17 December 2023

The Plastic Waste Solution Isn’t One Size Fits All

We’re big fans of Ocean Wise and the work they’re doing to build and empower communities to take meaningful action to protect and restore the ocean. Earlier this year, we learned about their Shoreline Cleanup program and were inspired by their action-oriented approach to research, events and programs that engage youth. 

We caught up with Jeff Wint,  Manager, Plastics Reduction Program for OceanWise at the Zero Waste Conference in Vancouver, BC  last month and were excited to hear his perspective on the plastic pollution crisis, and the role industry, businesses and consumers play in making the transition away from single-use plastic, to more sustainable material use. 

Ocean Wise's Plastic Reduction Manager, Jeff Wint, attended the Zero Waste Conference in Vancouver in early November 2023. 

This was my third year attending the Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference. And it is evident that industry and consumers are not on the same page here. In my role at Ocean Wise, I work closely with businesses and individuals to help them reduce their unnecessary plastic waste, so I was keen to have the opportunity to discuss the plastic problem with government, industry and consumers, all in one place.

One thing I noticed almost immediately was the emphasis on the importance of plastic reduction (or at least, talking about the importance of plastic reduction). With video presentations from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier David Eby, and B.C. Minister of Environment George Heyman, it was clear that the governments understand that this is an important issue that people care about. Although the federal and provincial governments have made great waste-related strides with plastic bans being announced and/or enacted, there remains a lot of work to be done in terms of plastic reduction across industry and consumers, such as in the consumer packaged goods space.

In terms of action, while some businesses are making strides towards significant plastic reduction, others are stalling and looking to expand recycling as a means to continue putting single use plastic packaging into the marketplace. Recycling puts the focus on the consumer to dispose of plastic responsibly, whereas we should be focusing on reducing the amount of plastic being put out altogether. A panel discussion featuring representatives from the Government of B.C., General Mills (representing industry) and Upstream (representing consumers) showed the different sides of the discussion. While industry claimed that consumers aren't ready or willing to adopt lower-waste flexible packaging alternatives, consumers argued that whether or not everyone is ready, that's the direction we need to move in if there is any hope of slowing down the flow of plastic waste destined for the environment and ocean. That discussion brought up an issue that comes up time and time again: industry and consumers aren't on the same page when it comes to tackling plastic pollution. What will it take for industry to believe that consumers are ready, willing, and able to take action?

Recycling puts the focus on the consumer to dispose of plastic responsibly, whereas we should be focusing on reducing the amount of plastic being put out altogether.

We need industry to put less plastic into the world, and we need consumers to adopt low-waste solutions where possible. This intersection is exactly where the Ocean Wise Plastic Reduction Program comes in. We want to help support businesses through targeted plastic reduction plans to make it easier for them to adopt low-plastic solutions. At the same time, we aim to make it easy and accessible for consumers to see how they can make simple low-waste swaps in their own lives (like buying bulk or concentrated products and using refill options). Purchasing decisions alone aren’t going to solve the plastic pollution crisis, and we need to put pressure on industry to make the transition away from plastic. We know that the plastic problem doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution, and that it's going to take all hands-on deck to make the impact we need. The Zero Waste Conference was a great experience to assess where we're at and how far we have to go.

If you're a business looking to reduce your unnecessary plastic use and get ahead of proposed plastic bans, please reach out to me at [email protected].


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