Are we giving up?

Are we giving up too soon, and can we afford to?

There seems to be a trend with leaders that’s leading to the wrong kind of circular economy. Come election time, there are plenty of promises outlining how the changes they’re planning will benefit the country. Years are spent developing policies, setting targets and even putting the mechanisms in place for governance. And then a swift decision to reverse and delay targets to make it “easier” for everyone. You've only got to see the recent reports of Labours recent U turn on green investment.  

If a sprinter can’t achieve a sub 10 second 100m, they don’t get to still qualify for World Champs by saying: “I can sprint 90m in less than 10 seconds, that’s still fast, I did my best, it should be good enough!” The reality is that it isn’t. Moving the goal posts doesn’t solve the issue. It also doesn’t placate industry leaders who are pushing to do more to combat the climate crisis.

There are enough obstacles challenging progress as it is. Doing away with policies that were designed to force society to make more carefully considered decisions based on environmental impacts, is not helpful. Simply saying “We’re not going to make the target so let’s move it” creates even less incentive for people to change. It removes the urgency to act at a time when what we need is the opposite – an increased urgency to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

What’s the cost of inaction?

A recent report on plastic pollution highlights some alarming statistics. If nothing is done in terms of global policy to curb the production of plastic and plastic waste, the production of virgin plastic will increase by 66% by 2040. This will be matched by a 63% increase in carbon emissions, not to mention the millions of metric tonnes of plastic waste.

The volumes of plastic waste are already too high, as are carbon emissions. We need to be accelerating efforts to curb this, not shifting goal posts to give people more time to implement change. We’re behind as it is.

A common excuse cited is that trying to create a circular economy is too complex. It requires too much change, and there is too much resistance to that change. Yet the same report highlighting the plastics problem, proposes a number of policy solutions – 15 to be precise.

Few of these policies are new, but combining them shows the extent of effort needed on a global basis to address the plastics problem. In recent years the world set the stage for a global plastics treaty. Now these and other elements need to be brought into consideration so that when negotiations take place, there’s a stronger foundation to build on.

What to focus on first?

In the resourcing sector, some of the suggested policies most impacting the industry relate to restricting plastics trade, better reuse and recycling design, and improved collection and recycling rates.

The plastics trade remains controversial. While a number of policy makers continue to call for a total ban on plastics trading, some within the industry still believe it has value. To convince policy makers of this, is going to require transparency from the industry as well as engagement as to how trading can support circular economy aims.

As far as improving recycling and collection processes, that is already a high priority for the waste management sector. It has resulted in state-of-the-art facilities using the latest technologies to improve recycling efforts. What can make an impact is the broader dissemination of this knowledge. More people working on the same or similar problems can significantly accelerate innovation and implementation.

While there are calls for global agreement on how to tackle the plastics problem and climate change, filtering this down to a micro level can have major impact too. Collective knowledge and collective voices can make move things forward, even when governance fails to do so.