Caution, Biohazard: May Contain Plastic

by Todd McDonald on February 20, 2013

When I was still in grade school, I vividly remember attending an air show on the local waterfront with my neighbor. As the first few planes flew overhead, we looked on, with amazement, at the bright colors, impressive engines, and sleek designs. But as many eight year old boys are inclined to do, we quickly grew tired of watching pilots maneuver in circles over the river.

As we walked up and down the waterfront, we began to notice several empty water bottles, broken beer cans, and discarded wrappers. In a less-than-brilliant attempt to clean up the waterfront, we began tossing this trash into the river – our contribution to cleaning up the park and saving the planet. Mission accomplished! We’ll take that Nobel Prize now.

Looking back on it now, I laugh at how naive my neighbor and I had been – thinking we were cleaning up the park by shifting the trash from the beachhead into the river. Out of sight, out of mind. Right? But on the flip-side, it’s unfortunately sobering to realize that adults, who are well aware about the unfortunate effects of littering, ultimately cost Americans $520 million a year to clean up plastics that wash up on West Coast beaches and shorelines and have resulted in travesties such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

But now, the Orlando Sentinel reports that scientists are trying to trigger innovative solutions by reclassifying harmful plastic waste as hazardous material. The article states that plastic debris are full of highly toxic pollutants, and therefore should not be treated as inert waste like food scraps or grass clippings and goes on to argue that if we change our perception of plastic litter, we can spur consumers into action and create lasting change in plastics recycling.

But is this really the best solution?

Sometimes, solving the problem isn’t always straightforward, like telling people not to litter. (Americans are already well aware that littering is harmful to the environment and that plastics should be recycled, but over 140 million metric tons of plastics produced each year end up polluting our landscape.)

At TEQ, we believe considering all aspects of the situation and thinking about the entire lifecycle of a product can mean the difference between an ineffective campaign and a revolutionary solution.

That’s why one of our major initiatives involves employing post-consumer materials in production processes. For example, when we took over production of Braun’s Ear Thermometer probe covers, we redesigned the supply chain in order to take advantage of a local truck that would carry the used roll cores and web scrapping back to our factory in order to reuse them in the next batch. Not only were we able to recycle the material in order to increase sustainability, but we also kept what many would consider “trash” in the production cycle, so we did not have to physically dispose of it.

Which do you think seems more promising – reclassifying plastics as a hazardous material or reconceptualizing waste as new raw inputs for a process?

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