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Leadership in a Challenging Time: A Conversation on Ending Plastic Waste

31 August 2020

2020 has been a year of reflection and calls for action as immense challenges spotlight inequities in our communities, nation, and world. At times, these circumstances have strained trust among interest groups—including those working to address plastic waste.

The pandemic has increased the usage of plastic: in health care, in grocery stores, in restaurants, in our own homes. This use of plastic has brought safety, convenience, and continuity of operations for many sectors, but it has also brought concern to some advocates within the plastic community. They fear we may be reversing decades of progress to reduce plastic consumption and waste. By one estimate, the world may produce 30 percent more plastic waste in 2020 than in 2019.

That’s why we recently facilitated a virtual conversation between two leaders at the forefront of addressing the plastic waste challenge: Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute—an environmental NGO—and Stew Harris of the American Chemistry Council—a plastics industry trade association. Meridian has been working with the plastics community for several years to build coalitions and achieve the common goal of eliminating plastic waste leakage in the environment. In facilitating dialogue between committed leaders on different sides of the issue, including Marcus and Stew, we’ve fostered new and, for the most part, off-the-record spaces for thoughtful discussion and creative ideas.

“We need key players from multiple perspectives willing to give it a go,” Stew reminds us. To create a truly circular economy and reduce harm from plastic waste, we will need a mix of solution sets, bold innovation, and more opportunities for collaborative solution-building. By facilitating and sharing a candid, on-the-record conversation between Marcus and Stew, we’re spotlighting some of those players and perspectives to build greater understanding, inspire solutions, and invite others to learn and join in the conversation.

COVID-19 “has created an economic strain and tremendous challenges which have slowed the discussion on innovative waste management,” notes Marcus. Value chains have been disrupted, municipal budgets are under strain, and companies are trying to cut costs. And yet, more than ever, this is the time for the right infrastructure, policy, and innovation.

The current situation reinforces the urgent need for open and honest dialogue and leadership. An exploration of both differences and commonalities is essential before true collaboration can take place—not just within siloed interest groups, but across them.

In Conversation

Read the conversation between Marcus and Stew, and join the dialogue. Explore financing and designing a resource-efficient circular economy, the role of plastic bans in eliminating plastic leakage, innovation to reduce residuals, and other topics.