Kyle Arsenault, UMass Lowell
Plastic pollution contributes to the degradation of ecosystems, to a reduction in human health, and to the growing problem of climate change. Industry and individuals alike have begun to take notice of the issue.
It is estimated that since the 1950s nearly 8.3 billion tons of plastics have been produced and consumed around the world (2). This is the weight of about 800,000 Eiffel Towers! Nearly all of the plastic that has been produced, including if it was recycled during its lifetime, has made its way into landfills or into the surrounding environment. On average, about a million plastic bottles and two million plastic bags are consumed every minute (3). In 2016 alone, it is estimated that 480 billion plastic bottles were purchased and only 7% of those bottles were recycled!
These numbers demonstrate that the world consumes and disposes of an enormous amount of single-use plastics . Our high rate of plastic consumption could be justified if there was much better recycling statistics or if there was a perfect solution to the problem of disposal; however, this is not the case. The reality is that the majority of plastics are sent to landfill and this process is far from perfect. Plastics can leak into the environment in a variety of ways including being lost in transport, littering, dumping, and entering the environment as microplastics. According to the United Nations (4), ingestion of plastics kills 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine animals each year. A research study conducted by Plymouth University found that 700 species of marine life have been affected by plastic pollution (5).
The Alliance to End Plastic Waste was founded in January of 2019 in response to this growing problem. The mission of the alliance is to “end the flow of plastic waste into the environment (1).” The alliance is made up of companies that either produce, process, or use plastic (These companies include BASF, Berry Global, LyondellBasell, PolyOne, Procter & Gamble, and SABIC). In total the companies have committed 1.5 billion dollars to solving the problem of plastic waste (over the next five years). The alliance aims to resolve the issue of plastic waste through the application of, “the technical and engineering expertise of each sector, the collective resources and reach of companies from around the world, and insights from those that operate in the regions where the challenge is greatest (6).”
In order to solve the issue of plastic waste, the initiative is looking to the source of the problem. The organization has reported that nearly “sixty percent of ocean plastic can be sourced to five countries in Southeast Asia” (These countries are: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) and that “nearly 80% of all plastic waste begins as litter that ends up traveling from land to major rivers, which then lead to our oceans (6).” The companies involved in the organization hope to work together with cities to design better waste management systems and develop the infrastructure necessary to improve the disposability and recyclability of the plastic materials already being produced. Furthermore, the alliance is investing direct capital into developing technologies as well as business models to improve waste management as a whole. The organization is also seeking to resolve the problem by forming a database of information regarding plastic waste partnering with universities, the United Nations, and current sustainable organizations to resolve the issue.
The alliance has four primary pillars upon which the organization is centered: Infrastructure, Innovation, Education, and Cleanup. Infrastructure focuses on collecting and managing waste and increasing recycling especially in developing countries (1). Innovation strives to advance and scale “new technologies that minimize waste, make recycling, and recovering plastics easier, and create value from all post-use plastics” (1). Education refers to the educations of governments, businesses, and communities in the effort to combat plastic waste. Lastly, clean up focuses on areas with concentrated amounts of plastic waste including rivers. Importantly, the Alliance is strongly supported by CEOs and presidents of the affiliated companies. Bob Patel, the CEO of LyondellBasell, says “History has shown us that collective action and partnerships between industry, governments, and NGOs can deliver innovative solutions to a global challenge like this”
The effectiveness of this non-profit organization in solving the massive issue of plastic waste is contingent upon how effective it is at managing and implementing its goals. Through individual, governmental, and social action, the problems surrounding plastic will hopefully one day be solved.