In the June issue of the magazine we look at how the pandemic is affecting corporate efforts to cut waste in packaging, fashion, electronics, the auto industry, food systems, and healthcare
The sight of litter bins over-flowing with plastic takeaway containers and coffee cups at the entrance to my local park is a reminder that battle against single-use plastic, which had been making great strides since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, has been dealt a setback by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The fate of our plastic-clogged oceans is no longer top of mind in the face of the more immediate threat of a killer disease, leading to mountains of waste from millions of discarded face masks and gloves and other personal protective equipment. Greenpeace, meanwhile, warns of an ecological disaster if restaurants are encouraged to use disposable plates, cups and cutlery as they re-open post lockdown.
Add in plummeting oil prices, which have led to recycled plastics being twice as expensive as their fossil-fuel derived alternatives, and single-use plastic finds itself in the teeth of a perfect storm, as Angeli Mehta reports in the opening article of our briefing assessing the impact of Covid-19 on the circular economy this month.
However the fact that Loop, the circular shopping platform launched last year by New Jersey recycling firm Terracycle, is going ahead with its plans to launch in the UK this year, and continuing commitment to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastic Economy Global Commitment by its 200-plus corporate signatories, are encouraging signs.
The fashion industry is another sector to feel the brunt of Covid-19, with an inventory crisis of unsold stock adding to a litany of well-known sustainability issues, particularly in the fast-fashion end of the sector. Angeli Mehta asks whether an open letter from more than 500 figures from across the global fashion industry outlining steps to become more responsible is an early indication of a rethink of unsustainably rapid growth.
From fast fashion we turn to bulky, difficult to recycle household items like mattresses and floor coverings. Oliver Balch talks to Kelly Hall of DSM-Niaga, a start-up venture within the Netherlands-based material science company DSM, about the challenges of reaching scale with the company’s technologies to enable fully recyclable products.
Catherine Early, meanwhile, highlights areas of progress in the battle against e-waste, the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. As in the fashion sector, there is hope that Covid-19 will lead consumers to reconsider how much they actually need to own, and companies to investigate ways to shorten their supply chains through more circular systems to avoid disruption in future.
Mark Hillsdon, meanwhile, reports on how cities are at the heart of a push for more circular approaches to producing food, while Mike Scott looks at the auto sector, where technological advances like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, and the growing number of mobility as a service models are leading to greater resource-efficiency in one of the most environmentally damaging industries.
Finally, I interview Robert Metzke, sustainability chief of Dutch health technology giant Philips, about how Covid-19 has brought the confluence between climate action, healthcare and circularity into sharper focus.
Next month we will be doing a combined July/August issue on the energy transition. Our crack team of freelance journalists will report on advances in technologies like hydrogen, geothermal, micro-hydro, vehicle-to-grid energy storage, and the electrification of air transport. And we will consider how Covid-19 will affect the delivery of ambitious corporate renewable energy commitments.
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Ellen Macarthur Foundation recycling