Around the world, businesses and communities are uniting in calls for a green recovery in the wake of COVID-19.
The pandemic shone a light on the vested interests’ intent on increasing plastic production of single-use products. A ‘tidal wave of plastic waste’ is already emerging as an outcome of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Big Plastic has been lobbying hard to equate single-use with hygiene, in the face of medical evidence to the contrary, and single-use bans have been repealed in various US states.
The fight for how we live in the future isn’t equal when there’s so much money invested in lobbying for old industries like fossil fuels and unnecessary, problematic single-use plastics.
Yet, this pandemic has also galvanised global action for change. We know that people, united, can overcome powerful lobby groups (remember smoking in restaurants?).
A world free from plastic waste
The call grows more urgent to shift away from hyper consumption to reduction, reuse, repair and, where the former options are not possible, recycling.
We cannot recycle our way out of this. Currently, only 9% of all plastic produced has been recycled meaning the rest sits in landfill or litters our environment, taking over 400 years to break down. For real change, we must make our consumption patterns more circular by shifting the focus to reduction, reuse and repair.
In June, over 100 scientists from 18 countries around the world signed a letter calling for increased reuse and highlighting that single-use is not a safer alternative:
‘Reuse and refill systems are an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution crisis and moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy. They can create jobs and help build local economies... It is clear that reusable systems can be used safely by employing basic hygiene.’
Communities are also calling for action. A study of 1,800 Canadians undertaken in early June shows 86% of respondents want the government to proceed with the proposed national ban on single-use plastics by 2021. This is up from 81% in 2019.
Reduction and reuse underpin the green recovery. Pre pandemic, the reuse revolution was in full swing with bans on single-use plastic gaining traction around the world. While lockdown has been a stumbling block, it has also shown us how critical the reuse imperative is to the health of people and planet.
The post waste economy: our ‘new normal’
A circular economy can enable the world to replenish and thrive and is critical to address global environmental problems including the climate, waste and biodiversity crises.
Instead of the current, linear take-make-waste system, a circular system keeps products in play for as long as possible. Circular economies design reduced consumption, repair and reuse into the economic system.
It’s equally important in building jobs and rebooting the economy post-lockdown. McKinsey and International Labour Organisation modelling show that the circular economy could generate €1.8 trillion more for Europe by 2030 than would the current system and create 18 million more jobs globally by the same date. Similarly, Beyond Zero Emissions’ Million Jobs Plan and the UK Local Government Association’s Local Green Jobs plan both show jobs booms resulting from investment in green technologies and net zero commitments.
It starts with us
The green recovery begins with each of us, now. Adopting reuse is the start. As individuals we can commit to reuse and support cafes and roasters doing the same. Research shows that one of the biggest motivators to avoiding single-use is knowing others are doing the same. Lining up in the coffee queue with your KeepCup therefore not only has the immediate impact of diverting a single-use cup from landfill but signals intent to those around. Cafes and roasters further drive this, fostering permission and acceptance when they actively support reuse.
To demonstrate with purchasing decisions our desire for a green recovery is a powerful act.
It is about jobs creation and securing an equitable, waste free and biodiverse planet for future generations. Let’s take this opportunity and create the world we imagine.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on LinkedIn on 2 July, 2020.