Tag Archives: #EndPlasticWaste

Plastics need to work in managed waste systems

There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the sustainable management of plastics and eliminating pollution.

For nearly a half-century our Solid Waste systems (landfills) have taken a PR beating. Back in the early 80’s it was justifiable concerns over waste management practices, environmental protection and community health. From these concerns, heavy regulations, fees and fines where enacted to fix the problem. Over the past few decades, a remarkable thing has happened, today’s modern landfills are now considered ‘base load’ renewable energy resources. These highly engineered and strictly managed facilities are not only protecting the environment, but have become a global asset to surrounding communities, providing fuel for vehicles, heat for homes and power to industries.

Besides poor waste management practices, a root cause of plastic pollution is the fact that plastics do not inherently work in our managed waste systems. This fact festers in many corporate sustainability strategies, evident by the promises of making plastics work in a compost. Right idea, wrong system.

Every week garbage trucks around the country, running on clean-burning natural gas supplied by Solid Waste systems, provide residential pick-up of all single-use/non-recyclable plastics that consumers properly discard to avoid pollution, and transfer this material to our Solid Waste systems. Oddly, we hear about making plastics work in recycling or making sure plastics are designed to work in a compost [ASTM D6400] (even though the infrastructure does not exist), but why do sustainable packaging professionals fail to recognize the advancements and return value in making sure plastics work in our Solid Waste [ASTM D5526/D5511] systems?

When it comes to lifecycle accountability of plastics and ensuring the highest return value throughout, which is the basic premise of Circularity, there is nothing that compares in Scale, Practice and Return Value to making sure plastics are designed to work in Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) systems.

It’s time to flip the script and change the narrative. Instead of demonizing our Solid Waste infrastructures where plastics are commonly and customarily discard, design for this managed system to ensure a clean planet and clean energy recovery.