Noora Nylanden 21.04.2020 3 min

The power of unity in the face of a global crisis and how it could save the world from plastic waste

What would our everyday life look like if we responded to the global plastic waste problem in a collective, fast and coordinated way?

In the past few weeks, the world has undergone a transformation unlike ever before. A third of the global population is on lockdown and the effects are seen everywhere. Ways of working, connecting with loved ones and spending free time have all changed rapidly. While the world doesn’t know how it will come out of the crisis, it has already had a crucial lesson on human capacity. We have proven to be capable of changing our behavior collectively, drastically and quickly.

The swift changes have brought humanity back to some basic questions. What do we stand for? Where could we act collectively to change the world for the better?


Collective action could fix the plastic value chain

The scientific community and environmental groups have for long pointed out the urgency of global environmental problems. The suggested measures for mitigating climate change or controlling planetary plastic pollution may have seemed radical in the world that we are used to. But as we are now quickly adapting to profound changes in our lives, things that used to seem impossible are now starting to look like potential avenues for change.

Solving the global plastic waste crisis requires an effective systemic response. This means that action is required across governments, industries and individuals. WWF suggests that taking accountability of actions across all stakeholders in the plastic system is the key to ending plastic pollution and fixing the plastic value chain.


The simple rule of thumb for managing plastic waste is the 4Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and replace

On the governmental level, we have recently seen some encouraging developments in reducing plastic waste. Single-use plastics EU directive (SUP) introduces new restrictions on certain single-use plastic products and bans the use of certain throwaway plastic products altogether by 2021. OECD is reforming Extended Producer Responsibility for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products, and many member states consider introducing plastic packaging taxes.

A growing number of companies are going beyond what is legally required with voluntary actions. Examples include replacing traditional plastic with bio-based materials that biodegrade without leaving microplastics behind, switching to reusable or refillable packaging, giving consumers the opportunity to return the product to the store after use to let the merchant take care of recycling. A consortium of companies led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is developing a tool to measure the microplastic emissions of an organization. Some companies are coming up with new business models where waste has been designed out.

Individuals are also becoming more active and creative in reducing waste. Zero-waste lifestyle is growing in popularity, package-free shopping is becoming better available, and boycotting and buycotting are now common ways of voting with your feet. Renting, borrowing, exchanging and sharing services are a part of everyday life. And even if you’re not going completely waste-free, a simple choice that is available for all of us is to consume less.

What would you be willing to change to create a plastic waste-free future?

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