One company suggests that we can go plastic neutral while creating better livelihoods across the globe.
We are used to cities and businesses pledging to go carbon neutral but could the same be possible for plastics? One company suggests that we can actually go plastic neutral while creating better livelihoods across the globe.
As we are heading for more plastics than fish swimming in the oceans by 2050, the initiative seems as timely as ever. Founded in 2013, Plastic Bank encourages vulnerable communities to exchange plastics for currency. Its scheme is simple yet effective: people collect ocean plastic and get money or other locally relevant goods and services in return. The plastic is sold at a premium and used by the partners to create new products that are marketed under the “social plastic” label.
The company aspires to unite ecosystem health and human wellbeing under a sustainable business model that benefits the disadvantaged and supports a more equal economy. It also offers partners an opportunity to go plastic neutral by “offsetting” 84kg of plastic an average person uses per year through a payment starting at $44. It’s a worthy initiative, yet it faces the same challenges as regular carbon offsetting.
First, it reduces all the damage plastics can cause to the environment before we take it out of the oceans to a single number, which doesn’t reflect the price we pay for dealing with the damage. It also doesn’t consider the often irreversible impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems that are simply impossible to calculate. Therefore, plastics neutrality is just a metaphor for doing something good, but not a true measure of real-world outcomes.
The company delivers social benefits to those in need, but putting the bad caused by pollution with the good provided to the poor on a single scale is not a sustainable way forward. Moreover, no plastics offsetting can solve plastic pollution if the person buying those offsets keeps on using disposables all day long. That is why this approach might even worsen the situation because the feeling of doing something good can make people produce even more waste than they did before.
Our daily choices influence the future of life on Earth, and so we should go beyond such end-of-pipe ideas and focus instead on practices that deliver lasting change. Zero waste living offers countless reusable solutions that clearly address the waste dilemma at its root without the need to fuel dirty industries. We should also intensify efforts to develop sustainable packaging alternatives that do not pollute the planet.
Only when we stop polluting does cleaning the planet have a real chance of succeeding. A TED talk by Plastic Bank Founder David Katz shows he is aware of the issue, mentioning the “tap” we need to close. Still, the next move would be to acknowledge that plastic neutrality doesn’t really exist. No matter how effective plastic clean-up programs get, the only real way is to stop producing plastic waste in the first place.