Measuring a Plastic Footprint

Just as the term "carbon footprint" has become common in the business and consumer lexicon, a new footprint (one we also want to shrink!) is on the horizon. Through an alliance between The Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Overbrook grantee Project Kaisei's co-founder Douglas Woodring, the Plastic Disclosure Project will provide a centralized web space for the tracking and reporting of plastics.

Kicked off by former President Bill Clinton at an opening plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative earlier this fall, the Plastic Disclosure Project will encourage awareness of the ubiquitous use and "linear system" trashing of plastics, and the vast environmental impacts of this practice. (Check out the difference between a linear system and a closed loop system on Overbrook grantee Story of Stuff's online glossary.)

Disclosure and comparisons of plastic footprints among companies will encourage investors and stakeholders to value their brands not just in terms of today's profits, but also in relation to toxicity, pollution, waste, and human health. Annual surveys of industry participants will be voluntary, with the hope that new businesses will join once the value of PDP becomes clear to investors and consumers. The first go-'round for the PDP will create a baseline for waste, design inputs, and recycling rates, and subsequent surveys will compare plastic footprints between years and among participants.

Why is the Plastic Disclosure Project necessary? The PDP site relays the following information, showing that even modest cut-backs in plastic footprints could yield significant results:

"Industry estimates state that 300 million tons of virgin plastic are made every year. If just one tenth of one percent can be saved through efficiencies, better design, or increased recycling, then 3 million tons could be saved, which is roughly what some conservative estimates say are floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."

A yearly summary report of the PDP will be available online to industry groups, governments, educational institutions and the public.