Can a Planet in Crisis Reduce Its Environmental Impact From Plastic Waste and Industry-Induced Pollution?

By Adriaan Brits Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Climate change has had experts and populations concerned for decades now, with experts arguing that the lack of action is likely to have a severe global impact. Future challenges will include mass migrations, even worse wildfires, the extinction of species, and the collapse of the global financial markets. The social and economic impact will be devastating.

Two of the major concerns on the environment's impact are the use of plastic and pollution from energy sources. According to 2019 figures issued by the US Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounted for about 11% of US energy consumption and just 17% of electricity generation.

The Fight Against Single-Use Plastic

Plastic waste continues to be a significant concern in the US. Even though many cities and states have made progress in shifting consumers toward using reusable bags and avoiding other single-use plastics, recent health concerns over COVID-19 have once again increased consumer dependency.

Municipalities have been scaling down their recycling operations in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus. Retailers are also discouraging customers from using recyclable bags. Unfortunately, single-use plastics tend to find their way onto rivers and oceans, and the World Wildlife Fund has warned that they expect plastic pollution to increase by 40% over the next decade.

Currently, the biggest increase in plastic use is coming from the restaurant industry. Even companies with strong policies against plastic use have reverted to its use for their takeout orders in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

The Green Restaurant Association continues its work in raising awareness and offering solutions, according to CEO Michael Oshman. Some of these are easy for restaurants to implement.

For example, Just Salad has managed to reduce utensil waste by 88% by asking their online and pick up customers to opt-out for plastic utensils. The company has had to halt its reusable bowls program for the time being — a program that has saved 75,000 pounds of plastic annually since it was started.

One of the major challenges that businesses will face when the pandemic finally subsides will be the reinstating of zero waste policies. However, Oshman says they can continue with some of their already entrenched policies for now, including reducing disposable menus, using cleaners and disinfectants that are environmentally friendly, and ensuring recycling of disposable masks and gloves. This type of waste is non-recyclable but can be turned into raw material for manufacturers.

Factories of the Future

Energy-intensive factories are an essential part of the economy as they manufacture consumer and essential goods. Usually, most factories are also not very visually pleasing. Industries worldwide are interested in contributing to sustainability by reducing the impact their factories and offices have.

An interesting development by Norwegian architecture company Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) proves that factories can be sustainable, technologically advanced, and aesthetically pleasing.

One such project was for the Norwegian furniture maker Vestre. The 6,500-meter square building is known as The Plus, and the site will also function as a 300-acre park.

To be started in August, the factory façade will use local timber, recycled reinforcement steel, and concrete with low carbon. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 50% less than from a conventional factory of this size due to the 1,200 solar panels to be installed on the roof.

Some of the technological advancements The Plus will use include driverless electric trucks and robots using artificial intelligence and object recognition technologies for color coating applications to products.

Recently, beverage company Diageo also announced its plans for a carbon-neutral whiskey distillery in Kentucky. According to the giant alcoholic beverage manufacturer and distributor, the facility will run on 100% renewable energy. The plant will only use electric vehicles and LED lighting.

Moving Forward

As consumers demand better practices and a reduction in the environmental impact of various industries, businesses and industries appear ready to respond with solutions. As giant leaps are made forward, circumstances may require a few steps back along the way.

If industries and businesses do not lose sight of their goals, there is hope that these will be attained in the future.

About the Author

Headshot for author Adriaan Brits
As an analyst of global affairs, Adriaan has an MSC from Oxford, with diverse interests in the digital economy, entertainment, and business. He is a specialist trainer in Advanced Analytics & Media.

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