DRIVING INCREMENTAL CHANGE FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE WORLD
The world as we know it, has transformed tremendously over the last few months. The COVID 19 pandemic has left a lasting impact on not only people’s health and lifestyles, but global supply chain management, logistics and manufacturing, and the entire world economy. The situation may look bleak, but there always exists a silver lining. In this case, that silver lining is an opportunity for us all to embrace this change for the better: to do better, to be better, for our planet, and our future generations.
With this thought in mind, on World Oceans Day 2020, we conducted a webinar on ‘Plastic Pollution in the Ocean: Scenario in a post Covid world.’ The panelists included Andrew Almack, Founder and CEO of Plastics for Change, Stalin Dayanand, Director, Vanashakti and Sonia D’Souza Bhavsar, Founder, Dropledge, with Aman Grover, Operations Manager, Waste Warriors as the moderator.
It is no surprise that this pandemic has escalated the critical challenge of plastic pollution even more. Single use plastic is being utilised extensively by medical professionals to battle this disease, which has led to a great surge in the volume of non recyclable waste. Considering the urgent need for medical supplies today, it is evident that we cannot let go of this plastic completely. But we can definitely switch to alternatives that do not degrade the environment as much.
Defining the new normal for plastic usage
The first step towards solving a tough problem is to recognise the extent of it. And in this case, it is important to understand that the plastic pollution problem dates way before the rise of Covid 19. Each year, the consumption of single use plastic increases by 10%. Of course, no one dumps truck loads of waste in oceans directly, but it eventually reaches there through sewer lines, inefficient disposal mechanisms and rivers. From there, it reaches our food chains as microplastics, and may even seep into the pores of our skin!
“Changing tides lead a chunk of this waste to remain trapped in mangroves, from where it reaches the sea. A lot of us have been part of never ending beach clean ups, but we need to realise that it doesn’t affect only marine life once it gets there. We are not isolated from its harsh impact. The effects of marine pollution (microplastics) will affect all humans even if you are a vegetarian”
– Stalin Dayanand, Director, Vanashakti
Over the last few years, recyclable plastics did come to the forefront as a viable substitute, but the plastic recycling industry has been crippled in the wake of Covid 19. Crude oil prices have fallen massively, decreasing the demand for recycled plastics, and many companies operating in this sector have gone bankrupt. Since most waste generated right now is medical in nature, recycling is off the table. Most non recyclable items, thus, land up at the bottom of our oceans. But if we all work together to enable and adopt sustainable solutions, there is scope for great improvement.
Key Takeaways for Consumers
“Keeping in mind the 3 Rs of Reuse, Refuse and Reduce can go a long way to drive individual impact”
– Aman Grover, Operations Manager, Waste Warriors
Dwelling upon the problem will lead us nowhere, but even the tiniest action is enough to make a difference. At a personal level, users need to think about how they can shift to sustainable, toxic free alternatives. Something as simple as segregating waste properly inside our homes and composting it creates impact. Imagine, if each household does this, how many tonnes of waste can be prevented from entering our oceans!
Every little bit matters. In terms of more sustainable alternatives, consumers should also consider moving to cellulose based plastic. A quick Google search can lead you to multiple distributors, as cellulose based plastic is becoming quite common within urban localities. This is most suited for food packaging and short term usage, as it decomposes naturally in approximately 3 months’ time, as compared to the hundreds of years it takes for single use plastic to degrade. Even replacing the use and throwing plastic bottles with those made of bioplastic can make a huge difference.
Key Takeaways for Corporates and Legislative Bodies
Business leaders can also drive tremendous sustainable impact through innovative product design. As the economy looks at reopening again, business leaders should factor in building ecologically and socially responsible supply chains and as the need of the hour. This not only builds enterprise resilience, but also drives long term ecological impact. To begin with, having a complete visibility into the amount of waste being generated is a good benchmark to set, in order to set the right corrective measure. Technology will play a critical role in mapping this in its entirety.
Companies like Amazon have already started to rethink their packaging, and minimise plastic usage with shipping and delivery, but switching to bioplastics completely is expensive, since it involves setting up high end composting plants. Scientists are also exploring the possibility of using plankton within bioplastics, to reduce the pollution within our water bodies.
However, industrial change depends a great deal on legislation. We cannot build resilient economies without the involvement of local government bodies. Actions speak louder than words, and this applies to legislative policies as well. Ensuring citizens understand the depth of the problem is imperative. Can they impose small fines on plastic bags, to curb usage? Can we push for them to make bioplastics mandatory? What measures can be taken to improve plastic collection and segregation? In a country like India, the volume of plastic for the municipality to treat doubles every five years, and that is way more than they can process!
This is where the informal waste economy comprising waste pickers comes in. They are the backbone of waste management systems and yet face social stigma and are caught in an endless cycle of poverty. Helping them become small scale entrepreneurs will go a long way in mitigating this very urgent risk.“Creating sustainable livelihoods for players in the informal waste economy and developing the infrastructure of these systems is the need of the hour. For this to happen business worldwide will need to adopt more sustainable practices and expand on their sourcing of recycled material.”
– Andrew Almack, Founder and CEO of Plastics for Change
Technology as a key enabler of change
The need to drive change is clear, but how do we go about it? It’s not an easy path, but the toughest challenges are the most fun to solve, and here’s the answer: change the mindset of the consumer. ‘We are in a new reality. We have never seen the likes of this pandemic before, and people are adapting everyday. This is an opportunity to enable them to embrace this change themselves.’
– Sonia D’Souza-Bhavsar, Founder of Dropledge.
More than 80% of our habits are driven through our subconscious. In a digital first world, most of us use technology extensively, and this tech has now become an important enabler to connect with users effectively. Through the studies and research conducted at Dropledge, we understand that 94% of people connected with us have committed to dropping the usage of single use plastics. All through our use of tech for the greater good. Tech led innovations can go a long way in driving consumer awareness, whether it is through gamification, artificial intelligence and big data led consumer behaviour mapping or simple innovations like colour coded plastic based on its usage.
As more people become aware of this challenge, half the battle is won already. It only takes a few minutes or less to sow a seed of thought and ensure mindful consumption patterns. Now is time to take this thought far and wide, especially the Millennials and Gen X. One less bottle of plastic consumed is one life saved, one more person empowered and one habit changed. Bring it all together, and we’ll have transformed the entire landscape!