Why the battle to combat plastic waste must go on

Words By
Jason Cahill
October 30, 2019

Earlier this month, MIT researcher Andrew Aubrey published his new book, More from Less, in which he advocates for giving up the fight on plastic waste and instead burying plastics within landfills and focusing our efforts on bigger environmental problems.

In that book, all of his recycling statistics are accurate — for example, most plastic that is put into recycling bins ends up in landfills anyway, and the greenhouse gas reduction benefits of recycling are minimal, at best. He’s also right that we should increase investments in alternative energy sources, and focus on enacting a carbon pricing scheme, which economists and scientists alike agree is the only sure path forward to reducing emissions in line with what the science says is necessary.

But when it comes to the argument that we should give up the fight to end plastic pollution, I couldn’t possibly disagree more. Banning plastic straws isn’t going to reverse climate change, but how is burying them going to help anything?

I’m a SCUBA diver, a nature-lover, and a former beach bum turned Army Special Forces veteran. The memory of seeing the infamous turtle with a plastic straw through its nose still haunts me. Mostly because I cringe at the thought of telling my 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter that we as a generation gave up, and now, guess what!? Plastic accessories for aquatic animals are the norm. And oh yeah, throw out your wrapper, kid, because… who cares?

In the Army — and when faced with challenges in the battlefields of Afghanistan — we didn’t just give up. We found creative, innovative ways to solve problems.

I take a systems view of the problem. I don’t naïvely think that we can prevent people from wanting single use packaging. That tomorrow you’ll suddenly stop putting broccoli in plastic bags from the supermarket… or decide to carry it in your purse.

We now have a love-hate relationship with plastics. But plastics aren’t going anywhere anytime soon because of their properties. They protect materials, make objects safer, lighter, and easier to transport. And a point that cannot be overstated — industry, has complete faith in and reliance upon their plastic supply chains.

For the record, yes, we absolutely need to tackle the biggest sources of carbon emissions — transportation, energy, and industry — I agree completely. We at Carbon Ventures are focused on new technologies that reduce carbon pollution in these very same industries.

But I also believe that those same single-use plastics can be made of BETTER materials. Just because energy isn’t going to become clean and green tomorrow doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for better inputs.

For example, organic, plant-based plastics have a huge societal benefit. Especially when you consider most of these plant-based plastics are organic waste — the leftovers from lunch, the husks from corn, and waste materials from paper pulping.

So here’s the real solution that will disrupt the industry: make better plastics. Clean them up from an inputs perspective. Update their technological capabilities. Make plastics the leaders of a green revolution. Empower plastics with capabilities that will transform the sector — and help increase benefits for both producers and consumers.

I’ve talked to grocers. To manufacturers. To farmers. And to many, many consumers. I know what they want. I know their pain points.

They want better materials. They want cost effective solutions. They want to be part of the solution. And more and more often, they want bioplastics. The global market is projected to exceed $20 Billion by 2024.

That’s the sole reason companies like Mobius exist - to deliver value from waste feedstock…. and one we’re extremely proud to be investors in.

So we at Carbon Ventures will keep investing in technology, to help make better plastics — not bury them in landfill. It’s where real change will take place, at scale.