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Leading from the Heart: Two CEOs Share Their Vision of a World without Plastic Waste

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Matthew Kastner
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Wall Street Journal America's Plastic Makers Event

 

It’s really gratifying to observe industry leaders who are personally committed to helping solve the problem of plastic waste globally, and Wednesday we got to hear from two of the best.

Dow Chairman and CEO Jim Fitterling and LyondellBasell CEO Bob Patel – leaders of two of the world’s largest plastic makers – spoke out in a Wall Street Journal special event: “Getting There: A Global Agreement to End Plastic Waste.”

They called for a global agreement among nations to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, urging the global community to support a resolution at the UN Environment Assembly in February that would begin negotiations. They noted that the UN can help elevate the issue, encourage nations to commit to ending plastic waste, set standards, share best practices, and help deliver local solutions globally. (More info on “5 Principles to End Plastic Waste Globally” here.)

But the bulk of the conversation focused ways to accelerate a shift to a circular economy, in which plastic resources are regularly reused instead of discarded.

Both leaders said that they work on the issue of plastic waste every day, that it’s front and center in nearly every conversation with company stakeholders, and that circularity is now at the center of their business strategies.

Acknowledging the scope of the waste problem, Jim and Bob spoke confidently of society’s collective ability to solve the problem and the unique role that plastics makers play. Our industry excels at taking good solutions and scaling them up – and that’s what’s happening now with solutions like advanced recycling.

Bob called advanced recycling a “game changer” that could be widely prevalent in two to four years. He also spoke about how plastics recycling could become zero-carbon when powered by renewable energy. And how a circular economy for plastics could remove the “grave” from their cradle-to-grave lifecycle.

Jim called plastics “a tool for a sustainable future,” noting how lightweight plastics can help reduce carbon emissions from our cars, packaging, food, and energy sources. “It’ll be hard for us to get to a low carbon future without plastics,” he said, as he and many others have noted before.

Both he and Bob declared that we can enjoy the benefits of plastics – lower carbon, greater mobility, energy efficiency, lifesaving medical products, safety – but eliminate their waste by creating a circular economy through a mix of mechanical and advanced recycling and other solutions.

They dug deep into those solutions: commitments to use more recycled plastics in packaging, incentives from governments, worldwide waste infrastructure, redesign for recycling, ESG investments in advanced recycling and renewable energy, even pulling used plastics out of landfills. In the end, it all comes back to circularity, “rethinking the way we’ve been doing things,” as Jim said.

“In my lifetime circularity will become the norm.”
“In our lifetime, I think you will have plastics made from fossil fuel that have a zero-carbon footprint.”
“We can solve this problem.”

These are the words of just two seasoned executives who head the companies that make the materials that will help build a lower carbon future, two of the many leaders in our industry that are developing solutions to eliminate plastic waste in our environment.

 

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About the author

As Vice President of ACC’s Plastics Division, Joshua oversees strategic programs to advance a science-based policy agenda, national outreach, and sustainability initiatives on behalf of America’s leading plastics makers. He encourages better understanding of plastics’ advantages in key markets, such as automotive, building and construction, and packaging, and innovations that are helping to address some of our world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Joshua also leads industry initiatives and fosters multi-stakeholder dialogue around helping to end plastic waste by creating a more circular economy.

He previously led public affairs at the American Beverage Association (ABA), where he oversaw the launch of a new plastics sustainability initiative and helped advance community-based recycling projects.

Prior to joining ABA, Joshua served as a managing director at Marathon Strategies and senior vice president at DDC Public Affairs. In both capacities, Joshua directed strategy and implementation of multi-channel issue advocacy and public affairs campaigns on behalf of Fortune 100 companies and leading trade associations. In 2018, Joshua led the defeat of the Border Adjustment Tax on behalf of the retail industry, which was recognized as PR Week’s 2018 global crisis campaign of the year.

He began his career working on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson and as the National Coalitions Director for U.S. Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Joshua has a Master of Arts in Government and Political Communications from The Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Texas Tech University.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $486 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for ten percent of all U.S. goods exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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