Garbage tsunami

Consumer-goods giants urged to halt plastic binge

Plastic bag in the Red Sea
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Source: DPA/Mike Nelson.

David Katz has the air of a televangelist. But his sermons have more to do with fighting pollution than saving his listeners’ souls. “Together we can put an end to ocean plastic!” he told a recent public meeting in Germany. “We can turn rubbish into a currency, and so create opportunities for people living in poverty.”

Mr. Katz is the founder and CEO of Plastic Bank, a social enterprise that helps people in developing countries collect plastic trash on polluted beaches. In return, they receive cash, donations-in-kind and social services. The plastic they collect is recycled by consumer-goods companies and re-used to produce plastic bottles.

Henkel is the first major consumer-goods firm to work with Plastic Bank. “In the second half of this year, we will work with Plastic Bank to make recycled plastic for new packaging,” says Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, head of global research and development with Henkel’s laundry detergent division.

The Düsseldorf-based firm sees itself as raising consumers’ awareness of pollution caused by plastic packaging. But the company, along with its competitors Procter & Gamble and Unilever, is under pressure to do more to address the problem, too. Images of floating islands of plastic garbage have focused global attention on the consequences of a rapid increase in plastic packaging for consumer goods. And if the present looks bad, a recent wave of reports have painted a bleak picture of the future indeed. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

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