By: Nathan Sell*
The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City. Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking. Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care? To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute? Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient. Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris. This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.
We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport. This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out? When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics. We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave). Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry. Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input. These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.
Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent. Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.
View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here
* Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.