The end to the throw-away mentality – worldwide!
We can, must and will continue working to improve our products, thus ensuring that these can be integrated into the circular economy. Here lower material consumption and the selection of the most sustainable material also have an important role to play. Not infrequently product complexity prevents recycling and thus the chance of integrating materials into the circular economy. Key factors for solving this problem are design and material reduction, but more is needed. As early as 2016, the authors of the Rethinking the Future of Plastics report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation showed clearly that any drastic reduction of the leakage in oceans requires joint efforts along three axes:
- Improving after-use infrastructure in high-leakage countries,
- Increasing the economic attractiveness of keeping materials in the system and
- Reducing the negative impact of plastic packaging when it does escape collection.
The report continues: “Creating an effective after-use plastics economy is the cornerstone of the New Plastics Economy and its first priority. Not only is it crucial to capture more material value and increase resource productivity, it also provides a direct economic incentive to avoid leakage into natural systems and will help enable the transition to renewably sourced feedstock by reducing the scale of the transition.”
An end to the pollution of the environment and the oceans will take place only when we create an infrastructure for waste disposal across the world, making sure it does not get there in the first place. The WWF, a non-government organization, confirms this view: the largest problem with plastic waste is in the countries in which there is no controlled waste collection. A key focus here is the Southeast Asian countries. Here all too frequently the waste is collected, separated or recycled without control. Via rivers and unsecured dumps, a stream of plastic waste flows into the oceans. According to scientific estimates, the lion’s share of the plastic released into the oceans comes from regions close to the coast; however up to 20 percent flows into the oceans via rivers. Leipziger Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research researchers have calculated which water routes carry the most plastic debris into the sea. The result: eight of the ten river systems with the highest plastic loads are in Asia.
Furthermore, the global export of plastic waste, predominately from Western countries, exerts additional pressure on countries with inadequate disposal infrastructures. It is true that the waste exports from the European Union are prohibited to countries in the southern hemisphere, but this applies only to unsorted plastic waste. After all, this mixture of waste is virtually impossible to recycle. However, sorted waste not classified as hazardous waste, can still be exported anywhere, i.e. also to countries with a poorly structured waste disposal system. The only condition is both the exporting and importing country must approve the shipment. However, as most countries are already facing enormous challenges with their own plastic waste, we at Greiner advocate the disposal of waste at the point of origin and the reduction of waste exports to other countries. Each country should be responsible for disposing its own waste.
“Our measures to improve the recyclability will not be sufficient as long as we do not manage to strengthen the disposal systems the world over.”
Companies demand UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution
In the fight against plastic waste in the environment, establishing a global disposal infrastructure is essential. For this reason, together with 28 international companies, in 2020 we demanded that the member states of the United Nations establish a global agreement to address plastic pollution of the environment (Business Call for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution). Each year over eleven million tonnes of plastic flow into the environment. This problem will be amplified if we do not radically rethink the way we produce, use, reuse and dispose of plastic. In the manifesto, the signatory companies demand that the UN member states initiate a global treaty on plastic pollution. The call accents four critical areas of action:
- Harmonized regulatory standards for plastics
- Development of national targets and action plans for plastic waste
- Support innovation for plastics
- Infrastructure development for disposal of plastic waste
The call of the companies was to have take place in the run up to the Fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly. This was originally scheduled for the spring of 2021, but had to be put back due to the pandemic. Our demand remains – to do justice to the dimensions of this problem, an international treaty is needed. But what are we doing as a company to support establishing a disposal infrastructure in those countries which do not yet have the relevant facilities? As a globally operating company, we asked ourself this question. With our answers, we place the focus of our support precisely on the countries and regions which are impacted particularly by the issues.
The name says it all: Alliance to End Plastic Waste
Establishing a disposal infrastructure is not one of our core competences. In this matter, it would be presumptuous to act alone and independently. What is more, we are convinced that to combat plastics in the environment – particularly in the southern hemisphere without an existing infrastructure – a broadly based alliance is what is needed: governments and municipalities, NGOs, grass roots organizations, international players, and science must work together to successfully confront the problem. For this reason, in 2020, we joined the international non-profit organization Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Our common objective is to find permanent and sustainable solutions to prevent plastics becoming waste.
At the beginning of 2021, the Alliance, which is based in Singapore, had 57 member companies and Alliance partners across the entire plastic value chain, which together want to remove the plastic waste problem from the world. In the context of programs and partnerships, the Alliance focuses on solutions in the strategic areas of infrastructure, innovation, education, engagement as well as cleaning up work.
Infrastructure, innovation & education
“Greiner Packaging has been driving innovation in sustainable packaging, through initiatives to design for recycling, reducing plastic use, and adopting alternative materials,” declared Manfred Stanek, CEO at Greiner Packaging on the motivation for joining the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. As a member company, Greiner makes a commitment to provide resources, expertise and investments for the Alliance. Stanek emphasizes: “We are confident that our new partnership with the Alliance will help us to bring these efforts to greater heights and make a difference to the future of packaging.” Greiner’s membership is also a further step in implementing our Blue Plan sustainability strategy.
Jacob Duer, President and CEO of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste commented positively and with optimism on Greiner joining: “This addition expands our global footprint and is set to bring us closer to our 2025 vision to divert millions of tons of plastic waste in more than 100 at-risk cities across the globe, , improve livelihoods for millions, and contribute to a circular economy.” The Alliance places the accent of its work on supporting cities and communities in developing sustainable disposal systems catering to different social and geographical circumstances. The projects and programs concentrate on cities in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Two Zero Plastic Waste Cities projects are currently being implemented in two cities particularly impacted by plastic waste – Puducherry on the Indian south-eastern coast and Tan An am in the Vietnamese Mekong delta.
There is a need for better waste disposal systems
A second focus of the Alliance activities is developing innovations at the earliest product design stages, making it easier to reduce and recycle plastic. Currently the Alliance is acting primarily as a networker, combining innovative corporations across the whole world with project partners and supporters at political, business, scientific and society level. The objective of these networking activities is to bundle the necessary business and specialist expertise with the required resources so as to implement solutions to contain and prevent plastic waste in large quantities and promote the circular economy.
“With our support in opening five Plastic Bank collection points in Manila, despite the large distance Greiner Packaging is spanning a bridge on the basis of which local measures are supported in the fight against a global problem.”
Moving plastic from waste to worth
The fight against pollution of the environment, rivers and oceans is also the focus of our partnership with the social company Plastic Bank. Responsible action, social and sustainable commitment knows no boundaries and can bridge even the furthest distances. As the crow might fly, it is 10,010 kilometers between the Greiner headquarters in Kremsmünster and Manila. With our support in opening five Plastic Bank collection points in Manila, Greiner Packaging established a bridge despite the large distance, on the basis of which local measures can be supported to fight against a global problem.
Plastic Bank is a company building ethical recycling ecosystems in coastal communities and reprocessing the materials for reintroduction into the global manufacturing supply chain. All material collected is upgraded to Social Plastic by using it to produce new products and packaging. At the same time, the flood of plastic waste is reduced, recycling and the circular economy promoted and income for plastic collectors created. For the materials they collect, they receive a premium to cover basic family necessities such as groceries, fuel, school tuition, and health insurance. “We have to understand that it is not only about us, but is a problem for the whole of humankind,” says Gidget Velez, Country Manager of Plastic Bank in the Philippines, at a meeting with Greiner managers in Manila. “As far as I am aware, Greiner is the first company processing plastics providing support to Plastic Bank,” he comments, thanking us as a cooperation partner: “Greiner believed us when no one else did.”
Greiner Packaging supports Plastic Bank where it is most needed. After China and Indonesia, the Philippines are classified as the world’s third-largest plastic polluter. Every year, an estimated two million tonnes of Philippine plastic lands in the ocean; only the River Pasig, which divides Manila into two parts, carries approximately 64,000 tonnes of plastic waste into the South China Sea each year. When Greiner was looking for a project partner in the fight against plastic waste in 2019, Plastic Bank moved quickly into the focus. The double-pronged strategy of preventing plastic from getting into the ocean and helping people out of poverty was decisive in reaching a decision. What is more, Plastic Bank visibly upgrades the value of plastic: Collectors no longer regard plastic as waste, but as a valuable resource. An important step to contain plastic pollution in the oceans.
By providing the collectors more income and thus educational opportunities, Plastic Bank allows groups of the population at the edges of society to build up a better future. Plastic Bank manager Gidget Velez describes the goal of her work: “We want to help people feel stronger. We want to give them hope.” Plastic Bank is successful in doing this, not only in the Philippines, but now also in Haiti, Indonesia, Brazil and Egypt. For Michael Frick, Global Key Account Director at Greiner Packaging, this project shows how a circular system can actually work: “Poverty is tackled by collecting plastic waste, while at the same time the environment is cleaned up and a major contribution made to the circular economy. The collectors bring the plastic. It is then sorted and subsequently processed into granulate. This is then sold to a manufacturing company which wants to use recycled materials for its products or packaging.” Greiner and the representatives of Plastic Bank are well aware how serious the situation is, says Theresa Wieser, Marketing Manager at Greiner Packaging when opening one of the collection points: “We have committed to support the communities in the fight against plastic waste on a local basis. In the period spanning only May 2019 to February 2020, a total of 175 tonnes of plastic was fished out of the sea, exceeding expectations in absolute terms.”