9 Oct 2019 - We should all be encouraged by the financial commitments that political leaders and multinational companies are making with increasing frequency to address the world’s ocean plastic crisis. But these hundreds of millions of dollars of commitments, while important and symbolic, are dwarfed by the scale of the problem. Ocean plastic costs. It costs the earth and it costs us money. In economic terms, plastic does $13 billion in damage to marine ecosystems annually. As much as 95% of the value of plastic packaging -- worth $80 to $120 billion annually -- is lost to the economy after the first-use cycle. It’s a massive problem.
To turn plastic waste into a resource, we will need to engage a suite of solutions: from public policy and corporate commitments to financial incentives and changes in human behavior.
I am deeply convinced that proving the investment case to attract market and institutional investors is the ultimate way to develop waste management and recycling solutions at scale. However, these solutions have to be both profitable for the investors and sustainable in order to keep generating positive environmental impact as well as socio-economic benefits for local communities. But, to attract the capital we need to develop these lasting solutions, we first need to prove the market and demonstrate the investibility of new solutions -- and that takes time.
Where can we find the capital to do this? Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, philanthropic capital has a key role to play in paving the way towards sustainable waste management and recycling supply chains and creating investible solutions at scale.
Most of the emerging economies most affected by the plastic waste crisis, such as in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, lack a recycling and waste management infrastructure and end up contributing an estimated 45% of the world’s plastic leakage to the ocean. Waste management is always a local issue, leading to global impacts when mismanaged. It starts in the everyday actions of each household. Waste collection and treatment is organized locally and often informally, community-by-community if at all. The solutions therefore lie in local innovation, but not all innovations will demonstrate financial returns.