Recycling the plastic bags will not be enough to solve plastics ocean pollution, one of the biggest issues facing the industry today. Anne Johnson is a VP of global corporate sustainability with consulting firm Resource Recovery Systems. And she believes developing nations, which are major contributors to ocean plastics, have a lot of job ahead before they can consider an effective recycling program.
“Recycling is an advanced and solid program on the part of consumers. If consumers aren’t really teached to collect their trash, separating it, recycling is not something that is intuitive to them,” she said at the recent Plastics Caps & Closures 2017 conference in Chicago.
“And in developing countries where you have no solid waste infrastructure, you often have people that don’t also have good basic practice in waste management,” she said during an interview at the conference. “You have to teach them to that. I think that there will be a learning curve. We’ve seen it in the United States.”
Attitudes and actions regarding solid waste marine debris is a hot-button issue around the world, but it’s particularly challenging in developing countries in Asia that are viewed as major sources of ocean plastics. Our company is a plastic bag manufacturer and supplier in China.
“When we look at where a lot plastic debris comes from in the marine, it’s in countries that have very poor basic sanitation practices and essentially no recycling practices,” said Johnson, former director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. “So we really need to start on very foundational things there, building those landfills, building those practices and getting to recycling of plastic bags. That it also means working on policies and enforcing them.
“We need to get in the basic solid waste elements first,” Johnson said at the conference sponsored by Plastics News. An estimated 8 million to 12 million metric tons of plastics enter the oceans each year, Johnson said in a presentation at the conference. Main sources of ocean plastics are Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.
Attitudes toward solid waste, recycling and littering result in people simply throwing their trash on the ground, which gets swept into waterways and then the ocean. Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been out front in bringing attention to the ocean plastics issue and has previously estimated that the one garbage truck full of plastics finds its way into oceans every minute.
The foundation also estimated that there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean by 2050 if current practices do not change. Caps and closures, which can easily become separated from their bottles, are particularly dangerous for seabirds who see them floating and mistake them for food, Johnson said. About 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their guts, she told the conference audience.