Since the invention of cheap, flexible plastics, we have always looked at plastic as a “disposable” resource. Something to be used once and they conveniently tossed away where it can…just sit. Plastic doesn’t decompose or degrade like natural materials, so from its invention, the idea of plastics being “disposable” was always a fatal flaw.
So how do we fix the way we make and use plastics? What is a “circular economy” and why is it being touted as the best solution to our heaping plastic problem?
Linear Vs. Circular
Plastic use currently follows a “linear economy” model. Plastic is made, used, and then discarded. Each item has one very short lifespan and often a single functional use, and then is considered unusable and banished to a landfill where it will spend the next 200 years.
A circular economy is a much more sustainable alternative to the linear model. In a circular economy, a “closed loop” is created where materials are created, used, and then once no longer useful for their intended purpose are salvaged and repurposed to create a new functional item. With the right infrastructure, a single piece of plastic could continue cycling through the loop for years upon years in different forms.
What Are the Benefits of a Circular Economy for Plastics?
By switching from a linear to a circular economy for plastics, we provide a huge relief to our environment by:
-Reducing the size of landfills
-Preventing plastic waste from entering our waterways
-Reducing the amount of oil being extracted from the earth to produce new plastics
-Reducing carbon emissions from the manufacturing of new plastics
And many more ways!
How Can We Create a Circular Economy for Plastics?
Creating a circular economy for plastics isn’t an easy task, but it’s a necessary one. It requires us to rethink how we handle plastic and build a system that supports sustainable manufacturing and recycling of plastics. Here are a few ways we can start creating a circular economy for plastics.
To make recycling cheaper and more sustainable, demand must increase for recycled plastic materials. This means educating manufacturers on the benefits of recycled plastics and the many ways they can utilize them in their products.
We need to rethink our recycling infrastructure from the ground up. This means eventually only producing plastics that can be easily recycled by consumers, as well as building improved recycling facilities that can handle a wider array of plastics efficiently so that they can be repurposed.
Our beaches and oceans are currently choking with single-use plastic waste from our current linear economy. But companies like RIO are rallying local communities to help clean up these plasticsso they can be recycled and repurposed instead of destroying our environment.
Ultimately, we as a society need to rethink our relationship with plastic. We need to use less and recycle more, as well as continue to find new materials that can wean us off cheap plastics and reduce our impact on the environment that we all share.