As stakeholders come together in Nairobi to continue negotiating a global plastics treaty, they are building upon a promising outline (“zero draft”). One major component of the zero draft focuses on designing plastics for recyclability, which could be a powerful way to eliminate plastic pollution at source.
The opportunity to design out plastic waste
About 80% of a product’s environmental impact is determined at the design stage, yet plastic products and packaging continue to be sold into markets that have no capacity to recycle them. It’s no wonder that plastic recycling rates hover around 9% globally.
Ideally, the global plastics treaty will define standardized product designs and guidelines that match what is actually recyclable in different markets – including investments into waste management where needed. Standardization would allow businesses to design packaging and products that are tailored to match the collection and recycling systems in specific markets. At the same time, waste management and recycling systems would benefit from knowing the materials introduced into the market can be viablly collected, sorted, processed and used again.
Digital tools as catalysts
While the prospects of mandating companies to align on circular design standards are exciting, many are struggling with obtaining the right information and tools to develop strategies for informed packaging decisions in diverse markets. As a result, several digital tools have emerged to support companies in baselining and tracking plastic targets, navigating evolving legislation, and facilitating the recovery of materials, including:
- ReSource Plastic from WWF
- Online plastics disclosure from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) platform
- RecyClas Online Tool from RecyClas
- Empower Tracking from Empower
Addressing the need for packaging strategies: Plastic IQ
The Plastic IQ platform was developed to fill a gap for companies: data and guidance to develop the right packaging strategies for their various markets. What materials should they prioritize in line with its end of life? What is recyclable in a given country? What are the cost and environmental implications of different materials? What policies and regulations need to be taken into account? And how do all these factors (and many more) weave together to shape a company’s strategy?
Plastic IQ takes a data-based approach to determine optimal strategies to produce a more sustainable plastics packaging portfolio. It was first developed for the US by the Recycling Partnership and Systemiq, with support from Walmart Foundation, and Delterra is has been expanding and evolving Plastic IQ into additional markets, including Brazil and Indonesia – also with the support of Walmart Foundation.
Integration of the various digital tools is essential if they are going to support the global plastics treaty
While these tools provide value to companies, each one supports a specific stage of a company’s plastics production journey. This leads to a disjointed user experience, which in turn results in companies piecing together different tools fit for different purposes in order to make progress.
If the objectives of the treaty are going to be met, companies will need well-designed, market-specific tools that “talk to one another” to support them in making better design decisions. These tools should be housed on a single platform that supports a company through its entire journey. A one-stop-shop. Where possible, it should foster partnerships between existing tools to ensure resources are focused on moving the needle, not developing yet another software product.
Implementing a globally binding treaty to end plastic waste is going to be fraught with challenges, from financing and ensuring a just transition for waste workers to cleaning up the plastic waste crisis we already have on our hands. Nobody believes a platform of digital tools will solve these challenges alone. But as a global plastics treaty takes shape over the coming months, it will be important to start thinking about how to bridge the gap between commitment and action. And it is clear that digital tools have a big part to play.
This blog was written and contributed by:
Director of Plastic IQ, Delterra