makes a difference.
Very little plastic is made from renewable resources. That?s because it?s still cheaper to make it from oil. By taxing ?fossil plastic? production to the point where renewable or recycled plastic becomes more economically appealing, governments can force plastic makers to rethink their process.
Can we tax plastics that pollute and allocate those funds towards researching plastic alternatives?
There are new plastic alternatives being developed, including bioplastics and biodegradable plastics. The former is made from natural materials such as cornstarch. These are commonly used for food recycling and compost bags. Some are even edible, should they happen to escape the waste stream.
The latter are more like traditional plastics but are made to break down more quickly. While this is good news for animals that might otherwise eat the bag, they can still leech hazardous chemicals. Clearly, bioplastics are still being developed and have their challenges, but they are at least a step in addressing alternative packaging sources.
4. Allocate More Money for Cleanup
Right now, most of the money for ocean cleanup programs and studies come from donations. For example, The Ocean Clean Up began with Kickstarter funding. Today, they still mostly rely on donations, volunteers, and profits from the sale of branded merchandise.
What if governments played a more significant role?
What if some of the plastic taxes proposed above went towards removing plastic from the water, and stemming the flow of ocean-bound garbage?
We tend to deride the ?throw some money at it and it will go away? approach to society?s problems. But, in this case, that could really help.
Mind you, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated in 2012 it would cost as much as $489 million each year just to run the boats needed to clean 1% of the North Pacific Ocean with a traditional approach (as in trawling for trash). You could view that as either pessimistic or realistic, depending on your point of view.
Yes, that?s a lot of money. Unless you compare it to the $610 billion dollars the United States spent on its military in 2017. Suddenly it?s a drop in the bucket. You could clean up the oceans for more than 1,200 years on that based on the NOAA?s assessment.
Of course, the garbage isn?t solely the responsibility of the US. I?m just using these numbers for illustrative purposes. The money is out there. Just imagine what could be done if it found its way to the right people?
5. Take On the Problem at the Largest Sources
There are certain countries whose contributions to the plastic garbage problem far exceed those of other nations. Unfortunately, all of the countries in the top ten are developing nations. Other than China, none of them have the economic resources available to tackle the problem single-handedly.
Rather than solely concentrating cleanup efforts in the middle of the ocean, we must also focus on contributing waterways.
For example, 93% of all river-borne plastic that ends up in the ocean comes from 10 rivers ? eight in Asia and two in Africa. Simply halting the flow of plastic already in those rivers before it hits the ocean could cut the plastic problem by more than 2.8 million tons.
Raising public awareness is helping with the plastic waste problem in developed nations, but it is realistically much harder to engage those who have extremely limited choices in developing countries.
It would take an enormous international effort to educate people on the ground, fund cleanups, and establish effective waste management programs in both developed and developing countries.
Economic pressure applied by foreign governments could also play a role, but sanctions sometimes backfire and end up hurting the people they?re supposed to help.
We Are All Responsible. We Can All Make A Difference.
Removing 100% of the plastic from the all of world?s oceans and waterways is probably impossible. What is possible is to stop more plastic from making its way there, and get serious about initiatives to clean up the mess we have already made.
This challenge is going to take a united and concerted effort, and not from just from a few forward-thinking organizations.
All individuals, companies, and governments need to play a role. After all, the oceans belong to all of us, and all life on Earth depends on them. When the oceans are sick, the planet is too.
Once you?re truly aware of a problem, you can?t ignore it any longer. Researching and writing this article was a genuine eye-opener for me. Once your eyes are open, all you have to do is look around you and see the differences you can make in your own life.
Conscious Capitalism In The News:? Invest in water – win the long game, How ESG can protect your portfolio, Bud rebrands to Green Beer, A warning to all businesses:? Be sustainable or risk your bottom line, and more…
Water-related ETFs are in an advantageous position due to some pretty serious situations.
For example, PowerShares Water Resources ETF (PHO), First Trust ISE Water Index Fund (FIW) and Tortoise Water Fund (TBLU) hold?shares in U.S. water utilities, such as American Water Works, infrastructure companies like Aegion Corporation?and technology companies like Xylem, a supplier of energy-saving pumps and controls for hot water systems.
All 3 water-related ETFs are up around 15% since last year.
…there’s really not a much more essential asset than water…people are really starting to realize we have a global water problem on our hands -?Matt Weglarz, Portfolio Manager at Tortoise Index Solutions.
Global water demand is expected to grow by more than 50 percent over the next 30 years. In 2015, the EPA estimated that we need $472.6 billion to fix America’s public water infrastructure system alone.
Flint, Michigan, is still waiting…
There is?opportunity for investors to capitalize on clean water infrastructure and technology over the long term because of the need to upgrade and maintain water systems across the U.S.
The Swell Clean Water portfolio is a managed portfolio of water-focused companies which is up 11% over the past 12 months.
Whether it’s through news about water scarcity or news about the demand for water or need around improving our water infrastructure, those are all reasons that you would want to be in a clean water portfolio of companies that are addressing any one of those areas. -? Dave Fanger, CEO of Swell Investing.
Anheuser-Busch has officially promised that the $400 million worth of electricity it uses each year will be 100% renewable by 2025. It has also vowed to follow through on sustainability goals which include plans to:
Repackage beverages in majority-recycled content
Improve water efficiency
Work directly with farmers
Reduce carbon emissions by 25%.
In celebration of its new vision, starting on Earth Day, it has labeled all of its cans and bottles of Bud with a new ?100% Renewable Electricity? symbol to make consumers aware of its new goals.
This labeling strategy builds awareness, sparks conversation about what exactly it means to be sourcing clean energy, and offers a gateway to the bigger discussion that consumers?particularly millennials?increasingly expect. The challenge is for the company to maintain transparency everywhere, even with more challenging questions.?- Christen Graham, Social Impact Executive
Anheuser-Busch CEO Carlos Brito has proclaimed that ?Budweiser is going to be carrying the flag for renewable energy around the world.? However, when a company does not follow through with its corporate social responsibility promises, it amounts to greenwashing.
Will Bud follows through with its promises? In fact, it may not have a choice.
Whether beer brewers rebrand as green and fly ?the flag for renewable energy or not,? they are going to have to not only rethink their sustainability strategies, but actually carry them out in order to survive. Issues of water scarcity and water quality currently pose particularly serious threats to the survival of food and beverage industries around the world.
Much like the shift we went through when turning our backs on smoking and littering, we?re clearly in the middle of a massive cultural shift when it comes to sustainability. Just as we find it abhorrent to throw litter out of a car window, it is now becoming unacceptable to buy products from companies deemed to be mistreating the planet.
What this means for companies is that if they don?t start integrating sustainability and corporate social responsibility into their business model, products, and brand, they are definitely going to feel it in their bottom line.
45% of Americans want to be seen as someone who buys eco-friendly products.
Over 50% of Americans don?t believe a product is green if they don?t believe the company is green.
Over 50% of Americans can think of a time when they?ve either purchased or not purchased a product because of the environmental reputation of the manufacturer.
When it comes to Millennials, these trends are even stronger:
90% say they?ll buy from a brand if they trust that company?s social and environmental practices.
95% say they?ll recommend the products to their friends and family if they trust a company?s social and environmental practices.
We?ve come a long way. Being eco-friendly is no longer considered a fringe activity limited to activists and early adopters. Joining the dialogue and aligning your brand with deeply held beliefs is the marketing of the future.
Business must be part of the solution…Sustainable, equitable growth is the only acceptable business model. – Unilever
Bottom line:? Don?t smoke, don?t litter, and be a sustainable brand ? or risk losing your marketplace advantage.
In this interview, Martin Kremenstein, head of retirement and ETF solutions at Nuveen, defines ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and explains how ESG metrics serve both as an indicator of quality, and can be used as a risk management tool. Some takeaways:
According to research from MSCI, companies ranking in the lowest 20% in ESG ratings have been twice as likely to suffer a catastrophic loss (over 95% cumulative loss) within three years.
MSCI downgraded Equifax to the lowest ESG rating on cybersecurity concerns one year before?the data breach was announced.
Facebook was excluded from Nuveen’s NuShares ESG Large-Cap Growth ETF when the ETF launched in December 2016 because Facebook scored relatively poorly over data privacy concerns compared to other tech companies.
Before the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP had actually been downgraded and removed from major ESG indices over concerns about its outsourcing of maintenance of offshore oil wells, which was directly related to the accident itself.
By actually having this framework in place, you are really putting in place a method for trying to avoid tail risk from companies that are badly run, and may end up having serious, serious scandals in the press. -?Martin Kremenstein, Nuveen.
South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory, have state-wide bans on single-use plastic bags. Queensland is set to follow suit in July 2018. Major Australian supermarkets Coles and Woolworths have announced they will phase out single-use plastic bags by mid-2018.