21 AUG, 2019
This article first appeared on https://laquilaactive.com/,
a global platform for eco-conscious and sustainable fashion
Our company, L’Aquila Active, works with brands from around the world that are eco-conscious and sustainable through women’s active wear clothing and accessories.
It wasn’t until we really dug deep into this new and rapidly growing sustainable industry that we realized that in order to really have an impact, we need to look at the big picture of how individuals consume as well as how companies, NGO’s and governments operate around the world.
When we looked at so many industries around the globe, it was clear that active wear and other polyester based (a form of plastic made from petroleum for those new to our blog and the industry) wasn’t the only environmentally harmful and unsustainable industry.
Truth be told, there are multiple industries that do business around the globe that are also following a similar path – and these type of business/government practices have spiked C02 levels globally, caused unnecessary health effects on humans (especially in the developing world), harmed animal/marine life, overfilled landfills, etc.
We’ve been writing about the concept of a “circular economy” for a little while now, and we believe it is the best option because it completely redefines and redesigns a products lifecycle, from beginning to end. And it could also apply to virtually every industry and type of business or government.
Today we would like to dive in a little deeper to discuss some of the details, and specifically how it affects plastics (because of course, many of the clothing brands at L’Aquila are made primarily from polyester!).
Before we dive into some of the specifics, it’s important to note that plastic isn’t the enemy, it’s actually a vitally important and integral part of our global economy.
According to the European Commission, just in the European Union alone, there are over 1.5 million people either directly or indirectly employed through the plastics industry. We advocate working WITH big businesses/governments/NGO’s and consumers to create a smarter plastic world that is forward thinking and works for everyone.
Plastics solve a lot of problems in the world already. When it comes to Reducing foodborne diseases, and food waste in general (especially in the developing world), plastic packaging is literately a lifesaver for millions.
Lightweight plastic components made to reduce the weight of our transportation, such as cars, trains, and planes – help reduce CO2 emissions significantly.
Similarly, insulation with materials made of plastic reduce energy bill costs and also reduce C02 emissions. Countless innovations and inventions such as tamper-proof prescription bottles, medical devices, etc. also have vital plastic components made of plastic.
Probably the best metaphor we can give would be comparing global plastic production and consumption to our bodies need for carbohydrates. Just like plastic, it is both the quality and the quantity of carbohydrates we need to focus on.
You can look at “single use plastic” like simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar). They are both overly abundant in our society, addicting to everyone (in our case, both consumers and producers) – and the truth is, we don’t really need them at all.
Especially for non-recyclables, we should work to eliminate single use plastics them out of our “global diet” so to speak, whenever possible, while producing more bio-degradable, vegetable oil derived plastics (if your still into the carb metaphor, you can look at these like a more natural alternative, like Stevia or Monkfruit).
Similar to how elite athletes and health enthusiasts plan and time their carbohydrate intake optimally around their workouts and recovery – we can redesign our plastic production based upon increased plastic packaging conformity and anticipated consumer demand.
When it comes to plastic packaging, one of the reasons plastic recycling rates are so low and the challenge is so daunting for businesses and governments is the high levels of customization in the manufacturing process. There are several different polymers, colors, patterns, and shapes that packaging can take, and this diversity can negatively affect recyclability. The Ellen McArthur Foundation states that, “Better product design can save up to $135 each ton of plastic waste collected.”
With over 8 million tons of plastic recycled globally per year, that could represent almost $11 billion in cost reductions!
We can use the billions in cost reductions of improved and standardized product design to subsidize and incentivize businesses and governments throughout this transition, and also to create further incentivizes to make cheaper and easier, and more importantly, to increase global recycling rates (According to ourworldindata.com, only a measly 20% of global plastic waste was recycled in 2015)!
To summarize, when it comes to single use plastics, we should try to either outright ban them when economic and feasible alternatives exist, and/or redesign and standardize them when alternatives don’t exist or are too expensive.
For more “durable” plastics with much longer lives, such as the ones that make up smart phones, computers, and cars – we can look at these similar to complex carbohydrates. They have far more benefits to society than costs, and in many cases don’t have feasible alternatives.
However, in a circular plastic economy, we can reduce the costs to our environment substantially when companies and governments work together to plan out the life-cycles of these products from beginning to end – think of this like timing your complex carbs right before/after your workouts instead of right before bed!
We need to have durable products to have much longer product life-cycles than they currently do now – many durable products could easily last 10+ years and new hardware/parts could be added on with much less waste of plastic, CO2, and other vital resources.
For these durable plastics, we are going to have to think big and make a combination of public and private R&D investments to allow long term innovations.
According to the European Commission, we must look at the industry systemically to modernize the plastics value chain and also creating new rules for producers such as implementing extended producer’s responsibility (EPR) that will penalize overly customization and incentivize the most sustainable product designs.
Durable products can also be designed to minimize breakdown into microplastics, which are creating alarming human and animal health concerns in the food chain as well as the environment.
Another example would be scaling up new technological solutions such as digital watermarking could allow much better sorting and traceability of materials, with much fewer retrofitting costs.
The bottom line: plastics are important, but need to be well regulated – this is best done in advance, at production, to minimize costs to businesses, governments, NGO’s and individuals.
Similar to climate change and CO2 levels, imperfect action with fine tuning down the road with a global circular economy for plastics should be implemented as soon as possible, and is much more preferable than delaying action any further as global plastic production is not slowing down anytime soon (and low global oil prices will likely keep this trend for the foreseeable future).
Keeping with my overused carbohydrate metaphor, doesn’t it make more sense to start making changes when you start to see the scale move in the wrong direction?
Or…would you rather wait until you can no longer see your feet?