We can add the G7 group of industrial nations to the list of organizations pushing for improving plastics recycling and reducing production of single-use plastics.
Five of the G7 member nations signed a non-binding Ocean Plastics Charter on June 9, after a meeting in Quebec. While the United States and Japan did not sign, they haven't spoken out against it. Even the footnote apparently added by the United States notes that it "strongly supports healthy oceans, seas and resilient coastal communities."
Put it this way: Politicians are smart enough to know not to come out in favor of polluting oceans.
The bottom line for plastics processors is simple: Product bans are now mainstream. Globally, that's obvious. All sorts of plastics bans are sweeping Europe and the United Kingdom, and they may be spreading. Just a few weeks ago, on June 5, World Environment Day, the United Nations environment agency released a report saying bans and taxes on single-use plastics can be effective for combating plastic litter.
In the United States, bans used to be a fringe issue, proposed in a handful of environmentally active cities and counties. Now they're popping up everywhere, and we'll be seeing more in the coming years.
It's interesting that the plastics industry and the governmental leaders pushing for bans sound so much alike. Both sides are saying that plastics play an important role in the economy. Both acknowledge that there's a major problem with plastics in the environment, that it's rapidly getting worse and that action is needed right away.
Both say they want to make decisions based on science. Both talk about the importance of bolstering plastics recycling, improving waste management and educating the public.
Both sides have even established goals that sound pretty similar, too. The G7 charter calls for recycling and reuse of 55 percent of plastics packaging by 2030 and 100 percent recovery of all plastics by 2040. The American Chemistry Council's plastics division wants to reuse, recycle or recover all plastics packaging by 2040.
Everyone seems to want what's best for the environment. So where's the debate, exactly? The tough part will be the details. Do we get to those goals through voluntary measures and more recycling? Or through product bans and producer responsibility?
If we all take a step back and look at the big picture, does it matter? I think the recipe that would work best takes some ingredients from each approach.
A final word goes to all the plastics industry readers who don't make single-use plastics, so they may think this debate doesn't apply to you. Think again. You can and should be involved.
At a minimum, make sure your company is a member of Operation Clean Sweep. Environmental groups are watching to see which plastics factories are discharging excessive plastics into waterways. If you're not being a good steward, you will eventually be targeted.
If you can do more, set a "zero net waste" goal. Get involved in local beach or waterway cleanups. Work with designers to make sure the products you make are easy to recycle. Work with recyclers to make sure you're recycling all your scrap and using recycled content when you can. Check out the Plastics Industry Association's "This Is Plastics" website for information and advice.
Don't let this become an industry vs. environment debate because that isn't necessary; everyone is on the same side. The plastics industry is full of environmentalists who are proud of what they manufacture and want to leave the world a better place.
The leaders of the United States and Japan may not completely comprehend that yet, but they'll come around.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.