Referred to as the biggest climate change deal since the Paris Agreement, the UN Environmental Assemblies agreement to end plastic pollution aims to address the international plastic crisis through lifecycle analysis, design, and encouraging technological advances to minimize waste generation.
The agreement will result in an internationally binding legislation by 2024. The world is moving against plastics. What does a global pressure to divest from plastics mean for businesses?
The Scope of the Plastic Crisis Today
The impacts of plastic production are dangerous and wide reaching. Of specific concern to the United Nations Environmental Assembly in creating the anti-plastics agreement is the effect of microplastics. Microscopic plastic particles, known as microplastics or “nurdles”, contribute to an alarming amount of marine degradation, affecting globally relied on food sources like fish, not only by reducing the abundance of fish, but also through biomagnification of toxins through the food chain, which can have devastating effects on human health. Recently, microplastic particles were even found in human blood.
Importance of a Lifecycle Focus
So, how can businesses prepare for this new anti-plastics legislation? The UN agreement expresses the importance of a life cycle analysis approach to reducing plastic waste in three main steps: Minimizing waste generation through sustainable design, improving waste management, and increased reporting.
Despite the idealistic claims of chemical recycling, many critics worry that the technology is still in its infancy and that it will not be ready fast enough to tackle the problem of plastic waste. There are concerns that pyrolysis is inefficient and dangerous; that the chemicals it produces are of lower value than that of the energy used to break down the recycled plastic in the first place, or that the process produces harmful emissions and dangerous byproducts. Solvolysis, on the other hand, is criticized for being an untested technology in large industrial settings. There is concern that the solvents used can become dangerous when scaled up from laboratory testing to industrial application, and because of the highly selective nature of the technology there are concerns about the economic potential.
Businesses can minimize waste by implementing sustainable design that promotes reuse, remanufacturing, and recycling. Strategies like lightweighting a package can help to minimize waste, reduce transportation needs, and maximize pallet optimization. Flexible packages often have similar advantages. Simple material changes might promote recyclability, decrease damage rate, or allow you to shift away from microplastic based materials. Many companies are looking towards innovations in reusable/refillable packaging and biodegradable or compostable alternatives. Some of these trends might be great in reducing plastic waste, but may have negative effects elsewhere, for example, increased water use or greenhouse gas emissions. Though the UN agreement focuses on reducing plastic use, these changes need to be made with a full understanding of potential impacts.
Improvements in waste management require significant infrastructure shifts and legislation, but can still be supported by corporate action. One method may be to create products using PCR (Post Consumer Recycled) and PIR (Post Industrial Recycled) materials. Additionally, taking steps to increase consumer recycling knowledge can be hugely beneficial as the majority of recycling contamination comes from improper recycling.
Life Cycle Analysis tools like EcoImpact-COMPASS will be of huge importance to this new UN initiative, allowing stakeholders to understand their plastics impact from a cradle to grave approach, look at trade-offs of various materials and designs, and understand the best ways to incorporate the end-of-life into product design. Reporting tools like the EcoImpact-COMPASS roll-up report allow companies to keep track of individual BOMs and SKUs as well as have a record of their overall plastic manufacturing impacts on the biggest environmental indicators. Trayak is happy to help with any questions regarding reporting and how to prepare for new anti-plastics legislation.
Preparing for the Future
The UN Environmental Assemblies agreement to end plastic pollution is the biggest climate change deal since the Paris Agreement. The agreement aims to address the international plastic crisis through a holistic lens with an internationally binding legislation by 2024. Sustainability solutions with a life cycle analysis focus, such as EcoImpact-COMPASS, can help you prepare for these changes now. The world is moving against plastics, is your business ready?
Trayak has been helping leading brands of all sizes make data-driven sustainability decisions for over 10 years. If you would like to learn more about our tools and services please contact us.