Search for solutions continues at Safripol sustainability conference
SAFRIPOL’S 2020 Sustainability Conference focussed on the many environmental problems faced by the industry with presentations from across the board adding to the mix as, let’s face it, the search for solutions continues.
Of considerable interest to all delegates was the presentation by Craig Arnold, formerly president of Dow Chemical Sub-Saharan Africa, but since seconded to the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, based in Singapore. The SE Asian country was chosen as the base for AEPW as the region is seen as the main source of marine plastics litter. Arnold travelled to SA for the conference but then found he couldn’t return, due to the Covid-19 problem.
The Alliance has made considerable progress towards confronting the problem in the year-plus since its inception in March 2019. The organisation brings together more than 40 global companies from across the plastics value chain – companies that make, use, sell, process, collect and recycle plastics – who have the clear mission to help end plastic waste in the environment.
One of the main accomplishments for the Alliance so far was simply that agreement for funding from across the industry was achieved, which before had been remained elusive.
The Alliance’s mission is clear, to “develop, accelerate and deploy solutions, engage communities and catalyze investment to help end plastic waste in the environment,” said Craig, but the challenges are major. It is a not-for-profit organization with the major plus that it is receiving substantial funding from the founding partners. In the relatively short period since early 2019, funding estimated at $500-million has been placed by the members in the programme, with a further $1-billion expected over the next four years.
According to David Taylor, CEO of Procter & Gamble and chairman of the board of directors of AEPW: “Everyone agrees that plastic waste does not belong in our oceans or anywhere in the environment. This is a complex and serious global challenge that calls for swift action and strong leadership. This new alliance is the most comprehensive effort to date to end plastic waste in the environment.”
The fact that the leader of one of the world’s top brand groups has taken up such an important and challenging position says more for the industry than much that has happened before. Prior to 2019, the spokesmen for the industry were more often than not leaders of the major material and machinery manufacturing businesses.
Other achievements by the AEPW so far include the fact that over 12 “major on the ground projects” have been approved and are proceeding as well as that membership has increased from 26 at the outset to the current 46 (as at 6 March).
But Arnold, who after years at Dow knows polymer materials inside-out, did not want to say too much. The basic structure has been put in place and now results are expected, specifically that “new technologies at scale” will be implemented as well as that a “measureable and visible impact” is made.
Given that plastic ocean pollution was the factor from which the global environmental criticism mainly originated, just a few years ago, it was appropriate that marine birds specialist and ornithologist Dr Peter Ryan took the stand first. And, surprisingly, Dr Ryan is not quite as critical of plastics as many may have expected. Not that he’s positive about the material, but he doesn’t see plastics as the main threat to the world’s oceans and marine life. Rather it’s global warming and the CO2 curve, which keeps escalating (it was then on 6 March, but the global economy slowed dramatically in the weeks after that).
The problems of ingestion of plastics and entanglement pose threats to a number of specific species, but according to Dr Ryan, over-exploitation by the fishing industry globally poses a far worse threat. Dr Ryan and other marine researchers have stepped up their work in recent years and made some telling findings, including that the problem of micro fibres and particles appears to have been exaggerated too.