Combatting Climate Change Through Plastic Credits

By Manish Dabkara June 05, 2023

World Environment Day 2023: Recognising the potential of plastic credits and incorporating them into their strategy for addressing climate change are essential for organisations, governments, and people

Combatting Climate Change Through Plastic Credits
Plastic credits provide a platform for global collaboration and collective action.

Plastic waste has emerged as a pressing global concern, with profound implications for both the environment and climate change. The rapid proliferation of plastic consumption and inadequate waste management systems have resulted in massive quantities of plastic waste infiltrating ecosystems worldwide. This article aims to explore the detrimental effects of plastic waste on climate change, highlighting its role in exacerbating environmental degradation, emissions, and resource depletion in addition to the use of plastic credits to combat climate change. By examining the current state of plastic waste management, the urgency for concerted global action becomes evident.

Plastic Crisis and Its Climate Impact

We are currently facing a severe plastic crisis that demands immediate attention. Each year, we generate a staggering 350 million tonnes of plastic waste, with only a small portion of it being collected and recycled. Despite the increasing number of voluntary corporate commitments and regulatory pressures, the production of single-use plastic waste continues to rise. According to the Breaking the Plastic Wave report, by 2040, there will be a $40 billion funding gap to adequately manage and dispose of municipal plastic waste.

Plastic production involves the extraction and refining of fossil fuels, primarily oil and natural gas. The emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) during these processes contributes significantly to climate change. Moreover, the manufacturing of plastics releases a substantial amount of CO2 emissions, further exacerbating the carbon footprint associated with plastic production. The demand for plastic continues to rise, which perpetuates the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, amplifying the climate impact.

Plastic waste poses a severe threat to ecosystems and natural habitats, further compromising their ability to mitigate climate change. When plastic waste enters rivers, lakes, and oceans, it negatively impacts marine life and disrupts delicate ecosystems. Marine animals mistake plastic debris for food, leading to entanglement, suffocation, and ingestion. This disruption of the marine food chain has a cascading effect on entire ecosystems, ultimately reducing their capacity to sequester carbon dioxide and regulate climate patterns.

Landfills, where a significant portion of plastic waste ends up, produce methane, a potent GHG. Methane emissions from decomposing plastic in landfills contribute to climate change, as methane possesses a warming potential many times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Similarly, incineration of plastic waste releases CO2 and other toxic emissions, further polluting the atmosphere and accelerating climate change.

The production of plastic requires vast amounts of natural resources, including fossil fuels and water. As plastic waste accumulates globally, the need for virgin resources persists, perpetuating the cycle of extraction and contributing to resource depletion. This depletion not only impacts ecosystems directly but also intensifies the carbon footprint associated with resource extraction and manufacturing processes. The transition to a circular economy that prioritizes recycling and waste reduction is crucial for mitigating climate change and conserving resources.

If we fail to mobilize the necessary resources, plastic will continue to infiltrate our natural environment or be managed in ways that hinder its proper disposal and recycling. The scale and urgency of the plastic crisis require a comprehensive approach that combines voluntary efforts and regulatory measures across the entire lifecycle of plastics, implemented on a large scale. We need a paradigm shift in our approach.

Plastic Waste Reduction Programme

Plastic waste has become a critical concern for environmental protection. However, without new incentives, it will be challenging to keep away significant amounts of plastic from entering the environment and meaningfully scale up waste collection and recycling.

Verra's Plastic Waste Reduction Program, known as the Plastic Standard, enables robust impact assessment of a variety of plastic collection and recycling activities to determine the extent to which they have increased recycling and/or reduced plastic waste in the environment. Credits are issued based on the amount of plastic recycled and collected. Plastic Credits, innovative financial instruments, offer a viable pathway to combatting the climate crisis while addressing the plastic waste epidemic

Under the Plastic Program, two types of credits can be issued to projects: Waste Collection Credits (WCC) and Waste Recycling Credits (WRC). Together WCCs and WTCs are referred to as Plastic Credits. Each plastic credit represents one tonne of plastic waste that otherwise would not have been collected or recycled. The activities covered under the program include the development of new municipal infrastructure, waste collection from the environment, development and/or scaling up of new recycling technologies, and collection and sorting of recyclable plastic waste. Material made of following seven types of plastics are covered under the scope of Plastic Program

·   Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)

·   High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

·   Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

·   Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

·   Polypropylene (PP)

·   Polystyrene or Expanded Polystyrene (PS or EPS)

·   Other Plastic like acrylic or polymethyl methacrylate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyamide (nylon), polycarbonate and polylactic acid

Potential Impact of Plastic Credits on Waste Management and Climate Change Crisis

Plastic Credits play a vital role in tackling plastic pollution downstream, including the management of legacy plastic waste. They should be seen as an innovative finance mechanism that complements a company's overall plastic waste management strategy. They enable downstream investments in plastic waste collection and recycling infrastructure, ensuring that all plastic waste within a company's value chain is collected, prevented from entering the environment, and recycled. These investments also increase the availability of recycled materials to meet the company's recycled content targets.

Investing in Plastic Credit projects provides long-term funding for the development of sustainable waste management systems, establishing lasting infrastructure rather than one-off cleanup activities. By understanding how Plastic Credits can be harnessed, we can unlock their potential to create meaningful change.

1. Curbing Emissions through Plastic Waste Management

Plastic waste has a significant carbon footprint, both during its production and disposal phases. By investing in projects that improve plastic waste management systems, Plastic Credits can help reduce emissions associated with plastic production and incineration. Efficient recycling processes and waste-to-energy initiatives can harness the energy potential of plastic waste, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. By diverting plastic waste from landfills and incinerators, plastic credits directly contribute to climate change mitigation.

2. Promoting Circular Economy Principles

Plastic credits align with the principles of a circular economy, a key strategy for combating climate change. By supporting projects that establish efficient recycling infrastructure, Plastic Credits facilitate the transition from a linear "take-make-dispose" model to a circular one, where materials are continuously reused, reducing the need for new plastic production. This shift not only conserves resources but also reduces the energy consumption and carbon emissions associated with extracting, refining, and manufacturing virgin plastics.

 3. Encouraging Sustainable Consumption and Production

Plastic credits incentivize companies to adopt sustainable consumption and production practices by integrating plastic waste reduction strategies into their operations. By investing in plastic credits, businesses demonstrate their commitment to responsible plastic management and contribute to the development of a circular economy. This approach encourages innovation in eco-friendly packaging, product redesign, and alternative materials, reducing the overall environmental impact of their operations. As companies strive to meet their plastic stewardship goals, plastic credits offer a tangible and measurable way to drive positive change.

 4. Mobilizing Global Action and Collaboration

Plastic pollution knows no borders, and neither should our response. Plastic credits provide a platform for global collaboration and collective action. By engaging businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals, Plastic Credits facilitates a coordinated approach to addressing the climate crisis and plastic pollution. Through their transparent accounting and crediting mechanisms, plastic credits inspire trust and credibility, enabling stakeholders to pool resources and knowledge for maximum impact.

Industries Best Eligible for Plastic Credits

While the benefits of plastic credits extend to various industries, certain sectors are particularly well-positioned to harness their potential. By identifying these industries and understanding their eligibility for plastic credits, we can maximize the impact of this innovative solution.

1. Consumer Goods and Packaging Industry

 The consumer goods and packaging industries play a crucial role in the plastic value chain, making it a prime candidate for plastic credits. By investing in projects that enhance waste collection and recycling infrastructure and by embracing sustainable packaging solutions, such as recyclable or biodegradable materials, companies in this sector can demonstrate their commitment to responsible plastic management.

2. Retail and Hospitality Sector

The retail and hospitality sectors generate significant amounts of plastic waste through packaging, single-use items, and food-related products. By adopting plastic credits, companies in this sector can drive the implementation of robust waste management systems. Furthermore, through Plastic Credits, retail and hospitality businesses can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable practices, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers and enhancing their brand reputation.

3. Manufacturing and Industrial Operations

Manufacturing and industrial operations often utilize large quantities of plastic in their processes, resulting in substantial plastic waste. Plastic credits offer an opportunity for these industries to implement effective waste management strategies. By investing in projects that promote the recycling and reuse of plastic waste generated within their operations, manufacturers can significantly reduce their environmental footprint. Additionally, through plastic credits, they can contribute to the development of a circular economy by supporting initiatives that optimize resource utilization and minimize plastic leakage.

4. Food and Beverage Industry

The food and beverage industry faces unique challenges related to plastic waste, particularly through single-use packaging and disposable items. By embracing plastic credits, companies in this sector can actively participate in reducing plastic pollution. Investments in projects that focus on sustainable packaging, innovative recycling technologies, and responsible waste management systems can help minimize the industry's plastic footprint.

5. Logistics and Supply Chain

The industry has a critical role to play in enabling the efficient collection, transportation, and recycling of plastic waste. By adopting plastic credits, logistics companies can invest in projects that optimize waste collection and transportation networks, reducing plastic leakage and increasing the overall efficiency of the system.

Strengthening Plastic Action and Net-Zero Journey

Plastic waste has become a global concern that poses a significant threat to climate change mitigation efforts. The production, mismanagement, and improper disposal of plastic waste contribute to environmental degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, and resource depletion. Urgent action is required at all levels to reduce plastic consumption, improve waste management systems, and promote sustainable alternatives.

Plastic credits offer a compelling solution that tackles plastic pollution while contributing to climate change mitigation. By supporting projects that enhance waste management systems, encourage circular economy principles, and empower local communities, Plastic Credits drive sustainable development and align with the global goals of combating climate change. It is imperative for businesses, governments, and individuals to recognize the potential of plastic credits and integrate them into their climate action strategies. Together, we can harness the power of plastic credits and pave the way towards a sustainable, plastic-free future.

By addressing the plastic waste crisis, we can make substantial progress in safeguarding our planet's health and combating climate change in the future.

(The author is MD & Chairman of EKI Energy Services Ltd)