This is the first installment of TechRepublic’s Tech Impact series. The following is an edited transcript of the video.
From the smallest cell phone in your pocket to the largest ships plying our oceans, plastic is ubiquitous, versatile and destructive. Although these synthetic materials have become an important part of our daily lives, their overuse leads to many problems.
Plastic pollutes our oceans, destroys wildlife, destroys our food and we pour it out in excess. From 1950 to 2017, the United Nations Environmental Program reported that 7 billion tons of plastic waste were produced worldwide. According to the World Economic Forum, more than 400 million tons are produced every year. UNEP also reported that every year 85% of plastic waste ends up in landfills. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that every year 14 million tons enter our oceans.
Because of this waste we cannot say that it is a separate group of people but a small group of organizations. According to the Plastic Waste Makers Index, just 20 companies are responsible for more than half of the plastic waste generated worldwide.
There are many ways technology companies can reduce plastic. They are practical ways to create a better future without selling the whole way we make and sell products. And technology leaders are beginning to see that measuring and reducing their companies’ environmental impact can have benefits such as improving efficiency and their reputations.
Regulatory bodies regulate businesses
Many standards organizations have already developed templates for specific purposes. In fact, the first step to solving this problem is to make a plan.
For example, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool and the Global Reporting Initiative Standards contain extensive information on environmental and sustainability issues; this varies from industry to industry. The GRI, for example, takes into account energy use, human rights, natural resources, waste and more.
SEE: Sustainability and superapps top Gartner’s Top 10 2023 Trends List (TechRepublic)
Looking back at plastics, sometimes issues of authority are difficult. After all, a person who would do a regular survey in a restaurant rarely comes back to the factory. Mike Zamis, head of product at ESG platform and consultancy Sphera, advised that companies need to ensure their ESG strategies are repeatable, measurable, transparent and quantifiable.
Dell’s efforts to be ‘green’
Dell has established several long-term goals related to Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance. Zero emissions by 2050 was one of the many goals, as well as having 100% of its packaging and 50% of its products made from renewable or recycled materials by 2030. Dell is also working with NextWave, an organization that focuses on saving plastic in waterways. .f
Dell Global Product Manager and Sustainability Strategist Katie Green said the products in the ocean were damaged by salt and sunlight and were unusable. Collecting plastic trapped in the ocean before it hits the water means more resources are available to restore the economy. Therefore, Dell tries to incorporate recyclable materials into their designs from the beginning.
For example, the cover of Dell’s Latitude 5000 laptop is 21% bio-plastic. This plastic is derived from tall oil, produced from the process of making paper; Another 20% is also taken with carbon fiber from the aerospace industry. Moving plastics between factories like this extends their useful life. This supports the initial efforts to create a “circular economy”. In this economy, many products and materials are recycled, reconditioned or repaired for as many uses as possible.
Round and round the circular economy
We have discussed the long term storage of plastic. What about cutting plastic out of everything?
Many companies start their journey to reduce plastic in their packaging before moving on to electronic products.
Green also detailed a project to remove plastic bags from the adapters in the bags. Originally, Dell adapters came with one plastic box for the power cord and one for the adapter; Now Dell uses banda paper all around. It took a lot of trial-and-error, and it’s still a work in progress. Some early versions of this design use rubber or paper embedded in the box. The construction of the paper was chosen so that the final product can withstand scratches and scrapes. After all, protecting the adapter is the main purpose of CDs.
To change, Dell approached a list of existing suppliers and asked them what was available. After that, Dell contacted new suppliers, looking for those doing technical work on standard packages in particular.
Green says this helped Dell’s salespeople think outside the box. The company had to review its suppliers, to ensure that ESG standards were met. This creates excitement and interest in putting sustainability across the chain and opening up new business, he said. Overall, the transition was not as difficult as Dell’s developers had hoped, with many options.
Reducing waste before it happens
Some efforts focus on cutting some equipment along the way. For example, Microsoft’s Aspire Vero laptop uses 30% recycled plastic in the chassis and 50% recycled plastic in the keyboard caps. Also, Microsoft doesn’t use any paint on this laptop line at all; This reduces the chance of creating volatile compounds, which can enter the atmosphere as pollution. Apple wants to stop using plastics in packaging by 2025.
Some materials used in daily life can be repurposed as consumer goods. Samsung recently started using recycled plastics and discarding fishing nets in all of its lines.
Not all recycled plastics are created equal
Welcome to the recycling section of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Another way to reduce plastics is to stop making new packaging. Zamis recommends trying to return to the “milkman method,” where customers return empty milk bottles to be refilled. It’s all about making recycling easier. Incentives such as return on the bottle or making the product more durable can also help eliminate the need for new products. Most plastics are built with an intended life of a year or less, but the product lasts forever.
Zamis said: “They beat themselves up because of their success.
That one-year life span can interfere with trying to use plastic. One of the challenges, Green says, is finding the same material as the original plastic. Post-consumer recycled plastic can vary depending on where it comes from.
Consumers have other ideas about physical products, Green said. One expects a laptop to be tough, after all; it must also meet the strict standards of sustainability in production. This reduces the amount of plastic mix that may be bio-based or post-consumer.
One reliable alternative is CD disks, which are no longer needed but are produced in large quantities. Industrial or post-consumer plastics such as industrial waste should also be part of the discussion. This can be used in all industries.
Despite all the solutions and methods that these industrial companies have developed to solve the problem of plastic, they are all facing many challenges in turning sustainability from a dream into a practical plan. Also, laws in this area can change quickly.
The UK has introduced a Plastics Tax in 2022, which will penalize any plastic product made or imported into the UK that does not contain recycled plastic by 30%. The United States Department of the Interior issued a law in 2022 to ban single-use plastics from Department-managed sites by 2032. California has a similar law to reduce single-use plastics over time.
How to get a buy in Executive
In order to sell the idea to a large group of technology companies, eliminating single-use plastics may need to be manufactured as new ones. Can the first company that sees how to replace electronic devices like milk bottles capture a large portion of customers who are set to reduce their consumption while still having the latest model?
Ultimately, narrowing the scope of “reduce, reuse, recycle” may be a big challenge, but efforts like these show that it’s part of a larger conversation going on today.
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