Science on the Hill: How to Make Recycling Profitable

By April Crow for Scientific American

We need to invest in companies with approaches that are scalable and replicable

On June 6, a panel of experts convened by Scientific American and Nature Research—part of Springer Nature—will talk about the issue of plastic pollution, including possible solutions, in Washington, D.C.The author is one of those experts.

The plastic waste crisis has been growing and deepening for years. We’ve known it was happening, and too many of us have stood by and watched it escalate. Fortunately, we are starting to see the emergence of a broad and growing group of stakeholders who are coming together—in their own ways—to tackle this complex challenge. I became involved in this topic nearly 15 years ago through my environmental work at Coca-Cola. At that time, there was an emerging discussion about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which may now be more than twice the size of Texas. But beyond that fact, little was known.

A few of us working in this area became concerned by the scale of the problem and started to ask for more science and data to help guide us to solutions. Fast-forward to 2012, when a National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) working group brought together, for the first time, leading academics to take a closer look at the existing science. The effort represented a turning point in understanding the problem and how we might go about devising solutions to tackle it. One of the papers the NCEAS group produced started to point at  the leaking countries—nations where the most plastic waste was flowing into our oceans—and brought into sharper focus where we could prioritize resources to begin to address the crisis.

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