New disclosure advocacy group wants you to think about one word: Plastics

Beginning this fall, the Plastic Disclosure Project will encourage businesses to think as much about their plastic footprint as they would about carbon emissions or water consumption.

Many businesses now manage carbon footprints and, increasingly, water footprints. If you're a brewing company like Molson Coors, you may even be managing a "beer print," which is the concept that the company's sustainability leader is now using to help simplify the way employees think about environmental impact of the brewing and packaging process. More on that in a future post. The intention of this blog is to encourage corporate sustainability managers to get ready for the plastic footprint concept.

That's the focus of a new initiative, the Plastic Disclosure Project, that got some coverage this week in The New York Times green blog. Like the Carbon Disclosure Project, the vision behind the Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) is that aside from the associated carbon-related impact that the plastic-making process entails, plastic has a devastating impact on marine life. You've doubtless read about the plastic "gyres" that form when plastic makes it into the ocean. These are masses of what is essentially "plastic soup" that needs to be addressed and minimized. The full-blown impact of plastics on marine life is explored in another article this week from The New York Times, "Raising Awareness of Plastic Waste."

On its Web site, the PDP notes that industry figures suggest up to 90 percent of plastic isn't recycled today. That's the bad news. The good news is that the group sees potential for better use, better design and cost savings related to the plastics industry. The group notes:

"The PDP does not mean to point fingers at users of the material, nor to segregate specific materials, but to create baseline metrics, with transparent reporting of material use, so that companies can reduce wastage, improve design, change materials, and improve on recycling or remediation. Smarter re-use of materials, with higher recycled content, is also encouraged via the PDP, hopefully spurring increased opportunities for the recycling industry. The overall goal is a global, improved, prevention mechanism that will reduce the amount of plastic waste that is created, and therefore, reduce the amount which is allowed to enter our ocean and ecosystem."

The founder of the organization, Doug Woodring, told the Times that the organization plans to sent out its first information request to organizations in September. PDP was actually launched last September at the Clinton Global Initiative. The idea behind that information request is to get the plastic issue on the radar of major corporations, which may or may not have an inkling about their impact.

The elimination of plastic bags, of course has become a big rallying cry in the retail industry. Many grocery stores now will give customers a credit for bring in their own reusable bags. Some municipal and local governments have even banned the use of plastic bags, including places like Los Angeles County, where a ban went into effect in July 2011.

The beverage industry is also becoming much better acquainted with the implications of plastic packaging. Several companies -- notably Nestle Waters North America, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola company -- have been actively experimenting with recycled plastic content and, of course, recycling and collection initiatives. (See "Report: Beverage makers sip sustainability strategy" )

But the PDP believes most corporate sustainability managers and supply chain experts probably haven't pondered the issue enough, to the detriment of the oceans. Like e-waste, this is one of those issues that is highly visible in terms of its downstream impact, so you can bet your company's shareholders and employees will start asking questions as this issue becomes more mainstream.

Will the biggest and most innovative companies in the world have the information to answer those questions?

via [The New York Times]

Photo: Plastic Disclosure Project

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