March 4, 2019 — The growing problem of plastic waste, especially in the world’s oceans, is solvable with an increased commitment from corporations to find sustainable answers and greater awareness from consumers, an industry plastics and packaging executive said recently at the University of Houston Law Center.
Jennifer Ronk, sustainability and advocacy manager at Dow’s Packaging & Specialty Plastics, spoke last week on “Marine Debris: Where it is coming from and what is being done to fix it.” The talk was co-sponsored by the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center and Energy and Environmental Law Society as part of the EENR Speaker Series.
She acknowledged the incredible convenience of plastic and acknowledged that Dow and others will continue to manufacture it, but condemned the way plastic waste is currently handled after use.
“We really have an opportunity to do something better,” she said. “It’s really important that we all come together and sit down and work to take ownership of hope, and understand that marine debris, while a large problem, is one that we can solve.”
She noted that most plastic debris finds its way into oceans via rivers with 90 percent of the waste coming from 10 rivers, eight in Asia and two in Africa, primarily because of inefficient or non-existent waste disposal systems.
The solution includes basic three strategies: keeping plastics out of the environment, enacting a circular economy in which it is produced, used and recycled into a reusable state, and increasing the impact of partnerships.
While the first strategy serves to emphasize Dow’s mission to prevent plastic from reaching the environment, the latter two elaborate on the ways in which that mission can be achieved.
Implementing a circular economy would disrupt the traditional one-use practice for plastic items, lessening the amount of litter entering the environment.
“We used to take things out of the ground, make things out of them, and when we were done with them we would put them in a landfill,” Ronk said. “That was a very linear process.”
Working toward creating effective plastic circularity initiatives and contemporary innovations are goals which Dow believes could solve the environmental debris problem.
Partnering with others could amplify that positive impact, according to Ronk.
“We have to own that we can’t do this alone,” she said. “We all have to work together to figure out how we can increase our impact.”