January 30th, 2014
Who should take responsibility for reducing the amount of plastic debris that litters our cities, waterways and oceans? While many consumers have given up their plastic grocery bags, most still rely on the convenience of plastic water bottles, liquid soap and fast food in styrofoam containers. “Many of our companies are looking at bio-based materials and other kinds of plastics,” says Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council.
“High density polyethylene, made from sugarcane, is one of the largest uses today of bioplastics.” But is plant-based plastic the answer? As Molly Morse of Mango Materials points out, without oxygen to break them down, bioplastics can last as long as or longer than conventional plastic. Her company is working to create plastic out of methane gas harvested from wastewater treatment plants. “It can break down in the ocean,” she says. Bridgett Luther, President of Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, helps steer companies toward more responsible solutions for design, manufacturing and packaging their products. She points out that this approach led to market success for one company that eschewed the use of non-recyclable foam in their chairs. “ [Herman Miller] developed one of the fastest selling office chairs ever, the Aeron Chair. The end of use of that Herman Miller chair was a lot of super valuable materials that can be easily recycled.”
The household cleaning company Method Products has been harvesting discarded plastic from beaches in Hawaii to produce their Ocean Plastic bottle. “Using the plastic that’s already on the planet is a solution that we have today,” says co-founder Adam Lowry. “So I tend to favor solutions that we can employ right now rather than saying, “Yes. The technology is coming.” Despite these promising steps, all agree that it’s going to take a village — manufacturers, consumers and legislators — to work together if we’re going to rid our world of plastic waste.
Photos by Ed Ritger