#PullingOurWeight…Circular Economy and Plastic Waste

It’s hard to fathom that Australians throw out 60,000 tonnes of waste every single day

While largely, most of it is dispensed of responsibly, quite a large portion of it ends up on our beaches and in our oceans.  The world’s plastic pollution problem is reaching epidemic proportions. The problem with plastic is that it never biodegrades – it just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces (nanoparticles) and it works its way into our water systems.  It’s estimated that a staggering 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year!

Tangaroa Blue Foundation is an Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris. They have created the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) an on-ground network of amazing volunteers, communities and organisations that contribute data to the AMDI Database, and then work on solutions to stop the flow of litter at the source. The AMDI helps communities look after their coastal environment by providing resources and support programs, and also collaborates with industry and government to create change on a large scale.

One such recent clean-up collaboration effort has been with the Dow Chemical Company (Dow) with their #PullingOurWeight campaign – challenging participants to remove at least 2.5 kilograms of waste per person from local waterways and communities.  2.5 kilograms is the average amount of waste that a person in Australia produces each day.

Through global and local collaborations with governments, NGOs, and other industry leaders, Dow is working to innovate technologies to recycle waste, clean up existing waste and support initiatives that prevent waste from entering the environment.

Since the emergence of the #PullingOurWeight campaign in 2018, clean-ups have been conducted in over 50 locations across the globe, with over 24,000 kilos of rubbish removed from beaches and waterways.

Dow is partnering across the value chain to advance a circular economy for plastics. Poor waste management infrastructure combined with the careless disposal of plastics after they are used have resulted in too much plastic being lost to landfills and the environment. Appropriately managing the lifecycle of plastics from design to disposal will retain the many social and economic benefits of plastics for society without compromising the world’s ocean, rivers or streams.

Plastics are present in probably, just about everything we use in our daily lives.  They are often the best material for the applications in which they are being used. What we need to do a better job of is how we deal with them at the end of their life. If we look at alternative materials, they may not provide the best outcome more broadly for the environment. We really do have to step back and have a look at what problem we are trying to solve and not create unintended consequences from some of the new initiatives that are being put in place.

Samantha Reed, CEO Chemistry Australia

This global initiative started by Dow is being held in Australia under the banner of industry body, Chemistry Australia.  Its CEO Samantha Reed says that a straight ban on plastic products may not always be the answer. “Plastics are present in probably, just about everything we use in our daily lives.  They are often the best material for the applications in which they are being used. What we need to do a better job of is how we deal with them at the end of their life. If we look at alternative materials, they may not provide the best outcome more broadly for the environment. We really do have to step back and have a look at what problem we are trying to solve and not create unintended consequences from some of the new initiatives that are being put in place.”

According to Samantha the key is collecting the plastic at the end of a products life, thereby stopping the plastic from entering the environment and then recycling the material for another use – creating a  circular economy.

A recent clean-up held at Werribee South Beach in Victoria, saw employee/volunteers of the Australian and New Zealand branch of Dow along with competitors such as Lyondell Basell Australia whose employees also joined the #PullingOurWeight effort in Werribee – putting commercial rivalry aside for a greater cause.

The volunteers who took part in the Werribee South Beach clean-up collected a combined total of more than 100 kilos of rubbish. 

This is an issue facing government, industries and communities alike and with companies like Dow and Lyondell Basell Australia now recognising the role they have to play by joining forces with Chemistry Australia and Tangaroa Blue Foundation – coming together to figure out and then activate the solution.