Some 353 million tons of plastic are generated each year, of which two-thirds will have a life span of less than five years before becoming discarded plastic waste.Image: REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian
We live in an economy that depends on plastic, and that relies on its properties. This material has supported the development of many sectors – including the medical and pharmaceutical – and humans have benefited a lot from its use.
On the one hand, plastic is an indescribable advance, but on the other, it is a problem for which we all urgently seek a solution, especially business leaders in the private sphere, who are racing to adapt their practices and to include the plastics issue in their environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda.
It is estimated that 353 million tons of plastic are generated annually, according to 2019 data, of which two-thirds will have a life span of less than five years before becoming discarded plastic waste.
Examining this further, we find that the production, usage, and disposal of plastic around the world is unequal, thus resulting in unequal needs for plastic waste management. In low-income countries, 34.5% of waste generated is dry recyclables and 53% food and green waste, while in middle to high-income countries, the proportion is 56% and 32%, respectively.
The challenges of plastic recycling in developing countries
Although they generate less dry recyclables, developing countries have become true importers of waste from developed countries, which despite having a better infrastructure to manage this material, also have stricter regulations, increasing their urgency to deal with their problem domestically.
Therefore, their easiest (and cheaper) way out was to ship all the remaining waste to the low-income neighbours, that will benefit economically from it for a short period of time but that now face the extra burden on their infrastructure and resources, having to manage imported waste on top of locally-generated waste.
The hard work of recovering plastic in developing countries is mainly done by unknown cooperative projects, with very little infrastructure, but with a devotion to guaranteeing a condition of dignity for the waste collectors and a better quality of life.
Latin America, Africa and Asia are the main sources of mismanaged plastic waste, and this has led to the appearance of a large number of waste collection projects in these areas dedicated to managing part of the local and imported rubbish.
These recovery projects are vital in restoring what plastic pollution has damaged, but most lack resources such as infrastructure support that could increase the impact of their plastic recovery efforts while providing a better livelihood for the community.
Technology is connecting companies and recovery projects
Companies know it is time to turn promises into actions and that steps must be taken to mitigate such plastic pollution. Most global companies are already engaged in coalitions with policymakers and civil society to build transformative measures in their business to reduce the use of plastic in their operations.
André Vanyi-Robin, the CEO and founder of Plastiks, says: “We learned quickly that if you want the industry to change, you can’t simply go and ask the stakeholders to innovate and update their systems. You need to enable businesses to earn revenues by positively impacting the environment so that economically they are committed to saving the environment."
For the first time, NFTs – the secure and immutable certificate of ownership in the blockchain – opens the door to innovation in waste management. This digital asset now becomes a representation of an invoice issued by these recovery projects when selling plastic waste to recycling companies, where they can be transformed into new products. And that invoice acts as proof that a certain amount of plastic has been recovered and passed forward, explains Vanyi-Robin.
In this context, we see solutions such as Plastiks emerging to fill the gaps of accountability, transparency and incentivization. The platform incentivizes projects that are recovering plastic from the environment by using blockchain and non-fungible token (NFT) technology to verify their data and to advance new levels of accountability and traceability in the informal side of the waste management sector.