2020 Visions: Companies Adopt Recycling Initiatives

Decreasing their environmental impact seems to have been a New Year’s resolution for many companies and governments in 2018. This month, several major organizations announced ambitious recycling campaigns in an effort to appease consumers, reduce costs and limit environmental harm.

Dow Chemicals
A collaboration between the U.S. Green Building Council and Dow Building Solutions aims to reduce carbon emissions by advising two cities or communities to help in achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The Dow Chemical subsidiary announced these plans last week as a reaction to data that buildings are currently responsible for about one-third of global energy consumption, about 30% of global energy-related CO2 emissions and 20% of total CO2 emissions.

“This partnership will offer expertise from Dow and USGBC that will not only directly help selected communities reduce their carbon footprint, but will also pave the way for other communities to do the same,” Greg Bergtold, director of advocacy for Dow Building Solutions said in a statement.

In October 2017, Dow announced a strategic partnership to produce recycled plastic bags that are being used to collect trash on ocean shores. Using post-industrial plastic scraps, Dow’s RETAIN recycling technology enabled the production of the recycled bags used for the cleanup.

This week, McDonald’s pledged that by 2025 all of its guest packaging will originate “from renewable, recycled, or certified sources with a preference for Forest Stewardship Council certification.” The fast food giant will also strive to recycle guest packaging in all of its locations in that same year.

This expands upon McDonald’s existing goal that by 2020, 100% of its fiber-based packaging will come from recycled or certified sources where no deforestation occurs.

“Our customers have told us that packaging waste is the top environmental issue they would like us to address,” Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer said in a statement. “Our ambition is to make changes our customers want and to use less packaging, sourced responsibly and designed to be taken care of after use, working at and beyond our restaurants to increase recycling and help create cleaner communities.”

To combat what Coca-Cola’s CEO James Quincey referred to as the “world’s packaging problem,” the company announced a sustainability plan called World Without Waste. The strategy will focus on the entire packaging lifecycle—from the creation of bottles and cans through their use and how they’re recycled and repurposed.

Part of its initiative is a plan to recycle a bottle or can for each one sold. By 2030, the company will collect or recycle the equivalent of its entire packaging output; and it is aiming to make bottles half-composed of recycled content. Quincey acknowledged the timing of his company’s and McDonald’s announcements as a coincidence, but that they would collaborate since its drinks are sold at McDonald’s restaurants.

Greenpeace, a vocal critic of Coca-Cola, said the company should focus on reducing the amount of plastic it produces, rather than just recycling more. “We can’t recycle our way out of this mess,” said Greenpeace campaigner Louise Edge, in a statement.

The United Kingdom
Similar initiatives are also appearing overseas in the form of legislation. In the United Kingdom, where there is a levy against plastic bags, members of Parliament announced plans to potentially fund infrastructure and cut down on 30,000 tons of waste by imposing a tax on each coffee cup sold by a retailer. The Guardian reported that 2.5 billion to-go coffee cups are disposed of annually in the U.K., not counting the coffee grips, stirrers and other amenities often associated with a standard coffee drink. The short-term solution is for retailers to sell reusable cups and for consumers to repeatedly bring them when out for a cup of joe.

An audit report indicated that one in 400 cups are recycled – less than 0.25%—and half a million coffee cups are littered each day in the U.K. Members of Parliament are calling for:

  • A 25p levy (35 cents, USD) on coffee bought in takeaway cups to be used to reduce the number of cups thrown away and invest in reprocessing facilities
  • Introduction of a ban on throwaway coffee cups if a target that all takeaway cups are recyclable by 2023 is not met
  • Coffee chains to pay more towards disposing of cups
  • Improved labeling to better educate consumers

Natural Barriers Promote Coastal Resilience, Reduce Costs

WetlandsNEW YORK—Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy had devastating impacts on the northeast coastline, debilitating parts of New York and New Jersey. While also in the path of the storms, Delaware saw minimal impact, which the state’s former head of natural resources and environmental control, Colin O’Mara, attributed to its conservation efforts.

Now president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, O’Mara spoke at the New York Recovery and Resilience Leadership Forum here June 2, explaining that the state had been building up natural barriers and testing its resilience with various resources.

“During the storm we were checking sandbags and making sure systems were in place and I was wondering if these systems were going to hold,” he said. “What we found was that the system did work.” He noted, “One of the reasons you haven’t heard much about what happened in Delaware, compared to New Jersey and New York, is the state’s investments in wetlands, living shoreline projects and oyster beds. These natural systems can absorb the shock of crashing waves and absorb water.”

A living shoreline is a habitat-friendly alternative to rip rap, bulkhead or stone revetments, creating wetland habitat that supports blue crabs, oysters, fish, birds and plants. They can also stop erosion, increase water quality and protect the shoreline from erosion, according to the state of Delaware’s website.

A number of municipalities across the country are making significant advances in natural infrastructure, O’Mara said, “and you are not seeing big taxpayer bailouts of those communities because these systems work.”

At the same time, he noted, many areas do not encourage these types of investments. “In fact, there are a number of policies that are actually putting people in harm’s way,” he said. “We’ve been trying to think through how to have traditional market forces work to the advantage of resilience, instead of having a massive bailout after an event, which is a liability to the taxpayer.”

Conversations about mitigating with natural resources, however, often get nowhere because people believe their insurance programs will bail them out. “Because of government programs, people are actually paying so much less than the insurance value they are receiving, that natural resources as a solution will lose,” O’Mara said. As a result, “All of a sudden that coast seems more developable because the landowner developing it isn’t actually bearing the cost.” The real problem is that, after the money has been made and a homeowner is living in the house, the risk is still there. “So you’ve privatized the problem, but you have socialized all of the risk,” he said.

Instead, O’Mara believes it is critical that information about the real costs of destroying a dune, along with the protections it brings be available. “This isn’t an easy conversation, but it is actually an area of commonality,” he said. “Whether you want to reduce government spending, reduce liability or foster more private sector activity, this is an area that shouldn’t be partisan at all.”

Projects of this nature are currently in the works in New York City; Cape May, New Jersey; and Boston, Massachusetts. Such spending on the front end produces much higher savings in the long run, O’Mara said, noting that putting natural resources to work can lower insurance rates and generate private sector involvement.

“We can do things a lot smarter and be a lot safer than we are right now,” O’Mara said. “This should be as bipartisan as anything we do in this country. The economics make sense, the science makes sense and the social science makes sense.” After all, at the end of the day, “people just want to be safe,” he said.

The Long-Term Economic Impact of Hurricanes

Hurricane Damage in Joplin, Missouri

With the Northern Hemisphere now in the midst of hurricane, typhoon and cyclone season, many businesses have emergency plans in place, plywood to board the windows, and generators at the ready. But a new study from economists Solomon M. Hsiang of Berkeley and Amir S. Jina of Columbia, “The Causal Effect of Environmental Catastrophe on Long-Run Economic Growth,” found it is far more difficult for the overall economy to weather the storm.

As Rebecca J. Rosen explained in The Atlantic, economists previously had four competing hypotheses about the impact of destructive storms: “Such a disaster might permanently set a country back; it might temporarily derail growth only to get back on course down the road; it might lead to even greater growth, as new investment pours in to replace destroyed assets; or, possibly, it might get even better, not only stimulating growth but also ridding the country of whatever outdated infrastructure was holding it back.”

After looking at 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes that occurred between 1950 and 2008 and the subsequent economic outcomes of the countries they struck, Hsiang and Jina were able to decisively strike down most of these hypotheses. “There is no creative destruction,” Jina said. “These disasters hit us and [their effects] sit around for a couple of decades.”

Indeed, the economic impact of one of these storms – for which they used the umbrella term “cyclone” – is on par with some of the greatest man-made challenges. According to the Atlantic:

A cyclone of a magnitude that a country would expect to see once every few years can slow down an economy on par with “a tax increase equal to one percent of GDP, a currency crisis, or a political crisis in which executive constraints are weakened.” For a really bad storm (a magnitude you’d expect to see around the world only once every 10 years), the damage will be similar “to losses from a banking crisis.” The very worst storms—the top percentile—”have losses that are larger and endure longer than any of those previously studied shocks.”

Overall, “each additional meter per second of annual nationally-averaged wind exposure lowers per capita economic output 0.37 percent 20 years later,” the researchers found.

According to their data, the impacts of various caliber cyclones and similar man-made economic challenges are:

Hurricane economic impact

“Both rich and poor countries exhibit this response, with losses magnified in countries with less historical cyclone experience,” they wrote. “Income losses arise from a small but persistent suppression of annual growth rates spread across the fifteen years following disaster, generating large and significant cumulative effects: a 90th percentile event reduces per capita incomes by 7.4% two decades later, effectively undoing 3.7 years of average development.”

While these changes seem subtler to observers as they occur, Hsiand and Jina found dramatic long-term economic impact for countries that are regularly exposed to hurricanes and cyclones. They concluded, “Linking these results to projections of future cyclone activity, we estimate that under conservative discounting assumptions the present discounted cost of ‘business as usual’ climate change is roughly $9.7 trillion larger than previously thought.”