It is not responsible to pass on the responsibility.
According to many studies, Canadians want a single-use plastics ban, however, this can mean many things; less plastics, different plastics, more recycling, and the list goes on – making regulation difficult to create.
The notion of a single-use plastics ban has consumers, manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers wondering what could replace the endless list of items we’re accustomed to. These items have revolutionized our daily lives over the past 60-70 years since the advent of plastic mass manufacturing, so if we introduce this kind of regulation, what does it mean for plastics?
- More recycling?
- Less manufacturing?
- Restriction of certain types of plastics?
- Additional taxes on plastic products?
The solution is simple and relies on responsible producers, manufacturers and responsible and informed consumers, retailers, and restaurants who purchase these products – food, packaging, and plastics. This idea of a ‘responsible producer’ does not apply only to plastics, but all producers of anything we use in our day-to-day lives, from food production to auto manufacturing.
There are two questions every responsible producer considers:
- What goes into my product (birth of a product)?
- Where does my product end up (death of a product)?
And similarly, for every responsible consumer:
- What goes into the product I want or need? (adoption of the product – including how it is made and delivered)
- Where does this product end up, and when? (death of the product – including packaging and the lifespan of the product)
If these questions are answered truthfully and with the intent to make a better world in the future, we would have no issues today.
A responsible producer would consider the product they are making and create a product that either lasts forever or lasts forever in a closed loop system where a product is produced, used by their customer and then recycled, re-used, or composted. Instead, most producers have not been responsible from the outset, although we are slowly seeing changes.
Traditionally producers see consumer demand – a product is produced to meet that demand, and the responsibility is passed to the consumer after receiving it. Then the consumer uses it for a time, then responsibility passes to their local municipality or government when it is disposed of into the waste management system and assume everything disposed can be upcycled with value (Recycling & Composting) or worse we just accept some of it as ‘garbage’.
Many of us believe by recycling or composting, we have done our part, but unfortunately, not all products and waste systems are created equal. Across the globe including Canada, our waste disposal systems look very similar: garbage pickup, recycling bins, and organic waste collection, but one of them really shouldn’t exist in the responsible producer’s world (hint: it’s the one that goes to landfill).
But don’t get me wrong, some products are great when they enter a waste system!
For instance, from the waste side:
Recycling aluminum cans has high value as it’s easy to separate, and there is a large market for it. The same is true for PET plastic bottles (Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, water, etc.) but check to see if they are made from 100% recycled content, most flavoured beverages of big brands only care about profit and do not contribute to a closed loop.
There is a large demand for this type of plastic as it can be re-used repeatedly and therefore not single use if a consumer recycles it, and if a producer uses only 100% recycled plastic then we are net zero on single use plastic waste, very simple, why don’t we demand this? If you ever see a slightly blue hint bottle out there, it’s because it’s recycled and therefore it is not single use. This is from a responsible producer.
Now, envision yourself starting a recycling company. Do you want products made out of one material coming into your plant like a plastic bottle that you can just clean, melt and make into something new (or, even better, back into the same product. That is the epitome of circularity). Or do you want a tetrapak or boxed water that is multilayered with several plastics, aluminum and more… I’m choosing one type of plastic please for myself… Ask yourself these questions.
Another thought experiment: How many reusable water bottles have you had in your lifetime? How long did you use them? Where did they end up? – My guess is landfill after a couple years…. What is the carbon footprint and waste implications of that?
From the producer side:
If you are creating a product that is not made from renewable/recycled materials (e.g. Recycled plastic or Aluminum – renewable meaning closed loop, or organics) that cannot be re-used, or recycled (I include composting in this definition) AND/OR you know the municipal waste system you are putting it in has no way to process it or it has no value after – should you be making it or can you make something better that fits the responsible producer criteria?
Are you a responsible producer if you write ‘Recyclable’ or ‘Compostable’ on a product that is ‘technically’ defined as recyclable or compostable but in the current system it can never be recycled or composted due to no demand for the end waste or without technology in place to actually process it back into something of value in the circular economy?
At Greenlid, we have these types of thought experiments daily and decided to be a Responsible Producer. We have stayed away from ‘compostable plastics’ as facilities cannot process or have to sort them out when they are then sent to landfill anyways. How do you visually tell the difference between a plastic fork and a compostable plastic fork? You can’t!– all to landfill.
Did you know the standard for ‘Certified Compostable’ was created by the companies that invented compostable plastics without consideration to the facilities where they end up? Greenlid pays attention to everything that goes into our products. Ever wonder why your fibre takeaway container doesn’t soak through with oil and water? Most fiber products traditionally have contained a chemical related to Teflon often referred to as PFAs as the general class (polyfluoryl acyls).
We have created technologies to avoid these ‘forever’ chemicals linked to cancer. Most importantly, before we present a product to a customer (birth of our product – retailer, restaurant chain etc.), we test and consult with the facilities (death of our product) that will have to handle the waste we create and listen to them to make more sustainable products that work in our current system as well as discuss ways on how we can improve it.
It is not responsible to pass on the responsibility. As responsible Canadians, we should always think as both responsible producers, and responsible consumers. Ask questions, and demand responsibility.
Morgan Wyatt, PhD is the CEO & Co-Founder of Greenlid Sustainable Products.
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