Getting Drastic on Plastic

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Learn more about the urgent plastic challenge and how we are taking end-to-end action to #BeatPlasticPollution.

The plastic challenge

Every year, humans produce around 430 million tonnes of plastic, two-thirds of which are short-lived products which soon become waste. Short-lived plastics, more commonly known as single use plastics, are plastics within packaging and consumer products with short average use cycles of 0.5 and 3 years respectively. They are designed without considering their circularity or long-term use in the economy.

Recycling rates of plastic generally are low. For instance, in developed markets, it can be as little as 15%, with the remaining incinerated. In landfills, over 50% of all waste generated is being mismanaged, which includes uncontrolled burning and leaks into our environment. 

A study by Pew Charitable Trusts in 2016 found that “49 million metric tons of uncollected macroplastic waste was burned openly, either as fuel or as a means of disposal in the absence of a waste management provision. Plastic waste combustion also contributes to climate change because plastic is almost entirely made from fossil carbon. The partial combustion of plastic releases black carbon aerosols, which may have as much as 5,000 times the global warming potential of CO2.”

They also estimated that in 2016, plastic flows to the ocean were in the range of 9 million – 14 million metric tons per year. By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean. However, perhaps equally shocking, a recent UN Study the UN found that “rivers are likely the single biggest carrier of plastic pollution to the ocean”, yet, “most plastic pollution that reaches rivers (over 90%) is retained in them and does not reach the sea (van Emmerik et al. 2022).” 

Plastic pollution is having devastating impacts on our ecosystems and wildlife, our health and the global economy, whilst contributing to climate change. The same report found that:

  • Life cycle carbon impacts of plastics represented 3.4% of the global total in 2019.
  • More than 800 species are already known to be affected by marine plastic pollution, including all sea turtle species, more than 40% of cetacean species, and 44% of marine bird species.
  • Impacts on biodiversity (including and on human health, such as from the emissions of hazardous chemicals along the plastics life cycle) are increasingly understood and of a colossal magnitude.
  • Plastic waste mismanagement means that 95% of aggregate plastic packaging value (US$80 billion – US$120 billion a year) is lost to the economy following a short first-use cycle.

What are governments doing?

Without action to change the way we make, take, consume, dispose plastic, plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years, and triple by 2060. One thing is for sure, this would have catastrophic consequences. We cannot rely on voluntary efforts by a few businesses. We need global action to address the root causes and beat plastic pollution.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) uses financial incentives to encourage manufacturers to design products with lower environmental impact, by making them responsible for end-of-life costs.

Today, there is already an EU-wide ban on common single-use plastics, such as cutlery and straws. It is expected that this will expand into total packaging waste driven by the limited waste management facilities available, and waste trading restrictions.

Between May 30 and June 2nd, delegates from over 175 countries met in Paris to discuss a global plastics treaty, to set binding rules to reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040. The business voice was delivered by the Business Coalition for Global Plastic Treaty, represented by over 100 organizations calling for strengthening of the EPR to create greater obligations on business for the collection and treatment of packaging and other Single Use Plastics. In return, governments would invest in the needed infrastructure.

What are we doing at Schneider Electric?

Plastic is an important raw material for Schneider. It is a functionally important part of many our products, favored due to its electrically insulating properties, impact resistance durability and, ease molding. We have different approaches, depending on whether they are plastics in our products – with a long lifespan, or in our packaging – with a shorter lifespan or single use.

Better durable plastics

Over the last 30 years, we have banned hazardous substances, such as brominated flame retardants, in anticipation of the regulations. Additionally, within our 2021 – 2025 Schneider Electric Sustainability Strategy, we have committed to increase green material content in our products to 50%, by sourcing plastics with high recycled content or with non-regulated hazardous substances removal.

Elimination of single-use plastics and short-lived plastics

At Schneider Electric we have committed to eliminating single use plastics from primary and secondary packaging, and from our non-production operations, such as catering, gifting, and merchandise. For instance, our Ecopackaging is plastic-free and decreases waste, while protecting products during shipment and storage.

Addressing plastic pollution locally

In addition, whilst we recognize the fundamental importance of government and big business to take action, we also empower our employees to take direct action to address plastic pollution in their communities, recognizing that they are central to creating the systemic change required to transition to a less plastic-dependent economy. For instance, our team in the Philippines holds an annual river clean-up on the Cavite River, educating employees and families on the importance of good waste management and taking direct action to remove ocean bound plastics from the river. Similarly, our Site L’Isle D’Espagnac, France teams up with Sea-Cleaners and Suez to take direct action on plastics entering the Mediterranean Sea.

Our journey to beat plastic pollution

We are on a journey and we recognize that partnership is going to be key if we are to mobilize change at the pace and scale that is needed to transition to a low plastics economy.

For more on Schneider Electric sustainability, visit our Sustainability page.

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