As opposed to championing the public outcry over the carbon-intensive nature of plastics, the world should also consider utilizing circular economy in working towards a new plastics economy.
The past few years has seen the world express their concerns regarding plastic production, consumption, and waste. Much of this focus, however, has been on the risks and impacts of plastics. It is worth noting that despite everything, the flexibility, and the resilience of plastics, offer countless benefits that cannot go unrecognized.
Substantially, the untapped value in plastic waste results from circular economy regeneration, which, incidentally, help minimize its environmental impact.
Nonetheless, the economic value chain of plastics is a complex one. Over the coming years, as is already witnessed, various sectors have already begun experiencing near and long-term risks across the plastic value chain, driven by shifting demands for plastic, regulation, changes in the supply of raw materials and alternative materials, and access to recycled materials.
That notwithstanding, time is ripe for innovation and the wider adoption of a circular economy. It is not only vital for our environment but can also bring new business opportunities.
It is clear that the world cannot conveniently do away with plastics, and as opposed to championing the public outcry over the carbon-intensive nature of plastics – which we cannot ignore – people and businesses should also consider utilizing circular economy in working towards a new plastics economy.
The contemporary society’s throwaway culture is characterized by a linear economy where items sold in plastics are mostly used once and discarded. In an efficient plastics economy, plastics can be designed, produced, and collected in a way that supports easy separation, disintegration, and recycling.
To put things into perspective, an innovatively designed cellphone could be stripped into different plastic components, electronics, glass, among others, and each stream is recycled into something just as premium the second time around.
This concept calls for a few strategies for manufacturers. In their quest for recycling, adopting sustainable material solutions should take precedence.
The raw materials required for plastic production are primarily sourced from fossil fuels. By adopting sustainable material solutions, the over-reliance on such methods can be significantly reduced.
A good intervention would be manufacturing plastics using easy-to-recycle polymer formats. Of course, this will need support from research institutions and government interventions to ensure that the concept achieves its purpose of reclaiming lost value in the disposal process.
In Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, of the total waste generated, only 45% is recycled, reused, or transformed into a form that can yield an economic or ecological benefit. This is a far cry from the 80% target set by the National Environment Management Authority.
According to a recent report by UNEP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), only 27 percent of plastic waste in Kenya is collected and, of that, only 7 percent is recycled in the country.
Unfortunately, most of this recycling happens in the informal sector. This leads to quality issues in recycled products. As a result, the share of recycled plastic that could replace virgin plastics is very minimal.
Luckily, manufacturers have had a wake-up call. Some have chosen to stop using virgin resources altogether and manufacture entirely from recycled plastics.
For instance, Sprite recently launched the Sprite Clear PET bottle packaging in Kenya, the fourth in the African market, in a move that will contribute significantly to the plastic economy in Kenya.
The clear bottles are easier to recycle compared to the lime-green ones, which means more Sprite bottles will be collected and recycled.
In a circular economy, these clear PET plastics can be recycled and reused to make a wide range of new products, such as pillow and duvet inners, as well as new bottles, making it more valuable than green PET, which has limited uses.
Coca-Cola also recently announced that it was shifting entirely to selling its popular sodas in bottles made from 100% recycled plastic material in the United States. In a similar suit, Nestle and PepsiCo, among other manufacturers, have also taken steps to redesign packaging and reduce waste.
The measures taken by such manufacturers go in line which tapping the potential of the economic value chain in plastic waste. As virgin plastic sources are becoming scarce, manufacturers are now asking the question: Can our waste become our resources? It is the right question to be asking.
If global brands such as Sprite, Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo, among others are exploring this route you can be sure that it is worth it – not only for sustainability but also for greater profitability.
The circular economy is becoming increasingly important in manufacturing. And despite the push and pull, and the implementation of related policies, there is an urgent need for many manufacturers to follow suit and find innovative ways of recycling their plastic.
This should be done in a way that reuses the waste and turning it into a resource. The move will benefit industries while addressing other challenges such as reducing carbon footprint and opening space for new job opportunities, thus driving the economy upward.