Research shows that we have a waste problem. Globally, one million plastic bottles are bought every minute, and about five trillion plastic bags are used annually.
Perhaps the biggest problem we face is that half of the plastic manufactured is made to be a single-use product before it’s thrown away. As a result, plastics are no longer strange to our environment.
They have become a part of the Earth’s fossil record and even adopted the “plastisphere.” While plastic production was low and manageable during the 1950s and 1970s, the production rate tripled between the 1970s and 1990s. In the 2000s, the plastic waste generated rose beyond what had been seen in the past 40 years.
Today, the world struggles to manage the over 400 million tonnes of plastic waste produced annually. So, how can waste management companies steer us toward a circular economy?
The future is circular
Efforts to reduce plastic pollution call for a transition toward a circular economy, which primarily addresses the root cause of the waste problem we continue to face. Waste management companies can help to address the central issue of waste, where people take-use-dispose materials from the Earth.
Transforming a throwaway economy into a circular economy
Waste management companies can step in to foster a transition from a throwaway economy into a circular economy. The advantage of a circular economy is that we will eliminate waste, circulate resources, and ultimately regenerate nature. In addition, the premise behind a circular economy will provide people with the vital tools to tackle the burden of climate change and biodiversity loss.
Moreover, the circular economy model will pave the way for prosperity, employment opportunities, and resilience while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and waste. To achieve these benefits, waste management companies should implement the following strategies:
Society will only realize a sustainable circular economy if waste management companies join manufacturers. Waste management companies shouldn’t expect manufacturers to carry the burden of creating a sustainable future on their own.
While manufacturers are responsible for developing and introducing sustainable products to the market, we should implement downstream solutions to safely dispose of and recycle products. In this regard, we won’t achieve a circular economy if manufacturers play their part by creating sustainable products and waste management companies fail to recycle such products.
Consequently, behavioral change is required, not just from waste management companies but from all players, even consumers. There’s no specific solution that will solve the plastic waste menace. Consumer behavior change is required to guarantee that people understand how to use and recycle some of their products.
The zero-waste movement
The zero-waste movement is an excellent example of behavioral change in action. The idea of zero waste has been around, in different ways, for decades. However, Bea Johnson, an American environmentalist and activist, is the one who started the zero-waste movement as it is known today.
With the zero-waste movement, all players should play a part in creating a sustainable environment with minimal waste. Therefore, manufacturers also have a role to play. Consumers also have their part to play in ensuring they don’t use and throw away.
Finally, waste management companies should step in to impart knowledge about reusing and recycling products.
A shift in investments
A shift in investments will also help to push for a circular economy. While companies are already investing in producing plastic substitutes, further investments are required in collection infrastructure and recycling facilities.
Waste management companies should invest more in creating creative ways to collect, treat, and recycle waste. For instance, companies should have the financial means to deploy recycling plants in areas primarily affected by waste, like developing countries.
Investments should also be tailored toward creating waste management practices that define the life cycle for plastics and other products. The goal of such practices should be to prevent waste. Waste management standards must be determined, and people should be educated about shifting from landfilling to reuse, waste prevention, and recycling.
Investors should focus primarily on these areas because studies show that in 2016, about 2 billion individuals didn’t have access to solid waste collection services from their municipalities.
Waste management companies should provide guidelines on practices and offer training courses. These guidelines should detail the impacts of a throwaway economy and why it’s important to move toward a circular economy, which is closely tied to the shift in investments because it calls for the planning and financing of waste management systems.
The idea of providing guidelines can also help a lot in spreading information about green energy production. People can be educated about using natural gas and solar power. All these efforts will help to reduce waste.
Expected economic benefits
A circular economy will help minimize waste in the long run, creating a sustainable environment where restorative and regenerative processes are advocated. Efforts to push for a circular economy will also benefit the environment in many ways.
For instance, waste management companies will create jobs supporting millions of families globally. These companies will also buy products and use services within the community. Moreover, contributions from waste companies as donations will help to fund other community programs.
While efforts are already in place to push for a circular economy, the only way we can achieve this model is through collusive efforts from all players. Manufacturers, people (consumers), and waste management companies must work together toward a common goal.
Waste management companies should advocate for behavioral change and focus more on investing in innovations that help to recycle waste efficiently. Funds should also be made available that communities can use to provide guidelines on proper waste management.