Doing more with less to protect the planet
Global populations are rising. About 7.5 billion people walk the planet today, and we expect that to escalate to 9 billion by 2050. More people means more production of the goods we need and more extraction of the planet’s limited natural resources.
As we face increasing resource scarcity, we also throw away valuable resources each day in the form of waste. Such waste impacts ecosystems and communities when it leaks into the environment. It’s also signals a lost opportunity to draw more from available resources.
The good news is that in many cases we can reuse materials and do more with less to limit the stress we’re putting on our natural resources. Secondary materials--those that have already been used at least once in some form--could fundamentally change the way we manage our waste and materials usage.
So, what’s stopping us? Businesses want to use more secondary materials, but there are many systemic barriers that make acquisition difficult, including: lack of quality controls, lack of effective and supportive policy based on science, and a lack of sophisticated trading mechanisms (i.e. such as those for commodities). Businesses know these materials will save money and better serve our planet. But a standardized quality control system just doesn’t exist. And ultimately, secondary materials are very hard to source, especially at the quantity and quality needed, being restricted by factors such as seasonal material availability, consistency in collection, and regional differences in availability.
Extending the life of our natural resources
Convening with relevant stakeholders, WWF saw the potential in this area and imperative need to act. And so, in partnership with these stakeholders, the Cascading Materials Vision was created. The Cascading Materials Vision is a common framework of guiding principles for industry and other stakeholders that will help businesses source secondary materials that protect their profits, the environment and future wealth of our natural resources.
By aligning with stakeholders and collaborators around a shared vision of a responsible future, WWF hopes to use this common framework to influence relevant sectors toward achievable, sustainable, and inclusive solutions that address the systemic issues that prevent creation, trade, and use of secondary materials. Collective alignment is critical for scalable change because the barriers are systemic in nature and outside the control of any one organization. It is necessary to engage with a diverse platform of stakeholders in order to begin to remove obstacles and influence the industry as a whole.
But WWF does not seek to impact industry alone. The Cascading Materials Vision is used to educate policy-makers about systemic challenges facing secondary materials creation and use, and to serve as a basis for dialogue aimed at achieving practical policies to address these challenges. The Cascading Materials Vision also serves as a foundation for promoting legislation that supports materials management programs that are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.
Presenting a framework for system-wide change
Through the Cascading Materials Vision, organizations around the globe are committing to the pursuit of better materials management that is firmly grounded in science with a systems-wide scope. By signing on to the Cascading Materials Vision, signatories commit to follow the Cascading Materials Vision’s guiding principles in future endeavors.
There are many ways in which the principles can be applied, and results are measured based upon the specifics of a given project.
The Cascading Materials Vision seeks to influence industry and public sector actors to invest in programs that address systemic obstacles in waste management systems and infrastructure and that expand the availability and use of high-quality secondary materials.
The present state of waste management is insufficient to meet the environmental challenges of today, let alone those of the future. For example, currently, over 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year because of inadequate waste management systems, and that doesn’t even account for all the other waste that leaks from these same systems. The total waste entering the ocean has not even been measured or estimated.
The challenge is not just to have smarter waste management systems but to ignite an evolution in materials development so they are designed to have ‘cascading value’. The cascading use of materials represents a largely untapped opportunity to reduce resource extraction and still meet the demands of a global economy.
With some of the world’s largest and leading companies already committed to the Cascading Materials Vision, WWF looks forward to ensuring a global system that protects our natural resources.
*The Materials Leadership Council (MLC) has also signed onto the Cascading Materials Vision