During the first episode of the BBC’s long-awaited series War on Plastic, television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and presenter Anita Rania shed new light on how vast our plastic problem has become.
In one of the starker moments of the show Fearnley-Whittingstall found discarded packaging from some of the UK’s best-known brands as he explored a major landfill site in Malaysia.
He said: “When we put [these items] in our recycling back in the UK, we think we’re doing the right thing. I really want to know who’s responsible for this horrendous mess. Is it our local councils? Is it our Government? Is it our supermarkets? Is it the manufacturers of these goods? They’re all in it together.”
Viewers were left with a prevailing sense that despite increasing efforts at recycling, there is still no guarantee that their waste will actually end up being recycled.
The UK is unable to recycle the vast amount of packaging it produces and much of it is sent abroad with the intent that it will be recycled and made into a new product. As the episode exposed – in reality – much of this waste ends up in dump sites around the world.
Measures are needed to ensure that waste material that does end up in the natural world are either recovered or recycled.
The 3R Initiative – which stands for Reduce, Recover and Recycle – brings together business giants Nestlé, Danone, Tetra Pak and Veolia, in a bid to both standardise and hasten efforts in tackling waste, plastic or otherwise.
These corporations recognise that once their product is sold, their disposal is at the hands of consumers. And even with increasing numbers of the public engaged with recycling, the bulk of recyclable waste still ends up in landfills or worse – the environment.
Time for action
With this in mind, the Initiative developed the 3R Project and Crediting Mechanism which provides a crucial financial incentive for the recovery of plastic and other types of waste.
Recycling projects who recover plastic waste, avoiding its release into the environment, will receive credits that can then be sold to businesses mindful of their residual plastic footprint.
Activities that go one step further – and ensure that the waste recovered actually ends up being recycled – will receive a different type of credit, reflecting their contribution to plastic circularity.
The Initiative will also give businesses who participate access to a new standard – the 3R Corporate Standard - which will quantify their efforts to tackle the problem of waste in a standardised and credible way, and independently verified.
The Initiative is being led by Verra, an international standard-setter and BVRio, an environmental market developer, who will develop and manage the standards and program infrastructure.
NGOs Conservation International and project developer South Pole will provide expert advice and give support to the various projects and workstreams that make up the initiative.
The Initiative aims at having a wide membership, with participants from different sectors and inputs.
Giving those on the ground the financial incentive to recover and recycle waste, whilst ensuring that corporations are kept to a consistent standard when measuring their efforts, can support efforts in reducing the amount of waste that ends up in the environment.
Pedro Moura Costa is director of BVRio and co-founder of the 3R Initiative.