Plastic Vs. Aluminum: People Are Debating Whether Plastic Can Be Part of a Circular Economy
Plastic production really only took off around the 1950s. Almost anything that plastic could replace was replaced. Although plastic was the replacement for many natural resources such as ivory, precious metals, wood, etc., and was cheaper to make, plastic waste was becoming a significant issue and was recognized as a waste problem as early as the 1970s and 1980s. Before this explosion of plastic occurred, we were accustomed to a milkman model of packaging, whereby items made from reusable materials were refilled and reused until they broke.
A backstory on single-use plastic and the fake recyclable material
The original meaning of plastic is “pliable and easily shaped,” and now plastic is known as the polymer, which makes up plastic. Here’s a little backstory about how the plastic industry saved face, squeezed through policy with plastic industry lobbyists to create a facade of a “solution,” and bought a significant amount of time to continue mass production of plastic, all accomplished behind the smokescreen of “recycling.”
While many people became concerned about plastic litter filling the streets, entering landfills, ocean, and river streams, the plastic industry made a bold move and stepped in to “save the day” by implementing a solution known as recycling. The plastic industry blamed consumers for the waste problem and encouraged cities to include recycling as part of waste-management. The result was the purple, green, or black bins we use to recycle plastic trash, paper products, glass, and aluminum packaging. Of course, not a bad concept, but the system encouraged waste creation rather than reduction and reuse. This was a very self-serving, broken “solution” to our growing waste problem, proposed by an industry that was creating a future and fortune based on oil-industry originated plastic pollution.
The flaws around single-use plastic packaging
Second, the plastic we toss in the recycling bin must be extremely clean and uncontaminated before it can ever be downcycled into another inferior product. This issue of contamination is one of the biggest reasons China has cut the western world off from accepting their plastic trash. Most of what the west would ship to China was corroded, contaminated, and had to be dumped, which piled up to unacceptable toxic levels, so China chose to stop adding to their pollution problems. Finally, countries like the U.S. and Canada have to address the plastic waste problem in very serious ways.
Plastic and recycling, the oxymoron, the scam
An oxymoron is a figure of speech where words that contradict each other are placed together. For example, “bittersweet,” “act naturally,” and “deafening silence” are all phrases that technically contradict each other. Now more people are becoming aware that plastic recycling is an oxymoron. There still needs to be more consistent education around all of the seemingly endless issues that single-use plastics bring about, and that is what we at PATHWATER are doing every day, education. We believe the more we learn, and the more we share our knowledge, the more we will see the manufacturing of single-use plastic decline and eventually become obsolete. Then the reuse culture of packaging can replace the waste to create a real circular economy and deliver the clean environment most people hope to achieve. The solutions are easily attainable and can be very profitable for all, including consumers who will no longer have to bear the health and financial burden of plastic trash. The World Economic Forum recently reported that if the Plastic Industry were forced to take financial responsibility for the externalized costs of plastic trash that consumers are currently paying, the entire industry would buckle and be in the negative. That means we are all paying a high tax to fund this oil industry plastic packaging scam.
Why did the plastic industry implement recycling bins?
The answer may surprise you. Since the seventies, the plastic industry has been a big part of policy-making, especially in regards to waste and recycling solutions. The plastic industry’s strategy was to get people to blame each other and point their finger at “litterbugs” as the problem (not the source of the litter). They successfully pit people against each other to avoid being held accountable for creating plastic waste in the first place. So, plastic companies began to pitch their solution to plastic trash building up in the streets, by installing trash cans everywhere, not previously a thing that was needed because we didn’t have so much waste, to begin with. This plastic “recycling” plan was not a solution, and the trash and recycling contents that weren’t downcycled into inferior products, inevitably ended up in our landfills, incinerated into air pollution, or in the natural landscape becoming the plastic crisis we see today.
Currently, petroleum companies spend a lot of money paying attorneys and lobbyists to prevent new environmental laws from holding accountable the most lucrative industry deal they now have - plastic packaging. So far it’s working with only minor hiccups. But the time has come, and our planet needs monumental changes and faster than what we are currently trying to accomplish with extended deadlines and flimsy policies.
California bills, AB1080 named California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act and SB54 are the closest any laws have come to implement environmental solutions by attempting to disrupt the plastic packaging industry. The goal of each bill, which is extremely similar, is to create a circular economy, however, and this is a huge but, a circular economy cannot ever include single-use plastic that only ever downcycles. Think about what a circular economy is, a circle. And when something in that economy downcycles, it is removed from the circular motion of materials, and it is waste just waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the waste problem is occurring.
What is a circular economy?
By definition, a circular economy “seeks to rebuild capital, whether this is financial, manufactured, human, social, or natural. This ensures enhanced flows of goods and services.” According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to achieve a circular economy, these three principles must be implemented:
- Must achieve to be waste and pollution-free
- Create a reuse system versus packaging that will end up as waste
- Restore, renew, or revitalize own energy and materials sources
How to easily understand what AB1080 and SB54 means
The current AB1080 and SB54 are an attempt at helping the current broken recycling system in California by telling companies that a percentage of their total packaging brought in to sell in California has to actually get recycled. The lawmakers of AB1080 and SB54, want to reduce the amount of trash that ends up as plastic pollution, by telling companies that they have to make sure a percentage of that packaging sold must go to a recycling facility and be recycled or downcycled. Here’s the current breakdown:
- On and after January 1, 2024, 20% of single-use plastic packaging must prove to be recycled into a new product
- On and after January 1, 2028, 40% of single-use plastic packaging must prove to be recycled into a new product
- On and after January 1, 2030, 75% of single-use plastic packaging must prove to be recycled into a new product
While this is a great start, with the roughly 12.7 million tons of plastic entering our oceans every year, we don’t have the luxury of waiting until 2030 to start instilling laws. We certainly can’t wait any longer to get rid of single-use plastic as a packaging option. AB1080 and SB54 are not intended to ban single-use plastic packaging; they only hold companies that use single-use plastic packaging accountable to find a place that will downcycle the waste into carpet, shoes, or other fibers. That means by 2024, 2028, and 2030; these companies need to find places that will take these percentages of their product to downcycle but will be labeled “recycling.” Let’s be repetitive here, once the plastic trash is downcycled into shoes or any other fabrics, off to the landfills, oceans, animals and our stomachs it goes. Note: this is not a circular economy in any sense.
Now, most of these companies don’t seem to have a problem meeting these so-called “recycling” rates. What they are annoyed with is finding these facilities in the time frames that will accommodate their enormous amounts of single-use plastic by these dates, and that is what’s ruffling their feathers - the timeline.
So here you see, sizeable corporate beverage companies seemed to have expected this, as these companies are already finding facilities that will take their future single-use plastic garbage for downcycling. The smaller beverage companies who use plastic, are even more furious about AB1080 and SB54 because they likely don't have the budget necessary to handle the responsibility for their plastic waste. What this uneven playing field will do is create a monopolized market if not corrected. We are already beginning to see greenwashing campaigns from large corporations who are framing their plastic downcycling efforts as "sustainable." But anyone who takes a more in-depth glance will know that plastics are never sustainable, and will never be part of a circular economy.
Nothing is perfect, we all know this, but we have to do better and faster when it comes to creating policy deadlines that address our plastic crisis. Fortunately, we live in a country where we can come together and tell officials and representatives we voted into office what we need from them. We can remind them what’s important to us so they can help us achieve better standards for our health and our environment around plastic.
The dawn of our plastic crisis-era comes with some severe health implications as researchers begin to uncover the extent of the damage plastics are leaving on our planet and our health. Continued research is revealing that we are ingesting high amounts of microplastics and other toxic chemicals from the enormous amount of plastic packaging and the many plastic items we buy. CIEL reported: “Microplastics entering the human body can lead to an array of health impacts, including inflammation (linked to cancer, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more), genotoxicity (damage to the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer), oxidative stress (leading to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammation, stroke), apoptosis (cell death associated with a wide variety of diseases including cancer), and necrosis (cell death associated with cancer, autoimmune conditions, and neurodegeneration). These effects, over time could also lead to tissue damage, fibrosis, and cancer.” This means if we don’t need to use single-use plastic, we should replace it with other materials such as glass, aluminum, or other metals; there are safer options that don’t include petroleum as a base ingredient.
Aluminum Reusable Bottles are the Best Option for a Circular Economy
We need immediate changes to curb the path of destruction we’re leaving and to make sure our children have a safer future. The great thing is, these solutions already exists - PATHWATER is solving this dilemma. While it’s great for those who can afford fancy reusable Yeti’s and Larq bottles, PATHWATER combines reusability with affordability and accessibility by offering an aluminum bottle that nearly anyone can afford, can be found in a growing list of locations, and which can be reused infinitely, and is 100% recyclable. Unlike any other bottled water on the market today, PATHWATER is the only brand that offers entryway into a true circular economy.
Taking political action to demand a true circular economy from lawmakers
It’s time to work with our lawmakers to create systemic changes. Starting with making these California bills stronger before implementation; AB1080 and SB54 can use your input. We would all benefit by telling Governor Gavin Newsom that we would like to see all single-use plastic banned and replaced with responsible, reusable, healthier packaging.
To make things easier, we prepared some talking points that can help you contact Gavin Newsom about what we should do about our plastic crisis. If we all took 5 minutes to call, then write and mail a letter, Gov. Newsome will have to answer our questions and make changes. You can even go the extra mile to contact media and tell them that you’re happy there’s policy around single-use plastic, but it needs to include single-use PET plastic bottles and the dates must be sooner, rather than later.
Talking points for making plastic policy in CA stronger:
- We cannot wait until 2030 to correct our plastic crisis
- If Coca Cola brings in 100 cases of Dasani water, ONLY 20 cases need to be recycled by 2024 if these laws lass. This is not acceptable, and we need another law that bans single-use PET plastic bottles
- The petrochemical industry is poised to invest billions in expanding plastic production by 40% in the next few decades - this not okay
- Why are we calling plastics recyclable when it ALWAYS gets downcycled and eventually thrown out ending in our oceans, landfills, incinerated, and increasingly found as microplastic in our bodies - enough to produce 1 credit card every week, per person?
- Plastic will outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050
- San Francisco Airport is banning all single-use plastic bottled water, including Tetra Paks, and all beverage containers with unsubstantiated sustainability claims and replacing them with glass, aluminum, and other metals for reusable and truly recyclable options. For my future and the future of our children, we must adopt full scope solutions that don’t let a back door open for big oil and plastic, like the policy from San Francisco and SFO airport that offers real solutions.
- California needs to ban single-use PET plastic bottles when addressing single-use plastic. PET is not truly recyclable, while aluminum and glass are. We must act now and not allow our plastic laws to be mishandled. They must be strict, and they must act fast.
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher
Author of AB1080
State Representative - California Assembly District 80
1303 Tenth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 319-2080
Fax: (916) 319-2180
1350 Front Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 338-8090
Fax: (619) 338-8099
Ben Allen - (D) California
Author of SB54
State Senator - California Senate District 26
2512 Artesia Boulevard
Redondo Beach, CA 90278-3279
Phone: (310) 318-6994
Fax: (310) 318-6733
1303 Tenth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814-4900
Phone: (916) 651-4026
Fax: (916) 651-4926
Sustainable packaging means using materials that are truly recyclable, but more importantly, reusable, and help us cut down on waste. Aluminum is 100% recyclable and can be used as a 100% reusable packaging option, along with glass and other metal. California can be a true leader in sustainable solutions and needs to be a part of introducing what the real circular economy will look like - not just in words but in cradle-to-cradle practice. A solution that can bump up the process and speed up the current timelines for single-use plastic beverages. K-12 students, high school, and college students are asking adults to care about their future. Let’s get REUSE and real 100% recyclability into our plastic laws this year. We can do this!
Conclusion - REUSE, REUSE, REUSE and hold all single-use plastic, please
In California, less than 15% of single-use plastic is “recycled,” and it will cost more than $2 billion a year to clean up the plastic trash and pollution in California alone according to Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D- San Diego). Senators Allen and Gonzalez are working hard to reduce plastic pollution through AB1080 and SB54, and we should all applaud these efforts. However, one major point we all have to remember every day is that “if we do not want waste, then we shouldn’t make waste,” as Ali Orabi, Co-founder and V.P. of Marketing at PATHWATER reminds us.
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