Plastics inspiration: reasons for hope
Author: Rebecca Gilling
As part of the recent Beyond Plastic Pollution Conference in Sydney, attendees had the option to participate in a one-day Plasticity Sydney Forum, switching the focus from the daunting problems of marine plastic pollution to potential solutions.
Dubbed ‘the plastics circular economies’ conference, Plasticity provided a welcome antidote to the often disheartening information about marine plastic pollution disseminated during the main conference. One particularly inspiring story came from zoologist and former high school science teacher Louise Hardman, co-inventor of the Shruder, a mobile plastic shredding and extruding machine.
Louise’s ‘road to Damascus’ experience arose from witnessing the slow and painful death of a young marine green turtle found with more than 30 different types of plastic in her gut. Despite being in a pristine national park, the seagrass on which the turtle fed had become entangled with plastics. This sent Louise on a mission to do what she could to stop plastics going into the sea.
‘In the Asia Pacific region there’s over 4000 inhabited islands, which are home to 370 million people who are living on less than $5000 a year. With little to no waste collection services, single use plastics are simply dumped, burnt or buried, often ending up in waterways and in the sea.’
An average of 30kgs of plastic per person per year are disposed of in the region, adding up to 11 million tonnes of plastic produced yearly, the majority of which is not recovered. In Louise’s view community attitudes towards plastic need to evolve from waste management to resource recovery. Rather than seeing single-use plastics as waste to be discarded, we should be treating it as resources: valuable, versatile materials, 80% of which can be remoulded. Currently only 15% is recycled globally.
‘Stopping people from using plastic items is like trying to stop the tide. By focussing on resource recovery, we have a chance to turn the problem around.’ To this end, in 2016 Louise started a business called the Plastic Collective based on three principles:
- Empower people with practical knowledge
- Innovate with ideas and designs
- Create new products for market with affordable tools
The cost of transporting materials to and from remote communities is the main reason waste management services are either limited or non-existent in these areas. Louise believes that it’s absolutely essential we take the solution to the problem. This is where the Shruder comes in. Weighing 95kgs, it fits into a small trailer or truck and can be set up in 30 minutes. It can run off mains electricity or a small solar system that can be included in the package. Each Shruder can recover one tonne of plastic per month. A training program has also been developed that allows small groups to set up micro-enterprises, creating jobs and useful products, thereby supporting local economies. Louise’s dream is that her program will be rolled out in the 10 poorest countries in the Asia Pacific region, where 60% of global plastic pollution comes from.
To help fund her enterprise, Louise has also developed a Plastic Neutral Certification Program, which is designed to offset all or part of an individual’s or organisation’s total plastic consumption. Plastic Neutral is based on two principles:
- Plastic is a practical and useful material that should be valued as a resource
- Single use plastics should be minimised and recycled into multiple use applications to reduce the need for new plastics
The program starts with an audit of an individual’s or company’s plastic use to identify their plastic footprint. They can then choose to offset all or part of that footprint by contributing funds to purchase one or more Shruders and training packages. For organisations, this builds consumer trust, employee engagement and a positive sense of social and environmental responsibility: a true win-win for companies and communities.
- Avoid single use plastic items by replacing them with multi-use alternatives, starting with coffee cups and shopping bags
- Recycle the plastics you can’t avoid by placing plastic containers in your home recycling and soft plastics in REDcycle bins at major supermarkets
- Reduce plastic litter by taking 3 when you’re out and about
- Look intro joining the Plastic Neutral Certification Program for you or your organisation
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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.