A plastic footprint is an indicator that is used to measure the negative impacts of plastic pollution associated with a company.
In layman’s terms, a plastic footprint calculates how much plastic waste a company generates and what negative effects this can have on the impacted environment, society, and economy.
Why Should We Measure Plastic Footprints?
We have to measure plastic footprints if we want to get serious about environmental stewardship. So let’s break down why.
Plastics are a unique group of materials. While they have revolutionized various industries, there are some significant trade-offs. For example, the plastic industry needs fossil fuels to produce 99% of plastics. Consequently, the plastic industry is a top 10 contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
We consume nearly 359 million tons of plastics each year. Yet, our recycling systems allow us to only recycle 9% of plastic waste. So, what happens to the other 91%? It turns out that we incinerate, landfill, or dump our un-recycled plastics into nature. We are quite literally poisoning the air we breathe, throwing away resources, and choking our oceans.
The production and disposal of plastics exceedingly affect marginalized communities. Wealthy nations ship a vast amount of their plastic waste to the Global South. Once there, it simply adds pressure to already overwhelmed waste management systems.
Tackling our plastic problem is a call for a healthy society, earth, and economy. Yet, we cannot manage what isn’t measured. In order to turn the tide on plastics, we must understand where plastics are being used in our supply chains and how we can begin to systematically introduce plastic action initiatives.
How to Measure a Plastic Footprint
Plastic footprint management is a relatively new concept. Thus, there is no globally recognized industry standard that defines the principles and boundaries for measurement.
We analyzed every major methodology and identified four factors that every plastic footprint assessment should take into account:
- Quantity and composition of plastics used in a company’s supply chain;
- Portion and composition of plastics used in a company’s supply chain that reached the end of its lifecycle, often referred to as plastic waste;
- Quantity and composition of plastic waste that ends up in nature, often referred to as plastic leakage;
- Impact of leaked plastics as well as the associated additives and processing aids on the environment, society, and economy.
How to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint
Your plastic footprint reduction strategy should primarily focus on where you can avoid or optimize the use of plastics. On your plastic action journey, you will have to consider many variables: plastic type, recyclability, availability, cost, and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
We have identified three practices to focus your reduction efforts:
- Avoid the use of plastics where possible: Don’t use more material than needed to perform a given job. Where appropriate, you can also explore the substitution of plastics with an alternate material. In doing so, carry out lifecycle assessments in order to sidestep unintended consequences.
- Optimize the sourcing, design and use of essential plastics: Source recycled or responsibly sourced bio-based plastics (where appropriate). Furthermore, product design can have a noticeable impact on the durability and the impacts of plastics. For example, we recommend avoiding multi-layered materials, challenge the choice of colors, leave out unnecessary additives.
- Act and engage for a more circular system: Once in the hands of consumers, it becomes difficult to control the mode of disposal. That’s why you should enhance consumer awareness and support the improvement of waste management systems. During consumer education, promote the repurposing, reusing, and recycling of plastic products.
Take Plastic Action Today
Although it can be challenging to manage your company’s plastic footprint, it is possible. At Ampliphi, we help you make the entire process more accessible, accurate, and efficient.
The crucial elements: characteristics, material flows, and other elements become obvious by carefully going through the process by which plastics move from the consumer into the environment. But let’s not waste time — start your plastic action journey today.