Recycling alone won’t solve the plastic pollution crisis, says ISB Global

Recycling is not enough by itself to solve the global plastic pollution crisis and governments, businesses and consumers themselves must change how they use and dispose of plastic, according to CHRIS WILLIAMS, founder and CEO of ISB Global, the UK-based software and solutions provider for the global waste management and recycling sector.

In this featured post, Williams responds to a recent report by Greenpeace warning that recycling alone is not the sole solution to the plastic pollution crisis. The report emphasises the urgent need for alternative approaches to tackle the problem.

“Recycling plays a vital role in waste management, but it’s nowhere near enough to solve the current global problem with plastic pollution,” said Williams. “We need to improve current recycling efforts, but also reduce our production and consumption of single-use plastic: and encourage far greater plastic reuse.

The Greenpeace report was published in late May on the eve of a UN global plastic pollution summit in Paris attended by more than 170 countries. The summit aimed to agree on a legally binding global plastic production and disposal treaty. But it ended without agreement on a range of important details.

With the international community deadlocked Williams points to three practical steps to curtail plastic pollution:

  • Acknowledge the limitations of recycling: Recycling has long been championed as the primary solution to plastic pollution, but it has limits. Recycling processes can inadvertently increase plastic toxicity, which poses risks to the environment and human health. 

New microplastic filtration systems are already being developed that remove microplastics from wastewater treatment plants and prevent them from entering waterways and ecosystems. The waste industry now needs to devise improved recycling methods that prioritise eliminating harmful substances and producing safer materials.

  • Reuse more plastic: Reusing plastic products extends their life cycle and significantly reduces the demand for new plastic. Durable, reusable and environmentally friendly products such as Yeti Bottles and Ocean Bottles reduce plastic waste and minimise the environmental impact. 

Many countries and local authorities have implemented plastic bottle deposit schemes and promoted refillable container use. These initiatives reduce the number of discarded single-use plastic items by incentivising consumers to reuse bottles and containers instead.

  • Reduce single-use plastic: It sounds obvious, but tackling plastic pollution involves reducing the production and consumption of single-use plastic. Items like food wrappers, bottles, and plastic bags are major contributors to the problem. Food manufacturers and retailers must increase their efforts to replace single-use items with innovative alternative packaging solutions made of biodegradable or compostable materials. 

The food industry is making significant advances on this issue. At the end of May,  Mars announced a UK trial of recyclable paper wrappers for its eponymous chocolate bar. Although challenges remain, progress in the area is promising.

Williams also underlines the long-term importance of establishing circular supply networks to replace current production and consumption processes. “Implementing sustainable circular supply networks – closed-loop systems where all resources are continuously reused and recycled – reduces waste and minimises the demand for new raw materials. This mitigates plastic production’s environmental impact,” he explained.

“The circular supply network is a paradigm shift in managing all waste and resources, not just plastic. By implementing changes in manufacturing and materials used, waste transforms from a problem to a valuable resource that can be reintroduced into the production cycle. Adopting a circular approach is a long-term solution to address the challenges of plastic pollution and other waste properly.”

Williams continued: “The Greenpeace report is a sobering reminder of the limitations of recycling as a solution to the plastic waste problem. With efforts on a shared international plan to end plastic pollution currently stalled, the responsibility falls to national and local governments, business and waste management industry, and consumers themselves.”

“What’s essential is to improve existing recycling processes and expand our focus beyond recycling. This means educating and encouraging consumers to reduce their single-use plastic consumption, increase their reusable product use, and push businesses and industries to adopt biodegradable plastic alternatives. It also means rethinking existing manufacturing processes so that waste materials are no longer a problem but a resource. Together, these strategies can address the current crisis and pave the way towards a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future.”

ISB Global is based in the UK with offices in the USA, Pakistan and South Africa. For more information click HERE

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