Every year, 396 million metric tonnes of plastic are consumed globally which averages out to 53 kilograms per capita (that’s just about 117 pounds of plastic). With only roughly 25 percent of this plastic actually being recycled, 300 million metric tonnes of plastic are being put into bodies of water and surrounding landscapes every single year. This issue has a particularly negative impact on island/coastal nations and marginalized groups. In order to tackle this global problem, we must attack plastic waste from multiple angles by reducing, reusing, and recycling the plastic that we do consume and work on solutions to recycle plastic that would have otherwise never been recycled. The Plastic Neutral certification program by the Plastic Collective is one way to do this.
What is it?
The Plastic Collective is an Australian social enterprise that offers “Plastic Neutral”, “Plastic Positive” and “Plastic Awesome” certifications for individuals and businesses. The individual certifications can also be gifted to friends or family. Essentially, the Plastic Collective creates carbon neutrality by offsetting an individual’s or business’s plastic footprint by establishing micro-enterprises that recycle plastic in marginalized communities. Each certification tier increases a dedicated micro-enterprise’s plastic recycling goal. For the Plastic Neutral certification, the individual pays an annual payment of US$55 to help remove 53kg of plastic waste in the micro-enterprise’s community. For the Plastic Positive certification, the individual pays US$110 per year to help remove 106kg of plastic waste. Lastly, the Plastic Awesome certification charges US$220 annually to help remove 212kg of plastic waste. To get certified, individuals make a pledge based on which certification they would like to commit to. In return, certified individuals receive access to a custom plastic plan with factsheets and practical solutions to become a better plastic citizen and a certificate to recognize the individual’s pledge. The Pledge helps to fund the setup of the plastic recycling micro-enterprises in vulnerable communities that are struggling with the plastic waste epidemic. Once they are set up, these programs remove at least 53kg of plastic on the individual’s behalf, along with many others, to offset the individual’s plastic footprint.
Businesses who are seeking Plastic Neutral certification go through a more detailed process. First, a detailed assessment of the business’s plastic consumption is completed in order to establish either the entire company’s plastic footprint or the plastic footprint of the company’s products. The calculated plastic footprint of the products focuses on the volume of plastics used in the products, as well as, primary packaging and secondary packaging. The plastic footprint of the entire company includes the volume of plastics used in products, the primary packaging and secondary packaging, and any plastic used throughout the company’s offices and supply chain. The product plastic footprint is the simplest certification for a business, and the company-wide plastic footprint certification is the most comprehensible and provides the most credibility. Regardless of which particular certification the business goes for, there is an option for the company to self-certify or to commission a third party calculation on the company’s behalf. The self-certification is the easiest approach, but the third party calculation is the most credible. In both cases, the choice must be qualified in the business’s certification to increase customer transparency. After calculating the plastic footprint, the Plastic Collective proposes a plastic reduction strategy to reduce the company’s plastic consumption while also staying aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Finally, this organization helps the company develop a plastic offset program where the plastic footprint after the reductions is offset against the Plastic Collective’s projects that remove and upcycle plastic waste from the environment. There is a US$5,000 annual fee and a per kilogram fee that ranges from US$1/kg to US$2.50/kg of the company’s plastic footprint. 70 percent of the per kilogram fee goes to a vulnerable community recycling project.
Why does it matter?
Plastic Neutral certifications and the organizations that regulate them matter because they contribute to the construction of a circular global economy that empowers some of the most marginalized groups in the world. A circular global economy helps to create a marketplace for these vulnerable communities to sell their recycled plastic to global brands for use in their products while training staff and educating local schools on how to value plastic as a valuable recyclable resource. These recycling micro-enterprises generate a profit for the good of the community and reinforces the value of reducing single-use plastic and recycling higher value plastics which helps to rebalance the global climate of recycling.
Island/coastal nations and marginalized groups are hit first and worst when it comes to many of the top global issues. Unfortunately, these communities are not often given a voice in the issues they have the most experience with and are left with having to come up with their own ways to mitigate the problem within their local scope. The Plastic Collective and its pledgers are able to offer these communities the support they need to better their own situation, as well as, mitigate the issue of plastic waste on a global scale. Currently, the Plastic Collective has over 50 active programs in remote and vulnerable communities around the world. That is over 50 communities that have been granted the power to change how their local communities view plastic waste and contributing to a more sustainable future for all.