- By 2050, the world will have produced over 40 billion tons of plastic, the vast majority of which will live in the ocean or our environment for centuries.
- To combat this crisis and achieve plastic neutrality, plastic credits can be a key tool.
- Already, companies like Saathi are finding ways to massively reduce their plastic pollution while delivering social benefits.
Plastic is everywhere because it’s cheap and convenient. We have produced more than eight billion tons since the 1950s. Based on current global trends, we are expected to produce about 34 billion more by 2050.
Solving the plastic problem requires a fundamental shift in how we think about the world and its resources – and time is running out.
However, there are both short-term and long-term solutions.
Think long term
We produce 400 million tonnes of plastic every year, 36-40% of which is single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are used minutes before being thrown away, polluting the environment for centuries. Eliminating single-use plastics from the supply chain is of utmost importance. Many companies are already looking for replacements.
For example, Nestlé aims to make 100% of its plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025 while reducing their use of virgin plastic by a third, and PepsiCo has pledged to reduce virgin plastic per serving by 50%. by 2030 while setting a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040.
Change takes time. These companies have complex global supply chains, developed over decades. In many cases, they will have to overhaul their entire manufacturing unit from scratch.
Consumers, on the other hand, may be reluctant to accept the added cost of using green materials.
As companies assess their supply chains, new plastics are continually being produced and older plastics continue to slowly break down into smaller, more harmful microplastics, which have even been found in, among other things, human placentas. We urgently need short-term solutions that can be deployed immediately.
act in the short term
One option is plastic credits. A plastic credit is a measurable, verifiable and transferable unit generally representing 1kg of plastic collected from the environment or recycled. Like the carbon credit system, where credits are used to offset carbon emissions, plastic credits are used to offset the use of plastic.
To date, there are two main types of plastic credits. They measure the amount of plastic waste collected or recycled and support projects or communities that collect or recycle. Some credits support the waste picker community.
This plastic credit system addresses the management of plastic waste, which is important, but it does not address the creation of plastic.
A new plastic credit
Avoidance of single-use plastic should be encouraged by new technologies. This would help move technology faster and could mean that plastic credits can become part of companies’ supply chains in the long run. In the short term, companies will be able to offset some of their plastic consumption even before completely switching to new materials and a new supply chain.
We need to tackle the root cause of plastic pollution. Encouraging sustainable business models through a system of single-use plastic avoidance “credits” will put business owners at the forefront of the fight against climate change.
Just as carbon credits have evolved and now focus on mitigating carbon emissions, there should be an equivalent for plastic credits that incentivizes avoiding single-use plastic. We should focus on and support programs that replace single-use plastics with other sustainable alternatives that are either compostable, reusable, upcyclable or recyclable.
The Single-Use Plastic Avoidance Credit encourages a proactive and positive approach to achieving plastic neutrality immediately, while contributing to a long-term sustainable solution. It is a practical approach to transitioning to a sustainable future and a win-win solution for companies looking to invest in sustainable solutions and ensure their own sustainability.
Fighting plastic pollution at the source
Each industry has its own specific needs and there is no single solution to the problem of plastic pollution. Different types of businesses can be part of the Single-Use Plastic Avoidance Credit Program and develop models to deal with plastic pollution specific to their own industry.
Saathi, for example, makes biodegradable and compostable sanitary napkins from agricultural waste fibers. Regular sanitary napkins are 90% plastic and usually contain bleached wood pulp. Saathi is replacing plastic sanitary napkins one-for-one with fully compostable alternatives. Standard plastic credits count the kilograms of plastic waste collected or recycled. The single-use plastic avoidance program would count the number or kilograms of plastic waste avoided – Saathi would earn part of a credit each time he replaced a single-use plastic product with a compostable one.
Not only does this approach reduce plastic pollution, but it also provides farmers with income in exchange for their agricultural waste and employs women. Saathi also offers free sanitary products to underserved communities, and the method emits less carbon.
The benefits of the single-use plastic avoidance program extend to the ability to outpace plastic regulations in the long term and achieve plastic neutrality in the short term.
Our ocean covers 70% of the surface of the globe and represents 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can’t have a healthy future without a healthy ocean – but it’s more vulnerable than ever to climate change and pollution.
Tackling serious threats to our oceans means working with leaders in every sector, from business to government to academia.
The World Economic Forum, together with the World Resources Institute, brings together the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a program with the Indonesian government to reduce plastic waste in the sea to a global plan to hunt down illegal fishing, Friends are pushing for new solutions.
Climate change is an integral part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the transition to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the CEO Climate Alliance, who have reduced their companies’ emissions by 9%.
Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Learn more here.
Protect the ocean and ourselves
The ocean is an integral indicator of the health of the planet — it regulates the climate and reduces the negative impacts of climate change. Micro and macro plastics are dangerous to life underwater and the fragile ecosystems it supports and have devastating effects on local communities who depend on fishing for their livelihoods. They also introduce microplastics into the food chain, hampering the ocean’s ability to produce more than half of the world’s oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.
Stopping ocean plastic pollution at the source – the production of single-use plastics – is a key way to reduce ocean plastics, positively impact ocean health and in the broader fight against climate change .
To protect the ocean and encourage plastic cuts, holistic and collaborative solutions that reflect the reality of plastic pollution and keep the permanence of plastic in mind are essential.
Governments, businesses and individuals must act today. We need innovative legislation, market-based incentives, global treaties and rethinking consumer demand.
No one-size-fits-all approach will work. We must act now for both the long and the short term, if we are to save the ocean – and ourselves.