Before diving in, Mr. Duer took a few moments to look at where the issue stands today:
- Approximately 80% of the plastic waste that leaks into the marine environment is coming from a limited number of rivers in Asia (though not all this waste was necessarily generated in Asia initially)
- In 1950 2.3 million tons of plastic were produced— in 2015 that number had risen to 448 million tons
- With a global population growth of more than 2 billion in the next 30 years, plastics production is expected to double by 2050
- It is estimated that only 9% of all the plastic ever made has been recycled
- The value of the plastic that enters the environment today is estimated at 80 to 120 billion USD annually.
Mr. Duer emphasized that this value is lost to society because the world has very few proper waste management systems in place. In fact, it is estimated that more than 2 billion people across the globe do not have access to waste collection and more than 3 billion have no access to proper waste disposal facilities. This is a significant contributor to all sorts of waste ending up in our environment and our oceans, including plastic waste.
Luckily, this is a problem that the plastic value chain is committed to solving. The industry sees itself as a key part of the solution through innovation, infrastructure and financial investments at the global, national and regional levels.
In just 10 months, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste has grown to 42 member companies and commitments of over 1 billion US dollars, with 1.5 billion US dollars invested over the next five years. The Alliance has also approved 12 projects since its launch. Mr. Duer called out three specifically:
- A partnership with Plug and Play to establish the “End Plastic Waste Innovation Platform,” which will create an accelerator program focused on the plastics value chain to identify new companies with different, inspiring, innovations to address plastic waste in the environment.
- Funding for the organization Project STOP to scale-up an initiative in Jembrana, where over 13,000 tons of plastic leak into the ocean annually, with the goal to dramatically improve waste collection, bring collection services for the first time to households, create permanent local jobs in the waste management industry and clean up areas littered with plastic pollution.
- Operating alongside Renew Oceans in India, where an estimated 1.2 billion pounds of plastic waste enter the Ganges River every year, and contributing funding, materials, logistics capabilities and technical expertise.
Another key component of the Alliance, which Mr. Duer spent time discussing, is the importance of circularity and the circular economy. While the vision of a circular economy and of valuing plastics is happening, it is not happening everywhere and not happening fast enough. That is often due to lack of technologies, investments, infrastructure and knowledge.
Achieving full circularity across the globe is going to take a great deal more effort by all of us, but it is possible. For example, more end-of-life plastic was recycled than landfilled across the 28 EU countries in 2016. Also, the weight of plastic used in packaging has been reduced by close to 30% in Europe.
However inspiring these efforts are, Mr. Duer notes that we still need to devise and implement circular economy systems that are socially, economically, environmentally and culturally relevant in all places around the world.
Finally, Mr. Duer touched on the importance of financial innovation, highlighting initiatives and commitments from investment groups like Blackrock, regional banks such as the Asian Development Bank and Alliance member companies, including Pepsi-Co. These examples of financing from diverse sources are being mobilized to generate a pipeline of scalable and impactful projects that will help address plastic waste in the environment.
Mr. Duer closed his keynote address with the following: “As the Alliance, I want my door to be open to governments, to local authorities, to all kinds of companies and to NGOs – because ending plastic waste cuts across all areas of society. It cannot be confined to one sector, nor one geographical location. I want everyone, everywhere who is passionate about ending plastic waste to see the Alliance as a trusted, honest, partner, as well as a dynamic, impactful player in this field. People, from NGOs and consumer groups to media, businesses, investors and government officials need to know we are 100% open to their ideas, their suggestions, their creativity and their concerns. And where our ideas coincide, then we have the opportunity to maximize our success and deliver circularity by eliminating and ending plastic waste in the environment as fast as possible.”