Why Plastic Pollution Is a Producer Responsibility
By Alex Truelove
We're all culprits in the plastic pollution crisis — and that's by design.
I was reminded of this recently when I ordered a set of carbon filters for my countertop compost bin. (Like most people, I don't care for smelly kitchens.) The package arrived in a layered-plastic bubble envelope. Inside I found another clear plastic bag encasing the filters. Finally, adding insult to injury, each filter was wrapped individually in plastic. That made at least three layers of plastic for each filter.
Frustratingly, in an effort to reduce waste, I had created more. And I'm not alone. A recent landmark study confirmed that the United States is the most plastic-polluting country in the world. Every 16 hours Americans throw away enough plastic to fill a football stadium.
Adding to my frustration was a sense of helplessness. There was no way I could have known or changed the fact that these products were shrouded in layer upon layer of disposable plastic packaging.
I know millions of Americans feel the same way. We want to reduce our waste, particularly our use of disposable plastic, but we're rarely given the opportunity. Even when sustainable products are minimally packaged or designed for reuse, they often must be purchased online (delivered in more packaging, often disposable) or at specialty stores (rarities). Countless times I've wished that I could have avoided buying things that created so much trash.
But what if, in demanding better of ourselves, we're missing the point? The companies that design our products and packaging to be disposable not only created this system but are rewarded by it. Waste equals profit through cost avoidance.
Disposable products are cheap for industry, but costly to the rest of us. As taxpayers we have to pay for trash collection and recycling. As citizens we're exposed to pollutants from excessive manufacturing and microplastics shed from disposable products into our drinking water and food.
Marine litter on a remote stretch of Norway coastline. Bo Eide / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The cost to the companies making these wasteful products? Zero. In a shareholder profit-maximizing world, making disposable junk wins every time.
But what if these companies were held responsible for their products? Would it prevent the onslaught of plastic junk filling up our landfills and too often ending up in the ocean? History suggests manufacturers would design products to be more reusable, repairable and resilient, because they'd want to limit the waste they would have to manage.
Which brings us to an idea known as producer responsibility.
Producer responsibility programs have existed around the world for decades and have successfully increased collection, recycling and reuse for the products they cover. For the most part these programs regulate hazardous, hard-to-dispose-of products such as batteries, paint, mercury thermostats, carpet, pesticides, tires and pharmaceuticals. Dozens of states already have programs in place for these items.
For example, thermostat makers are required to finance and sometimes run convenient recycling programs to keep mercury, a potent neurotoxin, from escaping and causing damage. Not all programs require producers to collect their own trash, but they all require adequate financing for safe collection. Producers that redesign their products to be less dangerous or more reusable can often avoid higher fees.
Unfortunately we don't have programs in place for single-use packaging and foodware, despite the fact that those products are also hazardous and hard to dispose of. That's why we need to create them. British Columbia has already implemented producer responsibility legislation, and a handful of U.S. states — from Washington to Maine — are considering similar programs. If implemented, these programs would create jobs, generate revenue streams for local municipalities to further reduce waste and, in the long run, improve human health and help fight climate change.
With support and pressure from residents, we could see laws pass as early as 2021, forcing our product-makers to either be better or pay out.
The idea is even gaining support at the federal level, as members of Congress respond to growing calls from constituents to address the plastic pollution crisis. Even the remote possibility of a federal program may push states to establish their own programs first.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, industry groups that represent manufacturers of these products have already opposed efforts to hold their clients responsible, which is why we must continue to push our legislators to support these programs now and into the future. In other words, the jig is up — but only if we say so.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.
Alex Truelove is United States Public Interest Research Group's director of zero waste campaigns.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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