Packaging waste

According to Statista, packaging generated 46% of worldwide plastic waste in 2018, followed by the textile sector, as illustrated below in the packaging waste by sector diagram gathered by Statista in 2021.

With the 18.75% surge on the global e-commerce sales during the 2020 Pandemic, as reported by the UN Conference on Trade and Development at the beginning of this month, the need for secondary packaging has moved alongside that surge. Alibaba, Amazon and other online resellers’ procurement departments may have been extremely busy ensuring packaging procurement wouldn’t be disrupted by the international trade restrictions imposed on supply chains due to the global and quick multiplication of Covid-19 infection. Amazon has even managed to deliver parcels within a few hours of ordering and added some extra paper layers inside those parcels, minimising the operational risk. The previous emerging trend of selling from bulk where consumers showed up in the store to fill their own container, may become a short-lived marketing and sustainable initiative, hindered by that global shock. When looking for the optimal solution between number of items packed, lead times and warehouse storage space, it seems the environmental footprint hasn’t been fully considered. Some online purchased items get home even with three layers of packaging, some of which cannot be reused, only recycled.

Given that more packaging ends in households along with their lower recycling rates when compared with stores’, possibly due to either lack of recycling culture, incentives or appropriated infrastructure, it is paramount to change so. The EU has been leading on the packaging recycling. Yet, there’s room for improvement. Currently only 66% of that waste is recycled, as can be observed in the Eurostat graphic below.

What can you start doing? Stimulate your circle of influence so other households can increase recycling volume and recyclable inputs in packaging can grow again. I know isn’t easy. But with creativity, we can achieve so. Play around, go for a walk, watch a film, exercise, talk, dream. One day an idea will come. It may not be by serendipity but through the process you have previously kicked off.

A 2020 Pew research study, Breaking the Plastic Wave, alerted for the current 11 million tonnes of plastic leakage into the ocean annually, 37.5% more than previous forecast. Have you considered in your next holiday to:

  1. Throw in the recycling bin the plastic used and no longer possible to be reused;
  2. If a plastic falls from your belongings carefully pick it and recycle it;
  3. Raise awareness of those around you for the volume of annual plastic leakage, that softly kills the biosphere;
  4. volunteering to help maintain clean the space you’ve travelled to, if local community isn’t sufficiently aware?
Photo by Catherine Sheila on

Isn’t that awful when you’re sold a trip to a paradisiac beach but when you get there, as the weather has dramatically changed, plastics and other type of litter were brought onshore? What about the micro-plastic that we ingest when we eat fish?

The above-mentioned Pew research study, illustrated in the graphic below, Plastic Leakage into the Ocean, calls the attention on the significance of tackling plastic leakage into the ocean. From the current 11 million tonnes per year, only bold actions will ensure a substantial reduction by 2040 of 54.5%. If we keep behaving unchangeably the plastic leakage into the ocean will raise by 172,7%. Hence, a systemic change is needed or we risk depleting the ocean along with increasing its acidification, which will affect the dependent ecosystems.

Plastic leakage into ocean scenarios by Pew Research study, 2020.

International Workers’ Day

Today, 1st of May, the large majority of countries celebrate the International Workers’ Day or May Day. A graphical representation of those, according to Wikipedia, is illustrated in the picture below.

The SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth reflect the origin of today’s celebration, the reduction of the 70+h working weeks to 8h/day in the XIX century. The World has come a long way since those days. More women have been included in the workforce, at all levels. The Women’s Bureau graphical representation below shows a convergence in the US workforce between 1945 and 2015. Although the USA has just elected Kamala Harris as its first female Vice-President and a few years ago, Janet Yellen was the first female leading the FED, there are some counties that have been following the opposite trend in the past 15 years.  During so, the world has seen a contraction on female representation in the workforce, stemmed from a significant reduction in the Asian-Pacific countries, as you can observe in the Our World in Data graphic below. Paid maternity leave became a reality and shared parenthood leave is becoming more normal, with Scandinavia leading on this particular progress.

Graphic 1 - USA share of male and female representation in the workforce between 1945 and 2015  Source: Women’s Bureau, US Department of Labor

Graphic 1 – USA share of male and female representation in the workforce between 1945 and 2015 Source: Women’s Bureau, US Department of Labor

Graphic 2 - World of female representation in the workforce between 1990 and 2017  Source: Our World in Data

Graphic 2 – World of female representation in the workforce between 1990 and 2017 Source: Our World in Data

In 2019 female participation has dropped to 47 % from 51% in 1990, which is aligned with overall human being representation in the workforce, as per World Bank’s graphics included below. The economic downturns along with an increase in aging population, the increase in life expectancy (hopefully reaching the 100 years life as the economist and Professor Andrew Scott, advocates) accompanied by the robotics’ usage, which improved significantly our well-being, may be the cause of this continuous drop verified in the past 15 years. The International Labour Organisation estimates that Covid-19 has caused an 8.8% of working hours loss, 400% more than during the 2008 financial crisis. Unfortunately, according to the ILO, job losses during the Pandemic were higher for women and young workers. For 2021, the job loss is expected to further contract by 3%.

Graphic 3: Female Representation in the Workforce      Source: World Bank

Graphic 3 – Female Representation in the Workforce Source: World Bank

 Graphic 4 - World's workforce participation. Source: World Bank

Graphic 4 – World’s workforce participation. Source: World Bank

During lockdown violence against women and girls has increased, and sometimes within the same gender, too. The UN estimates that gender domestic violence has increased by 30% during the Pandemic. The mistreatment of women accompanied by the heavier job losses women have faced during the Pandemic, just increase the gender gap. A retrocession that makes achieving SDG5, a bigger challenge than when it was initially set, back in 2015.

That leads us to the SDG 8, which aims at promoting “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. The Pandemic has shown lack of sustainable leadership, with several biases reflected in the unequal job losses and the PPE usage by mediatic leaders, who in their TV appearances and meetings at the crisis surge were not wearing a face-covering mask, yet demanding the population to do so.

2020 was an unprecedented year in many matters, including economic and health. Global GDP per capita is expected to drop by 4.2%, governments are spending unprecedentedly to cushion the economic downturn as much as their financial creativity allows them.

2021, offers an opportunity to rethink our lifestyles, our values and our traditional economic model. It’s time to recognise that men and women can contribute equally in the workplace and transit to the circular economy, which allows a sustainable growth for the People and the Planet.

Happy International Workers’ Day!