The Chilean Plastics Pact
By 2050 plastic will be outweighing fishes in the sea. There is no more room for the old "produce-use-discard" linear model.
The world today produces 78 million tons of plastic each year. After its use, 40% ends up in landfills and 14% is incinerated. What about the rest? 32% ends up in the environment and from the 14% collected for recycling, only 2% remains in the circuit (4% is lost and 8% -in the best case scenario- cascades and arrives after a cycle to landfills). Of the plastics that end up in the environment, every year 8 million tons reach the oceans, something like one garbage truck per minute. Despite all efforts to recycle this material, which began several decades ago, we have failed in that task. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if this is to continue, by 2050 plastics will outweigh fishes in the ocean.
The above illustrates how there is no space any longer for the linear model of “produce-use-discard”. Ever since the industrial revolution, humanity has had an accelerated growth and development that has brought many benefits to the quality of life of many people. However, that development has followed a model that is no longer sustainable. Why? Somehow in these years we have been “doping the Earth”, using resources that have been accumulated for millions of years, in a very short period of time. The surge of a massive urban middle class only aggravates this problem. We all know what happens to a doped athlete: she/he has good short term results and collapses in the long run. This doping has to do with the intensive use of coal, fertilizers, materials, water, and biodiversity, among others. Today we are emitting 52 gigatonnes of C02eq per year; if we aim to keep the increasing temperature below 1.5 degrees, by 2030 we must cut down the net emissions to a half, then by 2050 to zero, and at that point start to capture and store carbon. We usually tend to think that the problem only has to do with the energy, even though this has a high potential in contributing to the reduction of emissions, is not the only area to address. For instance, if cattle was a country it would be the third country behind the US and China. A recent study carried out by the University of Berkeley stations in 1.8 gigatonnes the contribution of plastics to global emissions, adding to its harmful local impact due to its contamination by wastes.
It is therefore urgent to make a colossal transition to circular development models. That is, those models in which growth decouples from the use of finite resources, including the ability for the earth to absorb greenhouse gases. In other words, a model that allows the Earth to sustain the ecosystem services it gives to us so we can live (like an athlete who trains at a healthy pace). That is the essence of Circular Economy. The task is gigantic and requires an unprecedented coordinated effort from humanity. If we do not succeed, the environment will be the bottleneck to economic growth with severe consequences for the social cohesion of our society.
In an effort to contribute on this transition towards a circular economy, Chile has just become the third country in the world to launch a “Plastics Pact”. As a part of the “New Plastics Economy” initiative, promoted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, it has joined the United Kingdom and France in a network that applies the principles of Circular Economy to rethink the plastics system, launching a model that keeps the material in use and prevents it from ending up in the environment.
Redesign, innovation and delivery models
Elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic single-use packaging through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models.
Reusable, recyclable or compostable
Ensuring that all plastic containers are reusable, recyclable or compostable.
Reuse, collection and recycling
Increasing significantly the reuse, collection, and recycling of plastic containers.
Increasing the recycled content
Increasing the recycled content in plastic containers to boost the demand for recycled materials.
Seven large companies were convened by Minister Carolina Schmidt to join as founders: Nestle, Soprole, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Resiter, Mall Plaza, and Amcor. They have also undersigned the Pact with the Ministry of the Environment, Fundación Chile, Corfo, Ministry of Economy, Climate Change Sustainability Agency, Association of Municipalities for Environmental Sustainability (AMUSA), Packaging and Packaging Management System, and Fundación Plastics Ocean Chile. The Ministry of Environment and Fundación Chile will act as the executive team for its implementation.
In the year of COP25 climate summit, the Chilean Plastics Pact is an effort that substantiates our climate action. It undoubtedly is not enough on its own, but depicts how diverse interests can be agreed to achieve a common goal; there is no other way to change history.
This column was also published in QuePasa Magazine