Waste 360 – Feb 12, 2021
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I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about circles.

For companies like mine that are relentlessly focused on creating sustainable solutions, the idea of achieving truly circular economic solutions (systems that eliminate waste and reuse our resources) is incredibly motivating.

The need for circularity has become particularly acute when it comes to plastics and the need to reimagine waste. The statistics remain frightening: despite the development of mechanical recycling over the last few decades, less than 10% of the plastics we’ve produced have ever been recycled. There is simply no hiding from the fact that plastics pollution has become a serious environmental hazard. And with the production of new plastics expected to triple by 2050, some have estimated that by that point there will be more plastics than living animals in our oceans.

This simply can’t continue. If there’s good news to be found here, it can be this: unlike other issues that often live at the intersection between business and environmentalism, there is near universal agreement that the production of plastics products at this pace, coupled with ineffective recycling solutions, is untenable. Even among plastics producers, nearly all parties agree that finding a solution to plastics waste is urgent.

But agreement on the existence of the problem has not been enough. Straight lines have been drawn that often keep us from working together to embrace progress. It reminds me, in a way, of the stalemate that exists in our politics. Our politicians often look for purity in their opinions, the better to stoke a passionate electorate but making debate, compromise and productive action nearly impossible.

When it comes to plastics, we often find ourselves in a similar divide. Plastics producers may be loath to take risks that threaten to sink their profit margins, and environmentalists often dismiss solutions as half-steps that don’t reduce production levels or lead to carbon-negative results.  Inevitably, that tension leads to inactivity as constituencies dig into their own interests.

Which brings me back to circles. You may think in this case that a circle represents failure, an idiot “spinning in circles” where the journey leaves us dizzy and back to where we started.

To me, a circle is just the opposite. In drawing a circle, the point moves around a radius…a commonality that guides the process and informs the entire shape. It’s perfect. But to get there requires logic.  No matter how disparate the elements around it may be, the radius from the center is still equal at all points.  A true circle contains nothing approaching a straight line.  It can only be achieved by working to round the direction, taking in external stimulus to ensure the goal is ultimately reached.  And it combines two perfect halves, facing each other in opposition yet combining to form an absolute whole.

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