A tidal wave of plastic: developing “cradle to cradle” thinking

With a dramatic increase in plastic pollution in our seas, experts at the ITB Berlin Convention examine possible solutions

Dr Monika Griefahn was a founding member of Greenpeace Germany and a former Minister of the Environment in this country. She is currently Senior Advisor Sustainability, Costa Group, which consists of AIDA, Costa and Costa Asia. We asked her to tell us a little more about what we can expect to hear at her presentation

I will take part in a panel discussion on the topic. In my opinion, the plastic problem can be approached in two ways: Try to get the huge amounts of plastics, which can be found in rivers and oceans out of the water again. And try to develop a production system and material management which will prevent waste in general – the Cradle to Cradle design principle will be the best way to do so.


How important is the plastic problem compared to other issues such as global warming?

The plastic problem is the result of a manner of production not suitable for the earth. It ignores the limits of resources and the waste of energy – as if we had more than one earth. This implies things as pollution or drain of land resources – and contributes to the current climate change. If we come to a new way of production with high quality upcycling and a system of services instead of ownerships at its core, this will lead to a world without waste and will very much contribute to the ght against global warming.

In many parts of the world, there is simply no garbage collection, meaning people throw whatever rubbish they have into the river or the sea. How can this be stopped?

Given the Cradle to Cradle thinking, solutions must be of a big variety. In societies with well operating political structures and high technical standards waste sorting might be a bridge solution. In societies without those traits, it might be a solution to design products in a way that they can be compost and be a biological nutrient. We lose 3-10 times more topsoil than we produce. You can even think of useful waste: If a garbage collection system doesn’t exist and people throw their packaging right in the streets –why not produce it in away it decays rapidly and sets free some flower seed which will green the towns? It all stands and falls with design and the chosen material of production and products.

Given your background with Greenpeace and as a Minister, what should federal and local governments be doing to remedy the problem?

Looking to the administration structures in Germany, first of all they should take their function as a role model seriously: Public institutions are big buyers – their procurement strategy can be pivotal to the way companies produce things. When I was Minister for the Environment back in the 1990s, we adopted a corresponding procurement strategy. Unfortunately, my successors repulled this strategy. In general, to deal with the given situation of worldwide plastic pollution, political entities first should rigorously ask for the right products, i.e. monomaterial like nylon for packaging, which can be easily recycled several times and followed up with waste sorting composting and reusing. And politicians should demand the help of their industries to develop more intelligent products and processes. Waste sorting or recycling can be supported with educational work or development help for the right infrastructure, which of course does not mean waste incinerations plants.


Category: CSR Day
Date: March 8, 2019
Time: 2pm-2:45pm
Location: City Cube, Auditorium A3

Photo: Dr Monika Griefahn, Senior Advisor Sustainability, Costa Group