There are a number of initiatives to promote recycling to reduce the amount of plastic waste going into landfills, the environment and oceans. While plastic recycling has an important role to play, more impactful is reducing plastic use, and part of that reduction would be us, the consumer, knowing what the true cost of harm of these plastic bottles do for Climate, Nature and People.
TLC Harmony doesn’t stick with just carbon footprints. If you are going to measure harm, then measure it across the true range of harm areas: Climate, Nature, Biodiversity, People.
My background is in health improvement and crime reduction for the UK government. We do not measure crime just by measuring shoplifting (the highest level of offending) and miss our burglary, robbery, violence and murder, that has a much higher cost to people and the state. So with that said lets check out the harms of a bottle of water.
Lets see if we can put a per bottle cost to total harm impact:
Marine Harm cost per bottle – Dr Nicola Beaumont, environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory estimates that plastic waste costs up to $33,000 per ton. One ton of PET plastic makes 20,000 bottles. So that single plastic bottle of water you just paid $1 dollar for, creates $1.65 US dollars of environmental marine harm if it gets to the ocean. Research published by Nature Sustainability identifies plastic takeaway beverage and food containers are the largest contributor to ocean plastic pollution. The estimate is that 10% of plastic bottles reach the ocean (Greenpeace – Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans, 2006), so the minimum marine surcharge per bottle for impacts upon the ocean is 16 cents.
. Cost to Collect and Clean up the Bottles – The UK government reports that plastic packaging producers only pay around 10% of the cost of dealing with packaging waste, leaving the remaining 90% to us the taxpayer to pick up the bill, we are therefore subsidising business to pollute our environment.
The UK government is considering a Deposit Return Scheme of around 20p a bottle but this will not be implemented until 2024.
So the cost to clean up the plastic bottle waste to taxpayers is 20p (28 US cents)
Carbon Dioxide cost per bottle – There is quite a bit of information on the carbon footprint per bottle of water. Larger bottles are equivalently less than smaller bottles. For instance a 500ml of PET plastic beverage bottle produces 82.8g of atmospheric carbon dioxide, this includes: transportation of raw materials: 29% Plastic resins: 30% Creating the bottle: 8%
With a US figure of $51 dollars per ton of CO2 the carbon cost of a plastic bottle of water is 0.00006 cents.
Negligible per bottle. And that is why you do not base your harm analysis on a single variable such as carbon dioxide!
Human Healthcost per bottle – This variable will be a little bit harder to assess. There is a mixture here of plastics and/or other toxins directly consumed in the bottled water, but probably more impactful is the microplastics we consume in our food, particularly seafood, caused by plastic waste in our oceans breaking down and entering the food chain.
A study found 93% of bottled water had microplastic within it the analysis looked at 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands, it found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.
The World Health Organization (WHO) (SAPEA, 2019; WHO, 2019). Leslie and Depledge (2020), suggest that there is ‘no evidence to indicate a human health concern, but a number of researchers have queried this statement particularly more recently.
Plastic is a human health crisis hiding in plain sight. Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet, authored by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Earthworks, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), IPEN, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), University of Exeter, and UPSTREAM. Wow its a long report and will take me a while to review and come up with a figure for human health costs per bottle.
Bisphenol A – Other than the plastic there is significant data on a plastic additive found in plastic food and drink containers that that has received considerable attention in relation to its human health effects is bisphenol A. There are numerous studies showing that BPA can migrate out of polycarbonate and contaminate foodstuffs and drinks, and oral ingestion is considered the major route of exposure of the human population.
Bisphenol A exerts its biological activity predominantly through interaction with steroid hormone receptors, showing both estrogenic and antiandrogenic activity.
BPA at levels found in the general population, around 0.2–20 ng/ml (values given for urinary BPA), is associated with adverse human health effects, including the onset of obesity and cardiovascular disease
LAND and FRESH WATER – The impact to land and fresh water biodiversity hasn’t been developed yet.
I hope you have enjoyed this initial analysis, it is the start of the review and needs further work but already you can start to see that fixating on carbon dioxide alone is an absolute nonsense, no wonder industry says lets stick with Carbon zero targets in a few decades!!!!
With recent revelations from ‘Seaspiracy’ from Netflix, revealing ‘sustainably fishing’ accreditation was a bit of a sham, we are left wondering how much accreditation for sustainability or ethical products actually means.
Where accreditation is linked to membership or consultation fees, there is a vested interest in the accreditation company aligned with its associated industry. Also where there are hundreds of variables being assessed, the very simple important outcomes can be missed, a bit like that old saying; “didn’t see the wood for the trees”, or as we used to say in hospitals “the operation and procedure were a complete success. Alas the patient died”. These mixed metaphors remind us to keep it simple and keep the focus on the priority outcomes.
I would propose that for accreditation to work, accreditation needs to severe the funding link from the aligned industry, either in consultation and accreditation fees or membership; and also ensure clarity and transparency in the outcomes you are seeking to achieve.
That position is not going to go down very well out there I know, and you would think that as a person developing an outcome framework for sustainable tourism and travel, I would be less critical, but if you think tactically and strategically, and outcomes are important, you can clearly see there is a vested interest flaw in the current funding model. We know that the accreditation sector is “not going to bite the hand that feeds it”. So I suggest we identify other ways for accreditation to be funded.
So we ask the consumer to pay. You like it, you enjoyed it? You’d give a waiter or waitress 12 to 15% extra in a gratuity just for smiling nicely at you. How about you say “thank you ecosystem” for that lovely experience, here’s a 10% tip because I’ve not really paid the True Price (and been subsidised by environmental erosion) for that gorgeous natural experience.
“The commonplace occurrence of flying is being increasingly questioned for climate reasons: a single long-haul flight generates more emissions than many people around the world produce in a whole year. Aviation is the mode of transport with the biggest climate impact, and who flies and who doesn’t is very unevenly distributed”
TLC Harmony are not here to dump on the rich, yes, they probably cause the most harm by being uber consumers and flying the most. But we are saying, “you are wealthy enough to pay the True Price of your consumption and harmful impacts”. And if you’re not doing so then your being a bit, well there’s no other way of putting this, bloody stingy. Sustainability can be afforded by the wealthy, infact it should be the mark of wealth. “I can be sustainable darlings…. Because I’m worth it!”
“1.1 million Forest Elephants once roamed the central African rainforests, but deforestation and poaching have diminished their population to less than one-tenth their former number. They likely face extinction unless action is taken.”
“Although there is virtually no ecotourism in the central African rainforests, for both geographic and political reasons, African forest elephants contribute something of tremendous social and market value. As it turns out, these elephants fight climate change by contributing significantly to natural carbon capture.”
The increase in carbon storage caused by forest elephant activity is huge. If we then take the total value of the service provided by African forest elephants and divide it by their current population, we find that each elephant is responsible for service worth more than $1.75 million. Comparatively, the ivory of an elephant killed by poachers fetches only about $40,000, so it is clear that the benefits from a healthy and thriving elephant community are substantial.
The analysis above looks mostly at Carbon Capture, but if we add the full range of natural and biodiversity impacts these Forest Elephants are worth even more than the $1.75 million figure stated in their research.
Nature is worth more protected and restored, and we should pay to do so.
We at TLC are working to ensure customers and guests know what our biodiversity, climate and culture are worth, and put it on the bill, so that:
Mahendra Shah, 1st President Director at Zen Resort Bali, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Business Consultant, University of Cambridge, Zen Resort Bali reports that:
“Human Holistic Wellbeing, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually is the pathway to sustainable development in Harmony with Nature.
The World has been and continues to be driven by Economics. Time to embrace the fact that human wellbeing in all aspects including Nutritionally Balanced food consumption, Health Care and recreation including Tourism and Travel will no doubt largest economic sector in the Global economy.
Select the wellbeing sustainability pathway, and start the Walk, One Step at a Time to the Destination, a secured future for all inhabitants of Planet Earth.”
Mahendra Shah, 1st President Director at Zen Resort Bali, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Business Consultant, University of Cambridge, Zen Resort Bali
You can hear more from Mahendra Shah, the 1st President of Bali Zen Resort on the 25th May 2021, (starts 9am GMT), Register to get the details and agenda when they are released