While 2015 saw millions more tons of plastic waste added to the world’s landfills and oceans, there was progress too. From a global climate agreement to plastic-free cups, design innovators, politicians and citizens showed a growing will to move toward a positive, post-petroleum future. Here are some of the year’s best success stories:
Plantable Coffee Cup
Did you know your typical paper coffee cup can’t be recycled? That’s because it’s coated in plastic. But a new plantable cup from Reduce, Reuse, Regrow will naturally biodegrade in just 150 days. Even better, you can stick it in the ground and the seeds embedded within it will sprout into new plants. Inventor Alex Henige said he first had the idea while driving down California's litter-strewn Highway 101. “I thought, what if all this trash was actually a plant?” Apparently Henige isn’t the only who believes the global coffee habit could produce plants instead of plastic waste; his invention is a Kickstarter Staff Pick for 2015.
Sell a Plastic Bag, Go to Prison
While laws banning plastic shopping bags are becoming more commonplace, not many of us have to worry about going to prison for selling them. Suresh Gupta wasn’t expecting it either when police in Chandigarh, India, carted him off to jail. Gupta, who claimed he was unaware of the city’s 7 year-old ban on plastic shopping bags, was released on bail and now awaits trial.
Congress Bans Plastic Microbeads
The US Congress and President may not have agreed on much this year, but now they are working together to ban plastic microbeads from soaps, body washes and other personal-care products. According to legislation approved by Congress in December and sent to the president. the microbeads will be phased out starting in 2017. That’s good news for both humans and marine wildlife because they can soak up pesticides and chemicals after they’re washed down the drain. According to Marcus Eriksen, research director of the environmental group, 5 Gyres, "By the time the plastic gets downstream towards the ocean, they become these toxic pills." Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., one of the bill’s supporters, added, "We know our country's waterways do not always respect state boundaries. The strong federal standard we have developed is more protective and implementation will occur sooner" than under current state laws.
Paris Climate Agreement
For the first time, the world has a comprehensive plan to fight global warming. With the agreement reached at December’s COP21 climate negotiations, more than 190 countries seek to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although there are no penalties for non-compliance, the agreement is a big step forward from the failed efforts of the past. National targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions could also create a more level playing field for companies making greener products.
Paris was also host to the Sustainia Award Ceremony, celebrating the globe’s top 100 solutions “making a difference across 10 key sectors of society – from resources and energy, to education and health.” And the winner? Plastic Bank, a social enterprise that allows individuals to collect plastic waste from shores and riverbanks and bring it to a local Plastic Bank facility for recycling. Recycled plastic is then either sold as Social Plastic, or turned into 3D printed goods that can be sold in the local community. In choosing Plastic Bank, Sustainia argued that, “For a global climate deal to be truly successful, it must be supported by innovative solutions like these.”