Cincinnati — An emerging scheme that creates credits to help fund plastic recycling projects around the world has the potential to have a huge impact, according to one group that has created standards to govern the approach.
At the same time, plastic credits also should be viewed as just one part of a larger picture to manage resin, said another expert in the field.
"I think there's huge potential for us to be driving investment in plastic waste collection and recycling," said Hannah Robinson, manager of the Plastics Program at Verra, a standards organization that has developed the Plastic Waste Reduction Standard to guide project certification.
"It's still a new program. We've learned a lot from some of our first projects on the ground," she said. "Being able to drive investment to improve waste management activities around the world is really what we're looking to do. And we're seeing it happen already," she said.
Plastic credits work in much of the same way as renewable carbon credits, and organizers hope to attract the same kind of legitimacy that the market has achieved over time. Companies can purchase carbon credits, typically created by forest or agriculture efforts that sequester carbon, to offset their emissions.
The same is true with plastic credits, where companies can pay to receive credit for a ton of recycled plastics while actually using different resin in their finished goods or operations. Buying those credits, which can be hundreds of dollars per ton, helps fund recycling efforts that might not otherwise make financial sense.
That's exactly what a nonprofit group Enaleia is doing in Kenya with its efforts to recapture ocean plastics, said Lefteris Arapakis, co-founder and director. Money from plastic credits covers the vast majority of the group's costs in that part of the world.
"In Kenya, it's about 90-95 percent. Because, in Kenya, it's not cost-efficient or environmentally efficient to ship plastic to Europe. … So we developed plastic credits in Kenya to scale the project," he said.
Enaleia got its start in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea when Arapakis noticed fishers who caught plastics, including old fishing gear, in their nets would simply throw the material back into the water.
As a fifth-generation fisher, he first convinced his family and then many others to instead bring the captured plastics onboard and back to the shoreline where it could be reprocessed and used again.