Phi Phi Islands — an astonishing tropical spot in Thailand — is one of the most popular destinations for millions of tourists and sailing enthusiasts. Surrounded by white-sand beaches, crystal-blue water with emerald green vegetation, this archipelago was one of my favorite routes for sailing twenty years ago. During my visit earlier this year, I was shocked to see the environmental damage caused by tons of bags, plastic bottles, lighters, and needles simply dumped into the sea. The mass was knee deep on the beach.
Maya Bay, part of Phi Phi Islands and famous for Danny Boyle’s ‘The Beach’ movie, together with Boracay Island, the jewel of the Philippines — have been forced to close to visitors until the end of the year to recover from environmental damage. As recently revealed by British diver Rich Horner, there is a sea of plastic rubbish floating off the coast of Bali . Each year more than eight million tons of plastics are dumped into our oceans, and this global crisis is seen by some experts to be as serious as climate change.
Today, a million plastic bottles are consumed in a minute and 91% of this waste is not recycled. Almost 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then thrown away. Across the world, less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050. By the same year, there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean.
There are multiple challenges partly because the types of microplastics entering the marine environment are incredibly diverse. Synthetic fabrics release tiny strands or microfibers. More than 700,000 microscopic fibres can be flushed into drains from a single washing machine load. Many reach oceans where they can remain for hundreds of years. Swallowed by fish and other sea creatures, microplastics are finding their way into our food chain.
Almost half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since 2000 and its production is set to double in the next 20 years. Plastics are a cost-effective, durable, versatile, and indispensable material for modern economy, however, numbers tell us that a linear consumption model is no longer sustainable.
This World Environment Day, the UN urges us to take concrete steps to #BeatPlasticPollution along with a report outlining a range of alternative materials that can be used to replace single-use plastics.
As regulators across the globe have already started banning the single-use plastic products to reduce marine litter, it is time for businesses to come up with alternative solutions — not least for the sake of their bottom line. The numbers are staggering. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80 billion to 120 billion annually, is lost to the economy.
We should transform our production patterns, push the limits of the value chain as hard as possible, and take a comprehensive approach for the social, economic, and environmental impact of plastics.
CIRCULAR ECONOMY SOLUTIONS
A good starting point is to focus on circular economy solutions that move us away from the “take, make, dispose” model of production. We need to work on a new plastics economy that promotes and incentivizes recycling activities as it is still a challenge to supply sustainable and high-quality recycled plastics. At Arçelik, we strive to be a part of the solution and are constantly increasing the use of recycled materials in our products. We also have redoubled our efforts to give used appliances a second life.
Last year, our R&D team came up with a new way of recycling plastic bottles into washing machine tubs. This project has so far seen 12 million bottles recycled, and our aim for this year is to double this figure. Another example is our new vacuum cleaner made of plastics recycled at our facilities, 90 percent of the final product is produced from recycled plastics. We are also working on a new technology to filter out 99.9% of fabric microfibers leaking into water resources, a system integrated into washing machines that will help reduce pollution. This has the potential for huge impact.
Back in Thailand, last week a whale washed up dead on a beach, with 80 plastic bags in its stomach. The mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about three times the size of France. This is a battle on many fronts.
The World Environment Day is a good opportunity to think about the concrete steps we can take to reduce our impact on the environment. We need to focus on how we can eliminate single-use plastics in our lives, reuse the plastics we have already and recycle as much as possible. As individuals and businesses, we need to get ready for a tighter regulatory environment, and we all need to play our part. As business leaders we should take our responsibility seriously, foster collaboration within the industry, work with partners, NGOs and governments to use every area of influence that we have and to make the right choices for the planet we inhabit.
I personally have made a commitment with my family to live single-use plastic free. Once the transformation at home begins, it will naturally follow at work. At Arçelik we are getting closer and closer to this goal every day. My challenge to you is — what are you going to do about it?