Shared learning and action to reduce plastic waste

On Tuesday, May 23, 2017, The Terrace hosted a diverse group of people to talk about plastic waste and the circular economy. The evening kicked off with an interview with Leontine Gast, founder of The Terrace, followed by a roundtable discussion on plastic waste in our lives, led by Nelmara Arbex, CEO of Arbex & Company.

The past and future of plastic

Leontine Gast is an expert on bringing purpose to business. At this event, she was interviewed by her colleague Marjolein Baghuis. Leontine has worked in sustainability for over two decades, including ten years as the founder and managing director of The Terrace, the agency for positive change. She has contributed to a more circular economy through her work with companies and other types of organizations. Her top tips from that experience regarding plastic waste target both users and producers of products that contain plastics. Consumers need to be much more aware; once they really understand what they are buying, they will make different choices. Producers need to continue to pioneer solutions and share their learnings. Not just solutions related to waste streams, but also as early as product design; i.e. with design for disassembly such as Ahrend’s vision on office furniture. For the years ahead, one of Leontine's dreams is that we’ll find a way to consume and produce less stuff – and better stuff – including a reduction in the amount of plastic we create. Other dreams include the transition to renewable energy and a switch to a more plant-based diet.

Sharing issues and questions on plastic waste

After the interview, Nelmara Arbex led a roundtable discussion on plastic in our lives. We all agreed that there is a role for plastic is our lives (to protect food, to store cosmetics, etc), but that its use had really gotten out of hand. For all of us, our awareness of the plastic problem started with an eye-opening moment. Bananas individually wrapped in plastic, bottled water in countries with excellent tap water, plastic littered beaches, a shampoo bottle in the middle of the jungle. But also by simply separating plastic from the other household waste, and being shocked that this was more than half of our waste. We shared our ways to avoid plastic waste as much as possible, such as:

  • Bring your own bags to the supermarket, even for fresh produce;
  • Carry your own reusable water bottle and coffee mug;
  • Making more food and other household items from scratch;
  • Collecting plastic waste separately;
  • Influencing peers to start recycling plastic.

We also shared the many questions we had regarding plastic. For some we found answers (in italics), others remain unanswered, such as:

  • Can biodegradable plastics be recycled with other plastics? No, please put them with your organic waste.
  • How much plastic is recycled in our city (Amsterdam) and what actually happens to it? Amsterdam's citizens collect only 8% of plastics separately. After sorting, cleaning, and shredding, recycled plastic are turned into new products like fleece sweaters, toys, furniture, and pipes.
  • Why are the ingredients for food and clothing spelled out in detail, but those for packaging nowhere to be found?
  • Where can I buy groceries without superfluous plastic packaging?
  • How to balance food waste with plastic packaging to keep it fresh longer?

Supporting behaviour change beyond rules and regulations

We also wondered what kind of regulation exists on packaging. New EU legislation is on its way, but we also realized that rules and rational information alone will not change our behavior. We need to appeal to emotions, feelings, and instincts in people to help drive change. Some of our recommendations include:

  • Teach sustainability as a topic in school at every level;
  • Make it easy and practical for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics, potentially through interactive apps to support recycling or to help you find places to shop with less packaging;
  • Label products not only with calories and food content but also with a waste indicator to make people aware;
  • Leverage emotional storytelling on plastic waste to generate more awareness;
  • Ask CEOs to live without plastic for a week and to share their learnings publically;
  • Involve celebrities to make it aspirational to turn your back on today’s throwaway culture.

It was great to meet like-minded people at this event. Thank you for your active participation in the discussion Jacobien Crol, Nierika Hamaekers,  Frank Kohl, Sari Kuvaja, James Rowbotham, Kajsa Rosenblad, and Tal Ullmann. All with a strong belief that we can have an impact, each with a strong personal motivation to create positive change!

This blog was written by Marjolein Baghuis to share the outcome of the roundtable discussion on the OpenIDEO platform. It also appears on the website of Changeincontext.com. 


Join the OpenIDEO plastics circular design challenge on May 23!

Love them or hate them, plastics are everywhere around us. In fact, demand for plastics is expected to double in the next 20 years. Yet our plastics system is broken. Most plastic items are used only once before being discarded. Only 14% is recycled, meaning a loss of USD 80-120 billion per year to the global economy. One-third of all plastic packaging escapes collection systems and ends up – inadvertently or not – as litter in the environment.

If nothing changes, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

So, how do we fix this? If we want to free our oceans from plastics, we have to fundamentally rethink the way we make and use plastic items so that they don’t become waste in the first place. That’s why we are inviting you as citizens, consumers, designers, scientists, entrepreneurs to find solutions that keep plastics in the economy and out of the ocean.

"Join us on Tuesday, May 23 from 5 to 7 pm at The Terrace offices in Amsterdam to explore how to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics in our personal - and professional - lives."

Around 5:30 pm, Leontine Gast, founder and managing partner of The Terrace, will kick off the event, showcasing some of the circular economy projects in which she has been involved.

We will then continue with a more personal exploration around the plastic in your life. How much plastic waste do you generate per day? How much of it are you able to reuse, recycle or upcycle? Plastic is collected separately in most of the Netherlands, but not even 50% of plastic is recycled. Why do you think that is? When you confirm that you're joining us, we'll send you a plastic waste diary to keep for a few days ahead of the event.

Nelmara Arbex (Arbex & Company) and Marjolein Baghuis (The Terrace) will facilitate the dialogue and discussion around plastics in an energizing way. At the end of the session, as a group, we'll create something to share with other people participating in this circular design challenge around the world.

 

Sign up and we'll see you there!

Sign up by sending an email to hello@theterrace.nl, so we can send you the plastic waste diary and more details. And ensure that we have plenty of drinks and snacks! We look forward to welcoming you at WG Plein 153-156, Amsterdam.

This event is a voluntary contribution to OpenIDEO, IDEO's open innovation portfolio, empowering people to design solutions to the world's toughest challenges, and working with partners around the world to bring these solutions to life. From May 18 - May 28, people around the world will be designing experiences that reimagine how we get products to people without creating plastic waste.