In honor of World Cleanup Day, which takes place annually on September 17, we’re highlighting the importance of stopping the waste – and the vital role cleanups play in that effort.
It’s almost World Cleanup Day – an important day for those of us at Dow.
As we drive towards our goal of creating a more sustainable future for the world, we’re focusing our materials science expertise and strategic partnerships on three objectives: protecting the climate, closing the loop and stopping the waste. In honor of World Cleanup Day, I want to highlight the importance of stopping the waste – and the vital role community cleanups and partnerships play in that effort.
By 2030, we aim to enable 1 million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through our direct actions and partnerships. In many places around the world, waste management infrastructure may be poor or lacking. This is why cleanups are key to the “collected” piece of this initiative, and the first step toward increasing global recycling. Still, many people question the impact and importance of local cleanup efforts in the grand scheme of the world’s waste problem.
But cleanups are a vital piece of the global waste puzzle and one tool in the circular economy toolbox. They help create momentum for major change through collective action, one project at a time.
Dow encourages education and collaboration through the #PullingOurWeight campaign, now in its fifth year. As part of this campaign, we hosted 195 community cleanups in 32 countries in 2021 alone, bringing 7,485 participants together to remove 176 metric tons of waste from the environment, diverting as much of it as possible to recycling facilities. And so far, our campaigns are on track to meet and even exceed the goals we set out to have a collective impact on our environment. By participating in these cleanups, Dow employees and partners get a greater appreciation of what it takes to properly manage waste and are more mindful of their own consumption.
A cleanup held earlier this month along the Kanawha and Elk Rivers in West Virginia brought together 40 employees from Dow and PSC Group, who collected about 1,500 lbs. of waste and provided a forum for community members to learn more about the local waste issue and solutions. According to Dow team member Christine Westgate, these kinds of cleanups are critical to local communities:
“#PullingOurWeight events are always impactful because they create more awareness around the importance of recycling. Beyond that, today’s event in particular has created a unified gathering with Dow and our contract partners Jacobs and PSC Group to ensure our community is safe and clean. For West Virginia and our local rivers, that means we’re protecting wildlife and supporting the burgeoning tourism industry too.”
-- Christine Westgate, West Virginia River Cleanup Volunteer and Dow Employee
Further, cleanups can serve as a spark to inspire more sustainability action in the future. It’s clear that increasing awareness is an effective means of decreasing waste and encouraging sustainable habits.
And although local cleanup efforts might have a limited impact radius at first, strategic partnerships can expand their influence. That’s why I believe collaborative partnerships are an essential piece to the global waste reduction puzzle.
By partnering with individuals and organizations across the globe, we can significantly improve the power of our efforts. By working with individuals like Afroz Shah to organize cleanups that divert plastics from waterways and into recycling processes, we have been able to get closer to our waste collection goals. And in Kenya, we work with Mr. Green Africa to divert waste from landfills while providing an economic resource for communities. Community members come together to remove discarded plastic from streets, fields and rivers, deliver it to a recycling station, and receive pay for their collected items. The plastic waste is then turned into high-quality post-consumer recycled materials used in flexible packaging. Investments in this program will stop over 75,000 metric tons of plastic from ending up as waste over the next four years – no small measure.
When it comes to ending waste in the environment, we amplify our impact through a partnership with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), an organization formed three years ago that commits more than $1.5 billion to develop and scale circular solutions for plastics. Cleanup efforts are one of the key elements in the AEPW strategy to minimize and manage plastic waste – a value Dow also shares.
On this World Cleanup Day, it’s worth considering that sustainability can only be successful as a collaborative effort. No person or community can save the world on their own, but cleanups are one excellent example of how we expand our impact and influence when we imagine better and come together for change.
Jihane Ball, Lead Sustainability Director, Dow