Going in Circles

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On September 8, The Ocean Cleanup launched its first plastic-cleanup system from San Francisco, headed for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (You can follow its progress here and find some background on the project here.) The technology looks promising, and we wish The Ocean Cleanup every success—but there’s more to be done, and now some of the world’s biggest companies are taking at least some first steps in the right direction.

Cleaning up the plastic that’s already in the ocean is a worthy goal, but stopping it from getting there in the first place would be even more useful. An organization called the Ellen MacArthur Foundation is spearheading a campaign to get companies to pledge 100% of their plastic packaging will be accounted for—either reused, recycled, or composted—within seven years. As the foundation points out, more plastic is used for packaging than for anything else.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is seeking a visionary Executive Director. The District is an award-winning wastewater agency which has been a leader in protecting the Chicago area water environment for over a 120 years. For information and to apply, click here or contact [email protected]The District is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

So far, 250 companies and organizations have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Burberry, H&M, Mars, PepsiCo, and L’Oreal. A second pact is being launched in Chile, and the idea is eventually to bring together people and organizations in many different locations—local businesses, local policymakers, and other groups—to find alternatives to single-use plastics.

The foundation’s larger goal is to promote a circular economy, as opposed to a linear one, where waste and pollution are “designed out” of the system and where products and materials are reused rather than discarded. (You can see a diagram of the concept on the foundation’s site here.) The foundation has another effort called Make Fashion Circular that encourages creating clothing from safe and renewable materials and getting companies to adopt business models that reuse textiles and other materials.

What does the Plastics Pact mean in practical terms? One company that has signed on, the conglomerate Unilever, which owns some of best-known food and personal care brands, including Lipton, Hellman’s, Dove, Lifebuoy, and even Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, is making changes like replacing plastic tea bag seals (the tiny bit on a paper tea bag that stops it from disintegrating in hot water) with cornstarch and using recycled plastic in Hellman’s mayonnaise bottles. The seal on a tea bag might seem like a small thing, but considering that the company had been producing 10 billion plastic-containing tea bags a year, it adds up.

The foundation believes that consumers will eventually look for assurances that companies are responsible for the reuse or recycling of their packaging. Do you think that will become a significant factor for most people when choosing products? What do you think of the effectiveness of a campaign like this compared to, say, the ban on single-use plastic bags or drinking straws that many cities are enacting?

Reminder: Western Water Summit Deadline is Thursday, November 1

The Western Water Summit will take place January 22–23, 2019, in San Diego, CA. It focuses on all facets of water management: groundwater, surface water, wastewater, drinking water, irrigation, water law, reuse, generation, restoration, conservation and efficiency, and erosion and sedimentation. TÍhe Call for Speakers is open until November 1. Find more information about the conference tracks and registration at www.westernwatersummit.com. SW_bug_web

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  1. Wow !!! That’s great to see that Slat’s invention is being put to use. I saw his Ted-x talk a few years ago (I think). If you’re interested in things working with nature, as I guess most of you are if you’re reading this magazine, It’d be worth your time to click the background on the product link in the article. Thanks for brightening my day, and I wish you all in the fire zones some peace of mind. I’m in Santa Rosa, about200miles from the Camp Fire, and the air is barely breathable. It’s very unsettling after ’17 to have another year like this…if ever there was a wake-up call to get serious about climate change carnage this is it.
    Burying our heads in the sand, or putting pedal-to-the-metal to achieve that elusive peaceful confluence of technology and natural forces are our options. It’s the existential core of survival or not for civilization, and possibly much more if atmospheric gases get too imbalanced to recalibrate.
    I think there is a groundswell building now to tackle this, and companies that align their business practices on sound, sustainable fundamentals will benefit greatly from branding, and in many cases short term cost savings come with it too.

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