A US-Canada cross-border group of companies is developing a plastic pollution plan for the Great Lakes, initially funded by several companies in the industry, including Dow Inc. and Charter Next Generation.
The Great Lakes Council announced on March 31 that it was launching a five-year effort to identify projects to tackle plastic pollution and pointed to another industry effort, the Plastic Waste Ending Alliance, as a potential guide.
“Plastic waste and pollution are a serious problem in the Great Lakes,” said Mark Fisher, President and CEO of CGLR.
The group, which has offices in Ottawa, Ontario, and Cleveland, continues to develop its strategy, including the amount of money it plans to invest.
However, Fisher said it plans to issue a plan of action by December and identify “transformation” projects.
“Much of our work will try to have an action plan that will give people a roadmap for further development by the end of the year,” he said. “The action plan will really try to define more precisely what investments are required from governments, foundations and industry to really move and shift this in a different direction.”
Other founding partners of the project, Circular Great Lakes, are the plastic film manufacturer Pregis Corp. and flexible packaging supplier American Packaging Corp. and Imperial Oil Ltd. and the tobacco company Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc.
Fisher said the report could include policy recommendations to improve recycling infrastructure and support end markets for the collected plastic, as well as improve customer loyalty.
He pointed to research showing that 22 million pounds of plastic enter the five Great Lakes every year, and he said most of what is found on the coasts is plastic. The five lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world.
“If we look at the results of various beach cleanings, we find that 80 percent of the material that shows up on the coast of the Great Lakes is plastic,” he said. “We have research showing that significant amounts of plastic can enter the Great Lakes through various routes and sources each year.
“We found that it wasn’t just an ocean problem,” Fisher said. “It’s starting to have a significant negative impact on our ecosystems and wildlife. We’re just at the forefront of understanding, but we also have a moment, an opportunity to change course.”
In its announcement, the group prominently mentioned AEPW, a $ 1.5 billion drive launched by the plastics and consumer goods industries in 2019. The Great Lakes Group said it will work with AEPW and other partners to develop its action plan.
AEPW has mainly focused on projects in developing countries, especially in places with little waste collection infrastructure.
Some members of the Great Lakes group are also members of the AEPW, including Dow, Charter, and Pregis. CGLR vice chairman Brian Ames is a former Dow executive who worked in the company’s performance plastics, olefins and aromatics sectors.
“We are delighted that members of the Plastic Waste Ending Alliance are involved in supporting our work and making real use of their member-led commitments to the Alliance,” said Fisher. “But it is also how you are bringing this funding together with governments and foundations and others, possibly private equity, to invest in larger ways in a collaborative manner and carry out some of these necessary transformation projects.”
In its statement, the group said it wanted to promote systemic change and a “move away from linear thinking in terms of economy and materials management”.
Fisher pointed out the plastics legislation and regulatory activity on both sides of the border. In particular, he said CGLR does not support the Canadian government’s announcement last year to label plastic “toxic” in order to enhance its ability to regulate the material.
However, Fisher also said the group sees promising elements in the Canadian government’s strategies for plastic waste, such as expanded producer responsibility initiatives and the expansion of Ottawa’s initial focus on ocean plastics to freshwater sources.
“We are very supportive of the zero-plastic-waste-free strategy and the work related to it,” said Fisher. “We are very pleased that the federal government is paying more and more attention to plastics in the freshwater environment.
“I think the conversation in Canada is a bit ahead of where it is in the US [and] There is an opportunity to bring some of this knowledge and some of these initiatives to the US conversation, “he said.