When it comes to the global waste crisis, plastic itself isn’t the culprit—it’s the lack of infrastructure to recycle it, says the CEO of one of the world’s largest plastics producers.
“I think there’s a lack of infrastructure in general to deal with the amount of waste we produce today as a society, and that’s what we’re trying to tackle,” said Jim Fitterling, chief executive of Michigan-based Dow Chemicals, which produces the petroleum-based chemicals that form the basis of plastics. “Plastics is at the tip of the spear, because this is what everyone sees or experiences.”
Speaking at Fortune’s Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan, China, Fitterling countered the backlash against plastic, arguing it is the “most sustainable and environmentally friendly material that’s out there,” and adding that aluminum, steel, and glass all take significantly more energy to produce and recycle.
“I think what you’re dealing with is the emotional response to the plastic waste issue,” he said, adding that it was nonetheless an issue that needed to be tackled.
Wasteful systems are the bigger problem. Yet efforts to create a circular plastics economy, with less waste, have often been hamstrung by a lack of infrastructure for both collecting and processing recycled products, he said.
In the U.S., curbside recycling collection has been discontinued in many communities, and even when recycling is collected, there is frequently not enough demand for recycled plastics to make it financially worthwhile to process it.
“We have an economy where people’s waste gets collected . . . and we think it’s going to be recycled, but it’s actually not,” Fitterling said.
That’s a problem even the most committed recycling nations, like Germany, have struggled to solve. The country has near-total collection rates for some packaging, but still struggles to recycle it.
Fitterling said Dow was working to develop “circular” systems, pushing to design materials that can be easily recycled, working with local communities to incentivize collection, and creating a market for recycled plastic.
That push has come alongside the company’s increasing focus on sustainability, he said; he’s now spending “easily 25%” of his time on the issue.
Fitterling’s remarks at the forum came in marked contrast to a speech later in the day by Tony Fadell, the inventor of the iPod and founder of Nest, who argued that such an approach wasn’t enough.
“Anyone that says that plastics are a waste management problem [is] lying,” Faddell said.
Published on fortune.com
- ‘The Most Environmentally Friendly Material Out There’: Dow CEO Has a Counter-Argument to the Plastic Backlash
We can congratulate DOW CEO for the following two points:
(1) He’s the first CEO to make a public statement on the plastic battlefield and he actually takes a standpoint.
(2) He recognises the problems of the recycling industry: lack of infrastructure, no market for recycled plastics, very few plastic is actually being recycled and even the German recycling industry (champion of recycling) have viability problems.
However, he’s not convincing on the following points:
(1) “he’s focusing on sustainability; he’s now spending “easily 25%” of his time on the issue”. He talks about sustainability as of it was his mistress (He spends 25 % of his time and money on his mistress ) So, I guess his spends the remaining time and money on his wife? … Well, Mr; Fitterling, Sustainability is not your mistress, it’s your wife.
(2) Dow is working on a circular system, pushing to design materials that can be easily recycled, working with local communities to incentivize collection, and creating a market for recycled plastic. He criticises recycling but proposes the “Dow” version of recycling as being the solution. yyyyyeeeaaahhhh rrrriiiiggggghhhtttt… I like the grace of American CEOs…He almost got me there!