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A radical plan to end plastic waste

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    Chris Anderson: So, you've been
    obsessed with this problem
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    for the last few years.
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    What is the problem, in your own words?
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    Andrew Forrest: Plastic.
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    Simple as that.
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    Our inability to use it for the tremendous
    energetic commodity that it is,
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    and just throw it away.
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    CA: And so we see waste everywhere.
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    At its extreme, it looks a bit like this.
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    I mean, where was this picture taken?
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    AF: That's in the Philippines,
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    and you know, there's a lot of rivers,
    ladies and gentlemen,
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    which look exactly like that.
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    And that's the Philippines.
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    So it's all over Southeast Asia.
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    CA: So plastic is thrown into the rivers,
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    and from there, of course,
    it ends up in the ocean.
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    I mean, we obviously
    see it on the beaches,
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    but that's not even your main concern.
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    It's what's actually happening to it
    in the oceans. Talk about that.
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    AF: OK, so look. Thank you, Chris.
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    About four years ago,
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    I thought I'd do something
    really barking crazy,
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    and I committed to do a PhD
    in marine ecology.
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    And the scary part about that was,
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    sure, I learned a lot about marine life,
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    but it taught me more about marine death
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    and the extreme mass
    ecological fatality of fish,
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    of marine life, marine mammals,
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    very close biology to us,
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    which are dying in the millions
    if not trillions that we can't count
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    at the hands of plastic.
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    CA: But people think of plastic
    as ugly but stable. Right?
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    You throw something in the ocean,
    "Hey, it'll just sit there forever.
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    Can't do any damage, right?"
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    AF: See, Chris, it's an incredible
    substance designed for the economy.
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    It is the worst substance possible
    for the environment.
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    The worst thing about plastics,
    as soon as it hits the environment,
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    is that it fragments.
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    It never stops being plastic.
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    It breaks down smaller
    and smaller and smaller,
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    and the breaking science on this, Chris,
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    which we've known in marine ecology
    for a few years now,
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    but it's going to hit humans.
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    We are aware now that nanoplastic,
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    the very, very small particles of plastic,
    carrying their negative charge,
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    can go straight through
    the pores of your skin.
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    That's not the bad news.
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    The bad news is that it goes
    straight through the blood-brain barrier,
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    that protective coating which is there
    to protect your brain.
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    Your brain's a little amorphous, wet mass
    full of little electrical charges.
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    You put a negative particle into that,
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    particularly a negative particle
    which can carry pathogens --
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    so you have a negative charge,
    it attracts positive-charge elements,
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    like pathogens, toxins,
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    mercury, lead.
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    That's the breaking science
    we're going to see in the next 12 months.
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    CA: So already I think you told me
    that there's like 600 plastic bags or so
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    for every fish that size
    in the ocean, something like that.
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    And they're breaking down,
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    and there's going to be ever more of them,
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    and we haven't even seen the start
    of the consequences of that.
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    AF: No, we really haven't.
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    The Ellen MacArthur Foundation,
    they're a bunch of good scientists,
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    we've been working with them for a while.
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    I've completely verified their work.
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    They say there will be
    one ton of plastic, Chris,
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    for every three tons
    of fish by, not 2050 --
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    and I really get impatient with people
    who talk about 2050 -- by 2025.
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    That's around the corner.
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    That's just the here and now.
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    You don't need one ton of plastic
    to completely wipe out marine life.
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    Less than that is going
    to do a fine job at it.
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    So we have to end it straightaway.
    We've got no time.
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    CA: OK, so you have an idea for ending it,
    and you're coming at this
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    not as a typical environmental
    campaigner, I would say,
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    but as a businessman,
    as an entrepreneur, who has lived --
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    you've spent your whole life thinking
    about global economic systems
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    and how they work.
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    And if I understand it right,
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    your idea depends on heroes
    who look something like this.
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    What's her profession?
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    AF: She, Chris, is a ragpicker,
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    and there were 15, 20 million
    ragpickers like her,
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    until China stopped taking
    everyone's waste.
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    And the price of plastic,
    minuscule that it was, collapsed.
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    That led to people like her,
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    which, now -- she is a child
    who is a schoolchild.
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    She should be at school.
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    That's probably very akin to slavery.
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    My daughter Grace and I have met
    hundreds of people like her.
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    CA: And there are many adults as well,
    literally millions around the world,
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    and in some industries,
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    they actually account
    for the fact that, for example,
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    we don't see a lot
    of metal waste in the world.
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    AF: That's exactly right.
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    That little girl is, in fact,
    the hero of the environment.
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    She's in competition with
    a great big petrochemical plant
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    which is just down the road,
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    the three-and-a-half-billion-dollar
    petrochemical plant.
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    That's the problem.
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    We've got more oil and gas
    in plastic and landfill
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    than we have in the entire oil and gas
    resources of the United States.
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    So she is the hero.
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    And that's what that landfill looks like,
    ladies and gentlemen,
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    and it's solid oil and gas.
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    CA: So there's huge value
    potentially locked up in there
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    that the world's ragpickers would,
    if they could, make a living from.
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    But why can't they?
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    AF: Because we have ingrained in us
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    a price of plastic from fossil fuels,
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    which sits just under what it takes
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    to economically and profitably
    recycle plastic from plastic.
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    See, all plastic is
    is building blocks from oil and gas.
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    Plastic's 100 percent polymer,
    which is 100 percent oil and gas.
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    And you know we've got
    enough plastic in the world
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    for all our needs.
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    And when we recycle plastic,
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    if we can't recycle it cheaper
    than fossil fuel plastic,
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    then, of course, the world
    just sticks to fossil fuel plastic.
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    CA: So that's the fundamental problem,
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    the price of recycled plastic
    is usually more
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    than the price of just buying
    it made fresh from more oil.
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    That's the fundamental problem.
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    AF: A slight tweak
    of the rules here, Chris.
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    I'm a commodity person.
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    I understand that we used to have
    scrap metal and rubbish iron
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    and bits of copper lying
    all round the villages,
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    particularly in the developing world.
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    And people worked out it's got a value.
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    It's actually an article of value,
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    not of waste.
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    Now the villages and the cities
    and the streets are clean,
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    you don't trip over scrap copper
    or scrap iron now,
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    because it's an article of value,
    it gets recycled.
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    CA: So what's your idea, then,
    to try to change that in plastics?
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    AF: OK, so Chris,
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    for most part of that PhD,
    I've been doing research.
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    And the good thing about being
    a businessperson who's done OK at it
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    is that people want to see you.
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    Other businesspeople,
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    even if you're kind of a bit of a zoo
    animal species they'd like to check out,
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    they'll say, yeah, OK,
    we'll all meet Twiggy Forrest.
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    And so once you're in there,
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    you can interrogate them.
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    And I've been to most of the oil and gas
    and fast-moving consumer good companies
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    in the world,
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    and there is a real will to change.
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    I mean, there's a couple of dinosaurs
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    who are going to hope
    for the best and do nothing,
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    but there's a real will to change.
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    So what I've been discussing is,
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    the seven and a half billion
    people in the world
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    don't actually deserve to have
    their environment smashed by plastic,
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    their oceans rendered depauperate
    or barren of sea life because of plastic.
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    So you come down that chain,
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    and there's tens of thousands of brands
    which we all buy heaps of products from,
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    but then there's only a hundred
    major resin producers,
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    big petrochemical plants,
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    that spew out all the plastic
    which is single use.
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    CA: So one hundred companies
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    are right at the base
    of this food chain, as it were.
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    AF: Yeah.
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    CA: And so what do you need
    those one hundred companies to do?
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    AF: OK, so we need them
    to simply raise the value
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    of the building blocks of plastic
    from oil and gas,
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    which I call "bad plastic,"
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    raise the value of that,
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    so that when it spreads through the brands
    and onto us, the customers,
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    we won't barely even notice
    an increase in our coffee cup
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    or Coke or Pepsi, or anything.
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    CA: Like, what, like a cent extra?
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    AF: Less. Quarter of a cent, half a cent.
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    It'll be absolutely minimal.
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    But what it does,
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    it makes every bit of plastic
    all over the world an article of value.
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    Where you have the waste worst,
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    say Southeast Asia, India,
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    that's where the wealth is most.
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    CA: OK, so it feels like
    there's two parts to this.
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    One is, if they will charge more money
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    but carve out that excess
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    and pay it -- into what? --
    a fund operated by someone
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    to tackle this problem of -- what?
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    What would that money be used for,
    that they charge the extra for?
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    AF: So when I speak
    to really big businesses,
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    I say, "Look, I need you to change,
    and I need you to change really fast,"
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    their eyes are going
    to peel over in boredom,
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    unless I say, "And it's good business."
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    "OK, now you've got my attention, Andrew."
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    So I say, "Right, I need
    you to make a contribution
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    to an environmental
    and industry transition fund.
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    Over two or three years,
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    the entire global plastics industry
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    can transition from getting
    its building blocks from fossil fuel
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    to getting its building
    blocks from plastic.
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    The technology is out there.
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    It's proven."
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    I've taken two multibillion-dollar
    operations from nothing,
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    recognizing that
    the technology can be scaled.
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    I see at least a dozen technologies
    in plastic to handle all types of plastic.
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    So once those technologies
    have an economic margin,
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    which this gives them,
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    that's where the global public
    will get all their plastic from,
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    from existing plastic.
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    CA: So every sale of virgin plastic
    contributes money to a fund
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    that is used to basically
    transition the industry
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    and start to pay for things
    like cleanup and other pieces.
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    AF: Absolutely. Absolutely.
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    CA: And it has
    the incredible side benefit,
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    which is maybe even the main benefit,
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    of creating a market.
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    It suddenly makes recyclable plastic
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    a giant business that can unlock
    millions of people around the world
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    to find a new living collecting it.
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    AF: Yeah, exactly.
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    So all you do is, you've got fossil
    fuel plastics at this value
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    and recycled plastic at this value.
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    You change it.
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    So recycled plastic is cheaper.
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    What I love about this most, Chris,
    is that, you know,
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    we waste into the environment
    300, 350 million tons of plastic.
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    On the oil and gas companies own accounts,
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    it's going to grow to 500 million tons.
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    This is an accelerating problem.
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    But every ton of that is polymer.
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    Polymer is 1,000 dollars,
    1,500 dollars a ton.
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    That's half a trillion dollars
    which could go into business
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    and could create jobs and opportunities
    and wealth right across the world,
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    particularly in the most impoverished.
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    Yet we throw it away.
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    CA: So this would allow the big companies
    to invest in recycling plants
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    literally all over the world --
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    AF: All over the world.
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    Because the technology
    is low-capital cost,
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    you can put it in at rubbish dumps,
    at the bottom of big hotels,
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    garbage depots, everywhere,
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    turn that waste into resin.
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    CA: Now, you're a philanthropist,
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    and you're ready to commit
    some of your own wealth to this.
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    What is the role of philanthropy
    in this project?
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    AF: I think what we have to do
    is kick in the 40 to 50 million US dollars
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    to get it going,
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    and then we have to create
    absolute transparency
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    so everyone can see
    exactly what's going on.
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    From the resin producers
    to the brands to the consumers,
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    everyone gets to see
    who is playing the game,
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    who is protecting the Earth,
    and who doesn't care.
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    And that'll cost about
    a million dollars a week,
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    and we're going to underwrite
    that for five years.
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    Total contribution is circa
    300 million US dollars.
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    CA: Wow.
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    Now --
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    (Applause)
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    You've talked to other companies,
    like to the Coca-Colas of this world,
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    who are willing to do this,
    they're willing to pay a higher price,
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    they would like to pay a higher price,
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    so long as it's fair.
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    AF: Yeah, it's fair.
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    So, Coca-Cola wouldn't
    like Pepsi to play ball
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    unless the whole world knew
    that Pepsi wasn't playing ball.
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    Then they don't care.
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    So it's that transparency of the market
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    where, if people try and cheat the system,
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    the market can see it,
    the consumers can see it.
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    The consumers want a role to play in this.
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    Seven and a half billion of us.
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    We don't want our world smashed
    by a hundred companies.
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    CA: Well, so tell us, you've said
    what the companies can do
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    and what you're willing to do.
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    What can people listening do?
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    AF: OK, so I would like all of us,
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    all around the world,
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    to go a website called noplasticwaste.org.
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    You contact your hundred resin producers
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    which are in your region.
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    You will have at least one
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    within an email or Twitter
    or a telephone contact from you,
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    and let them know that you would like them
    to make a contribution to a fund
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    which industry can manage
    or the World Bank can manage.
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    It raises tens of billions
    of dollars per year
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    so you can transition the industry
    to getting all its plastic from plastic,
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    not from fossil fuel.
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    We don't need that.
    That's bad. This is good.
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    And it can clean up the environment.
  • 13:29 - 13:30
    We've got enough capital there,
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    we've got tens of billions
    of dollars, Chris, per annum
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    to clean up the environment.
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    CA: You're in the recycling business.
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    Isn't this a conflict of interest for you,
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    or rather, a huge business
    opportunity for you?
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    AF: Yeah, look, I'm in
    the iron ore business,
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    and I compete against
    the scrap metal business,
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    and that's why you don't have
    any scrap lying around to trip over,
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    and cut your toe on,
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    because it gets collected.
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    CA: This isn't your excuse
    to go into the plastic recycling business.
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    AF: No, I am going to cheer for this boom.
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    This will be the internet
    of plastic waste.
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    This will be a boom industry
    which will spread all over the world,
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    and particularly where poverty is worst
    because that's where the rubbish is most,
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    and that's the resource.
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    So I'm going to cheer for it
    and stand back.
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    CA: Twiggy, we're in an era
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    where so many people around the world
    are craving a new, regenerative economy,
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    these big supply chains,
    these big industries,
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    to fundamentally transform.
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    It strikes me as a giant idea,
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    and you're going to need a lot of people
    cheering you on your way
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    to make it happen.
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    Thank you for sharing this with us.
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    AF: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chris.
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    (Applause)
Títol:
A radical plan to end plastic waste
Speaker:
Andrew Forrest
Descripció:

Plastic is an incredible substance for the economy -- and the worst substance possible for the environment, says entrepreneur Andrew Forrest. In a conversation meant to spark debate, Forrest and head of TED Chris Anderson discuss an ambitious plan to get the world's biggest companies to fund an environmental revolution -- and transition industry towards getting all of its plastic from recycled materials, not from fossil fuels.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Projecte:
TEDTalks
Duration:
14:58

English subtitles

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