In a perfect world, every bit of plastic we send out for recycling would actually get recycled and be turned into something useful, bringing to fruition our vision for a circular economy where products remain in use longer; thus, improving the productivity of our resources.
We don't live in a perfect world, however. Far from it.
Before COVID-19, those of us who reimagine waste for a living were already concerned with the amount of plastic waste being generated by humans. Now that the pandemic has made its way across the country, the amount of new plastic waste being generated by the medical community is adding to what was already a huge problem.
But I've always looked at massive problems as gateways to solving issues that can fundamentally change human behavior, and this pandemic has got me thinking about how we can all come together to take on challenges we are best suited to handle.
For me, it's waste. Plastic waste, specifically.
There's no doubt plastic is an important material that benefits the human race. We have seen it save lives during this global pandemic and be used to help us socialize as we try to find some semblance of normalcy. But the cruel irony is plastic waste is an issue that will affect us down the road if we don't figure out a way to deal with the problem now.
Couple that with more waste being generated in the form of used IVs and personal protective equipment, and you start to realize the problem we have on our hands.
As of right now, only 9 percent of plastic manufactured in the United States gets recycled. What doesn't get recycled — even though it was sent to the curb in the bin — chokes our waterways and litters our communities.
But out of strife can rise great solutions, and I see our company and the advanced plastic recycling industry as well-positioned to help solve this issue. In the long term, those of us in the recycling and waste management space must collaborate to alter human behavior so that we come out of this pandemic with one less problem to worry about.
Brightmark is already capable of taking previously unrecyclable waste and turning it into transportation fuel and wax. By examining the additional medical plastic waste generated during a pandemic, we can create a process where we handle it efficiently and safely, and ensure it doesn't get added to the glut of plastic waste we have to deal with.
If and when a second wave occurs, we will be better equipped to handle the excess waste. Brightmark is actively seeking partnerships to reuse life-saving medical plastics.
By doing so, not only are we reimagining waste, but we are doing our part during a global crisis.
It's this line of thinking — one where we use our expertise for the greater good of humankind — that Brightmark puts to work with RecycleForce, a social enterprise nonprofit in Indianapolis that trains and employs formerly incarcerated individuals to recycle electronics waste.
While recidivism rates in this country are higher than most would like, RecycleForce employee recidivism rates are well below the national average. RecycleForce gives them a path to a better future for themselves and their families, all while doing good for the planet. We take e-waste that would not be recyclable from RecycleForce and recycle it. And we are working to hire RecycleForce trainees at our new facility in Ashley, Ind.
So, in a way, the idea of a circular economy is already on full display, albeit of the human variety: recycling waste and recycling lives. The idea remains the same: Take something of value and put it back into the economy to help future generations.
If a true circular economy is possible, we have to share our expertise in the best way we know how, and we believe the COVID-19 pandemic is as good a time as any for Brightmark to do our part.