3 drinks. 7 packaging materials. A 90% impact reduction opportunity.
Sat down yesterday at a (socially distanced) cafe to discuss a circular economy collaboration between a manufacturing company and one of their distributors. We were three and our order was a soda, a hot coffee and a cold coffee. The minute we sat down, the enormity and absurdity of the problem was glaring right at me, manifested in our 3 drinks: they are mostly identical products ( 99% water) and yet, 7 different materials were intermingled to serve as various forms of containment. It was a perfect example of the circular economy challenge and opportunity.
What is the opportunity? We have the technology and materials to produce solutions for all beverage types from a single, fully recyclable plastic material. Obviously, this would allow for a far simpler and more profitable material recovery process from this cafe and so many others. What would be the actual benefit? So rarely do we quantify the outcomes. So rarely are the actions taken significant.
I know accounting isn’t everyone’s favorite pastime, but specifically environmental accounting happens to be mine. Until I see a lifecycle assessment I’m skeptical of even the most seemingly green solution. And I couldn’t let the thoughts about our 7-materials paradox go. So, once back on the computer I recorded the weights and built 2 mini-scenarios on ECO-OS. The baseline was the “7-material BAU” and the alternative a closed-loop polypropylene cycle.
The results? Quite astounding: an 85% reduction in upstream greenhouse gas emissions (savings in material extraction and production impacts) and a 95% reduction in the downstream impacts (despite some extra recycling efforts, the overall waste disposal and management impacts are lower). While seeming fantastic - these numbers are technically in reach and business-wise -feasible. We have the technology, we simply haven’t put enough efforts in it.
My conclusion for the weekend (and far beyond): we could have a much lighter impact on our environment and we must. And just imagine the positive impact this extra efficiency would have on our prosperity.