Plastic waste on course to reach 1.34 billion tons by 2030 Special

Posted Feb 21, 2021 by Tim Sandle
Plastic is the much-maligned detritus of modern living. It is the broken toy, the used carrier bag and the surgical face mask polluting our streets, streams and oceans. Yet plastic can become a force for good as a valuable re-usable commodity.
They are some of 1 800 marine mammals and turtles found to have ingested or been entangled by plasti...
They are some of 1,800 marine mammals and turtles found to have ingested or been entangled by plastic along American coastlines since 2009, according to a report from conservation NGO Oceana
With climate change back on the U.S. government’s agenda, President Joe Biden is in the best position possible to deliver a killer punch in the fight against global warming; by shifting focus away from carbon emissions and other green gestures to plastics, says Haggai Alon is the founder and chief executive of brand protection and authentication company Security Matters. Alon has recently produced a White Paper titled New Plastic Economic Order: Regulate the entire value chain, not just the product, which calls for a transition to a new regulatory approach over plastics.
Digital Journal caught up with Alon to understand why plastic and plastic waste leaves a huge carbon footprint on the world.
Digital Journal: What is the cost and impact of plastic waste?
Haggai Alon: A 2019 report from the Center for International Environmental Law warned that if plastic production stayed on its current trajectory, greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach 1.34 billion tons per year by 2030, equivalent to the emissions produced by 300 new 500MW coal-fired power plants. And in data compiled by the International Energy Agency, plastic and other petrochemicals were shown to account for 14 percent of global oil use today. If the trend continues, they will drive half of the world’s oil demand growth by 2050.
These are staggering figures and the band-aid approach of carbon offsetting is simply not enough to heal the wound we are creating. We need a radical new approach and Biden must lead the way, becoming a beacon for real change.
DJ: How is this issue addressed?
Alon: This is a multi-task challenge because the soaring demand for plastic is not balanced in any way by the collection and use of old plastics. Thankfully, America has two great advantages at her disposal; the financial markets and IT power.
Carbon credit was invented in order to motivate companies to decarbonize, but it doesn’t work anymore; it has become a financial game between big players and, in many ways, carbon credit and carbon credit offsetting are more of an obstacle to change because people are simply buying guilt pleasure mileage rather than solving the problems we face. This is why the carbon credit system has to change, and the first critical step in doing this is to transform carbon credit to plastic credit in order to motivate those who collect, sort and recycle plastic. As the world’s biggest economy, America has to take the lead. She has to set the example.
Once this decision is taken, and to avoid duplicating the mistake of the carbon credit offsetting niche market, plastic credit needs to be taken to the financial markets. Why? Because financial markets, once they begin trading plastic credit, based on recycled plastic content and plastic recycling activities, will create a tangible commercial value that will fall under the auspices of SEC regulation, further pumping financial motivation into recycling.
DJ: Will incentives help?
Alon: Right now, there is no motivation to recycle. There is no motivation to use plastic recycled content. And regulation won’t help. When there is no connection between recycled plastic and the financial markets, it doesn’t matter how much you regulate or how many quotas you specify or what incentives you offer; it will not catch up with demand. The challenge here is not plastic waste, it’s not even smart sorting. The big challenge is finding a way to meet the soaring demand for plastic that doesn’t increase environmental damage.
In December, the Center for Biological Diversity and more than 550 other environmental advocacy groups released a draft plastics strategy called the Presidential Plastics Action Plan, and called on Biden to adopt it. The plan includes suspending and denying permits for all new or expanded plastic production facilities.
DJ: Is this achievable?
Alon: For me, this is an unrealistic goal. Plastic is here to stay. It’s no longer a question of controlling demand, but of creating an equilibrium within this soaring demand whereby we generate a larger percentage of that demand for recycled plastic content. Whoever thinks we are going to live in a world without plastic is dreaming. When you have rates of poverty, of any equation, alternatives to plastic are simply not feasible because they are often more expensive.
The anomaly of the plastic problem is that unwanted plastic is collected, usually with a great amount of effort, it is then sorted and never used again. There is no demand for recycled plastic, and there is no demand because there is no data on the plastic. This is the second step of the plastic revolution; establishing the data that will serve circularity and sustainable economic models.
In my company, we call this IT data the ‘new gold’. It is the ability to mark, track and authenticate plastic using molecular sequence – a kind of chemical barcode that enables all of the data to be collected from the point of production as a raw material through to a recycled product. Plastic degrades after the first use, along with every other material, except gold. That’s why the data is important because manufacturers will need to balance recycled plastic with virgin material and other additives. It’s doable but you need the data in order to rebalance the substrate.
DJ: What can the U.S. do to lead the way?
Alon: Right now, America has three major plus points when it comes to managing the challenge of plastic waste: its financial markets; its IT and AI power; and a new president committed to tackling climate change. To this end, Biden has appointed two climate czars; White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who will be working to rebuild goodwill with other countries following the actions of the previous administration. It’s a task that would be made a whole lot easier for Kerry should Biden be the first to stand-up and adopt a truly innovative solution to the world’s plastic problem.