Plastic pollution is not your fault, and recycling wasn’t designed to work. Part Two.

The real solutions to pollution (including plastic) are movements, and if implemented fully, will not only solve the pollution problem they’ll add trillions to the global economy.

First, holding producers responsible for the full life cycles of their products. In the United States, Democratic lawmakers introduced the “Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act 2020,” analogous to the EU’s “extended producer responsibility” schemes, that would require plastic producers to “collect and recycle their own waste” and “phase out certain single-use plastic items” (Goldsberry, 2020). Needless to say, this faced strong opposition from those such as the CEO of the Plastics Industry Association Tony Radoszewski, who advocated instead for improved recycling infrastructure so that plastic companies need not take on the extra burden (we know that recycling only increases waste). As a consumer, you can make your voice heard by contacting your state representative to support the Plastic Pollution Act.

The second movement with promising traction is the right to repair movement. This would require companies to disclose information regarding electronic products’ parts, processes, and equipment so that consumers can extend the life cycles of their purchases. This right is technically given to consumers under Consumer Guarantees Act. (However, a loophole exists for manufacturers — consumers may be informed before their purchase that repair facilities and spare parts will not be provided by the manufacturing firm). To support the enforcement of this consumer right, reach out to your government representative, or sign the right to repair petition.

Finally, a model that has gained traction in recent years is the circular economy. In comparison to the traditional linear economy and “take-make-dispose” mindset, this would preserve natural resources, cut back on pollution, and generate financial savings for the plastic industry (McKinsey & Company, 2019). According to a collaborative study between the McKinsey Institute and Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

“a [circular] approach could boost Europe’s resource productivity by 3 percent by 2030, generating cost savings of €600 billion a year.”

– McKinsey & Companies, 2019

The promising thing about these movements and the circular model is that it creates a profit incentive to manufacturers and suppliers along the supply chain and improves the quality of goods that consumers are buying, and benefits the environment. Wins all round!

Biotech company making new plastics inspired by a species of solitary bee.