Hello, plastic-free oceans!

Plastics loop

Episode Summary

About the global plastic pandemic and how plastic credits could be used for approaching a net circular plastics economy.

Episode Notes

Malin discusses the global plastic pandemic and how plastic credits could be used for approaching a net circular plastics economy with the Plastics Lead of Verra, Maggie Lee. The talk is framed around these questions:  


Q1: What is your take on the elephant in the room, our consumption? (01:22)

Q2: Why are we even thinking about plastic credits? (02:24)

Q3: What would net plastic circularity mean in practice? (03:47)

Q4: Why are business slow at moving away from plastics? (05:12)


Jane sums it all up with three keywords: plastic footprint mapping, reduction and plastic crediting.


Tip! Learn even more about how to use plastic credits: https://verra.org/project/plastic-program/ and enter the marketplace for credits: https://www.circularactionhub.org/



Artwork: Giancarlo Mitidieri  

Jingle: Frans Sjöberg

Episode Transcription

Hi, and welcome to the episode "Plastics loop" of the podcast "Hello, plastic-free oceans!" This is the podcast where we're following the progress of transforming the market of plastic products and packaging in Sweden, ultimately moving away from taking, making and wasting to a circular plastics economy. I'm Malin Leth, and I'm the host, and today we'll take a systemic view of the plastics loop. Do you feel that the system is overflowing with plastics and that we have to do something about it? Then, keep on listening! In this quick episode, I’ll talk to Maggie Lee, lead of the plastic waste reduction program at Verra, about post-consumer plastic waste, net circularity and the role of credits in the transformation. 

Maggie, we're in this global plastic pandemic. What is your take on the elephant in the room, our consumption? 

Well, in fact, as we all know the most important thing for all of us to do is to reduce our consumption, be it from consumer point of view or from production point of view. I believe that manufacturers do have a very large - if not almost all - responsibility in reducing as much as possible in terms of consumption of plastics or even consumption of anything that results in a carbon emission. While that's being said, it's perfectly legal for any type of manufacturer to continue to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and it is also equally as legal for them to actually continue to purchase plastic as a substance that they can use in their materials for packaging and also in a product itself. 

So, why are we then even thinking about plastic crediting?

It gives actually the opportunity for some of the companies that are trying to do the right thing a way to actually accomplish this before it is entirely legal to do so. And by legal I mean that sometimes there are regulations that prohibit recycled plastic from being used in products. For example, where I'm living in Thailand, it is not legal for us to actually use recycled plastic in food contact materials. That means that even though Coca Cola may be extremely willing to actually use recycled plastic in their packaging, they cannot do so in many countries globally. And Thailand being one of them. There are quite a lot of considerations that are put into making this law and prohibiting recycled plastic use in food contact materials, mostly because of impurities, and also in problems dealing with recycling that renders the plastic to be of suspicious kind of quality. They're not sure how much bacterial count or how much of other chemical impurities would exist in the recycled plastic, and this is also why plastic crediting is actually able to come in and help the situation. 

What would net plastic circularity mean in practice? Could you give us an example, Maggie? 

If a company - let's say Coca Cola - they would like to actually have net plastic circularity; meaning that if they produce let's say one ton of plastic per however long period they're looking at, they can actually purchase plastic credits that are collecting one ton and recycling one ton - so that it's net-net. It's actually a circularity they're aiming for. This is also an option for companies that are unable to actually introduce recycled plastic for whatever reason. It may be because recycled plastic is actually of inferior quality compared with virgin plastics - there are so many reasons to why manufacturers are stumbling and they're not able to actually look into 100% recycled plastic content for their products, especially with fast-moving consumer goods.  So these are your shampoos, your processed food and also your food and beverages that you can buy from supermarkets, and also your household cleaning items, for example. These are all fast-moving consumer goods that are being consumed by us on a daily basis. They have especially a hard time using recycled plastic content.

We believe that markets are essential as the driver for transformation at scale, but why are business slow at moving away from plastics? I mean, we still use a lot of plastics! The plastic footprint is massive…

So, companies are actually trying their best to limit their plastic consumption and in production. However, there are many reasons why there's still so much plastic being used. Sometimes for purposes of protecting the product - which is usually the case - or food products. And sometimes it's really a marketing need, not coming from the packaging department but from marketing. Because if you can imagine buying two bottles of shampoo, one bottle being very flimsy and the other bottle being very heavy, and also feels hard and sturdy, and it may even have a very beautiful plastic surface. Which one would you buy if they were costing the same price? So, that's also why companies are reluctant to be the first mover in terms of minimizing plastic consumption and plastic applications in their packaging. That is also the reason why we're hoping that plastic crediting, which comes in the form of a second option after all the mitigation activities have been done within their value chains, could be used as a second option to go for net plastic circularity. This doesn't mean that they don't have to do anything, it's the opposite. It's after all is said and done. Everything that they could do within their systems to reduce their plastic footprint to actually adopt recycled plastic and also to switch to alternative material wherever possible, and whenever it's making environmental sense to. Then they can actually look at crediting systems to provide a very ethical way of removing plastics from nature - the same amount that they're using altogether. 

So, this was a quick episode on how we could close the loop on plastics. Reducing our consumption is central – as individuals and even more as producers! When you have mapped your total plastic footprint, and done everything you could to reduce it, it’s time to look at plastic crediting to strengthen the move towards sustainable use of plastics. 

I hope you found value in this quick episode! If you want to learn more about the plastic waste reduction program and how to use plastic credits, check the links in our show notes. Also, submit your questions or reflections as text or voicemail to oceanalliance@hsr.se!