Yes that is my actual foot size. But not my actual plastic footprint (hopefully). Besides mapping plastic pollution in rivers and educating folks on boat trips, I also work on helping companies to disclose their plastic use. Environmental reporting and certification has become increasingly popular. Some experts estimate there are over 1,000 different labels all across the earth. But we need one more!
The Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) is a questionnaire that guides institutions in disclosing their plastic use. Unlike some certification schemes, PDP is free, has explicit connections to other reporting schemes, and might actually save the company money. However, these benefits do not make it any less difficult to measure your plastic shoe size.
For those who hate reading here is a video:
Determining the quantity of plastic a business or institution uses (in operations and waste) is incredibly complex. Take a moment to quantify the amount of plastic you use. Seriously do it. Some objects stand out, like plastic bottles (which you shouldn’t use), tooth brushes, or plastic bags. Single use or obviously plastic items stand out a bit more than other items. Maybe you even dispose of that product in a specific bin for plastic. But how much plastic by weight is in those products? It gets even more confusing when you think about all the different kinds of plastic embedded in a single product like an automobile or computer. This doesn’t even address the catalysts or additives utilized during plastic production.
Now multiply this complexity across an entire supply chain. Then convince each link in the chain to submit information to you.
But important! Recently a study demonstrated a correlation between poly vinyl chloride (PVC) piping and developing kidney stones as well as other serious diseases. Worryingly, most of this PVC has been built into structures already and it will be extremely costly in the short term to remove it. How could anyone even identify all the homes with this contaminated PVC? Anticipating increasing health and environmental impacts of plastic PDP encourages companies to proactively disclose their plastic use. It also becomes critical if governments continue to debate a carbon tax, suddenly plastic isn’t as economic a material if regulations cause the price to destabilize further.
With disclosure, stakeholders can support companies with plastic profiles they agree with and reward transparency. Plastic legislation will only continue to grow as new impacts are documented. Anticipate change, rebuke subjugation.
Plastic of course has environmental benefits. Don’t call me a turncoat! After spending a semester researching their environmental costs of plastic on the environment and now a summer exploring the benefits my mind has changed. The Impacts of plastic products are not binary, the benefits and costs of a product are not unidirectional. Paper, glass, and metal are all very heavy forms of packaging relative to plastic. Weight adds fuel costs and limits the amount of a product you can send. Those materials also make it difficult to send certain products to certain geographies because of climate, disease, or other factors. Plastic has serious health benefits in the short term for food transportation, and is revolutionizing drastically improving fuel efficiency in transportation. Portions of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner are made of a composite plastic made of a hybrid plastic that reduces fuel usage by 20% from previous models.
With complex costs and benefits its best to analyze plastic use on a case by case basis. PDP provides a vector for companies to publish both challenges and successes. Transparency opens more doors for collaboration, and creative collaborations will allow businesses to come up with far more exciting innovations than they could independently.
Working with companies to disclose has been exciting. Though I can’t name anyone yet, some of the effort that a few firms have put into understanding their waste stream is simply astounding. Often times it is discouraging to read through a “green washed” sustainability report containing only vague qualitative comments. Some of the companies we work with go a step further and publish hard data. This is a trend to watch because sustainable reporting is about to get a lot more serious. With PDP riding that wave to a more transparent world and a smaller more intelligent plastic footprint. We companies should aim for having a children’s size 2.