Sustainability By Clara Lu — Date 04.19.2018

Earth Day 2018: A world without plastic pollution

The exponential growth of plastic waste is threatening the survival of our planet.

From poisoning and injuring marine life to disrupting human hormones, from littering our beaches and landscapes to clogging our waste streams and landfills, the exponential growth of plastics is now threatening the survival of our planet.

In response, Earth Day 2018, happening on 22 April, is aimed at changing human attitude and behavior, and catalyzing a significant reduction in plastic pollution. Its theme: To end plastic pollution.

All over the world the statistics are ever growing, staggeringly. Plastics is everywhere, it never breaks down and goes away. “It is in the air, the wind, the water and the soil and we find it in as many places as we look”, says Dr Denise Hardesty, a principal research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

Since the 1950s, we have created 8.3 billion tons of plastics, at least 10% of which ended up in the oceans.

The garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is now three times the size of France, containing 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighing as much as 500 jumbo jets. Plastic waste in oceans poses huge risks for marine animals and the ecosystem. Reports of dead sperm whales and albatrosses with stomachs filled with plastic bags and ropes are incredibly graphic and distressing.

The consequences of plastic pollution ultimately finds its way back to us in the form of microplastics. 83% of tap water samples collected around the globe contained microplastics, and shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year.

 

Transformative potentials of a circular economy

In recent years, government agencies, businesses, and citizens around the world are waking up to this crisis. So far, the approach to solving plastic pollution has largely focused on curbing consumption, through reducing, reusing, and recycling.

However, to consume is inevitable; plastic is one of the most useful and versatile materials that we have ever created. Our problem is not with plastic as a material but what we use it for and the choices we make when purchasing products. What we can do is to consume in a sustainable fashion with consideration for the environment and future generations.

Companies were traditionally part of the linear economy – creating products from raw materials that would eventually end up in a landfill, but now they’re beginning to consider the entire system and create products with materials that can be used in closed loops.

The circular economy is based on the principle of recovery, recycle and regenerate, it promises big opportunities for businesses to drive new growth and accelerate innovation. This transition also provides consumers with different product options, allowing them to partake in the vision of a world without waste.  

Here are some of the companies advancing the circular economy.

IKEA

(Image via: IKEA)

Swedish furniture giant IKEA is now selling a new kitchen in which all the cabinets are constructed from recycled bottles and timber. It’s called the KUNGSBACKA and was designed and built in partnership with design studio Form Us With Love. Every 40 x 80cm unit is made up of 25 recycled PET bottles and reclaimed industrial wood.

“A plastic bottle is not waste, it is a resource. And most importantly, this kitchen proves that these materials can be used for household goods in large scale production,” said Jonas Pettersson, CEO at Form Us With Love.

Adidas

(Image via: Adidas)

In 2016, global sporting brand Adidas unveiled a limited edition sneaker made in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. Parley for the Oceans is an initiative that organizes coastal clean-ups, removing plastic from beaches as well as floating ghost nets. This recycled waste plastic was used in the creation of the shoe, dubbed the Ultra Boost Uncaged Parley. 7,000 pairs were manufactured and quickly sold.

Sales were so successful that Adidas have now relaunched three of their most popular sneakers in the same environmentally friendly format – the Ultra Boost X Parley, the Ultra Boost Parley, and the original Ultra Boost Uncaged Parley. The uppers of all three sneakers are made from 95% recycled plastic. Repurposed marine debris is also used in the production of the shoes’ laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers – adding up to the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles per pair.

Net-Works

(Image via: Net-Works)

In 2012, carpet tile designer and manufacturer Interface joined forces with the Zoological Society of London to source a recyclable material that would benefit the environment and local communities. Together, they founded Net-Works, an organization that has helped coastal communities in the Philippines and Cameroon to make a living out of collecting discarded fishing nets. The communities sell the nets to a global supply chain, which in turn recycles them into a yarn used by Interface to manufacture carpet tile.

Net-Works operates through a series of community banks, which organize the beach clean-ups, broker the sale of the nets to the supply chain and help people to save money. The banks also provide loans to those that need them and fund local conservation projects in a way that involves the community at a grassroots level. In addition, fishermen can sell their old nets directly to the banks, preventing them from ending up in the ocean in the first place. Since 2012, Net-Works has collected 142 metric tons of plastic waste, and given 1,500 families access to finance.

SEA2SEE

(Image via: SEA2SEE)

SEA2SEE was started by François van den Abeele, a father and entrepreneur with a deep passion for oceans and nature. He firmly believes that every drop counts in changing the world and that reimagining product design, use and consumption habits is our duty and one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Sustainability is almost non-existent in the eyewear industry where virgin plastic is the main source of raw materials. However, François looked into and succeeded in reconverting Ocean plastic to manufacture premium eyewear made entirely with abandoned fishnets and ropes. The raw material is collected by fishing communities of the coast of Spain, helping to reduce ghost fishing and ocean contamination.

Dell

(Image via: Dell)

In recognition of the rising e-waste epidemic, Dell is making some of the first inroads to a more “circular” supply chain. Late last year, the company announced progress on its circular economy initiatives, including the expansion of its closed-loop recycled plastic supply chain and the introduction of reclaimed carbon fiber source materials into some of its products.

When customers return used products – either direct to Dell or through designated collection points set up in partnership with Goodwill Industries – the company refurbishes 90% of them and resells them through the Dell Outlet at a slightly lower price. The products that can’t be refurbished and resold are sent out to the company’s recycling partners, who use them as a source of plastics and precious metals.

 

Striving for a world without plastic pollution

The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment – the more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste. It means new sources of value for customers and consumers, better risk management of raw materials, and improved approaches to the supply chain.

These brands that are part of the circular economy are leading the change with innovation. They are no longer ignoring the cost of the traditional “take, make, dispose” model, both to the Earth and to their bottom line. The repurposed products shared above are only the tip of the iceberg. It’s apparent that as consumers, we now have an array of options from which we can utilize with sustainability in mind.

With this awareness and in honor of Earth Day 2018, we invite you to sign this petition to end plastic pollution. Join the movement, consume in a sustainable fashion, and spread the news.

Similarly, at Mitte, our commitment to end plastic bottle use is in line with Earth Day’s vision of securing a future free of plastic pollution. Our smart home solution allows users to create different types of mineralized water at home, personalized to their lifestyles and tastes. Check out our tech page to find out how we do it.

 

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