In Part 1 of this post, I presented the problem – the threat – of not one, but several giant plastic garbage patches in Earth’s oceans and what that means to sea life (and land life, for example, human project managers). Taking a project management approach, I provided information on the threat so we could understand the impact and begin to identify risk responses. That post closed with research from Professor Jenna Jemback of the University of Georgia and a challenge from me to you to count the number of plastic items you touched in a particular period after reading the post.
First, let me thank those of you who responded (quite a few!). Typically, the number was over 50 in just a few hours, one of you even counted 20 touched plastic items on your way to your car after reading the article!
So you literally can sense this threat, perhaps in a very tactile way you hadn’t before.
Let’s switch gears now, and do what we do best as project managers, look at solving the problem – even turning the threat into an opportunity - or a whole portfolio of opportunities.
In the remaining parts of this post I’ll talk about how industry has responded (Part 2) and will save the best for last in Part 3, which will probably make you smile because it is about a tremendous project to solve the problem – so you may actually smile twice - once for the project itself and once for the potential results it seems capable of providing.
In this short Part 2, however, I will talk in general about the way industry has the chance to step up and help solve the problem but also do that in a way that generates revenue and pays off for investors.
They say: “follow the money” to help trace corruption – or solve problems. Here (thankfully) we are focused on solving problems. So I begin Part 2 with a report that – well, I’ll let the abstract of the report tell you about itself:
The goal of this report is to show how private capital can play a meaningful role in tackling the issues of plastic pollution across the world’s ocean. Numerous investment opportunities are highlighted across the risk/return spectrum where investors can gain a return on investment, while also having a meaningful impact on the problem of ocean plastics
In the foreword of the report, we also find this:
This is a challenge of global proportions, but, if there is good news, it is that the worst effects of ocean plastics can still be avoided with strategic, timely and coordinated actions. There is still time, and there is ample opportunity, for diverse funders to make a series of well-orchestrated, high-impact investments that will meaningfully shift the trajectory our ocean is currently following.
Do you see the connection to project management? “Strategic, timely, and coordinated actions” – hello, project managers, this is our ‘thang’, isn’t it? Overseeing “well-orchestrated, high-impact investments” – isn’t that the signature work of our profession? It sure is!
Here are the opportunities covered in the report:
Opportunities From Source Through Use
Opportunities With Post-Consumer Plastics
The report is huge, is full of opportunities, and mentions the word “project” dozens of times.
So let’s just pick one – Waste to Energy (WTE) and take a look at the opportunities. Below is a video from the American Chemistry Council and although it starts with a bit on recycling plastics, it moves quickly to an illustration of the many ways that non-recyclable plastics can be converted to energy in such ways as gasification.
Again, this is just one of the many branches pointed to in the report, and from this, you can learn much more by going to:
American Chemistry site on Plastics
Materials Recovery For the Future (MRFF)
But take a look at the entire report, too:
The best is yet to come – in Part 3 we will look at something really special – a project to go right after the problem and collect the waste that is already “out there’ in the oceans.
That's in part 3... coming soon!
I approach this three part (!!!) post from the PMI® viewpoint about risk.
Risk, as you likely know, can be described as negative risk, the risk we usually think of, called threat, and positive risk, called opportunity. When I started this story it was very depressing – because I thought of it only as a threat. But a deeper dive (excuse the pun) led me to the conclusion that there was both threat and opportunity here. In fact, I’ll treat this as a three-part series. Part 1 will focus on risk identification, Part 2 on threat and opportunity analysis, and Part 3 on risk response – and the initiation of a huge project that will capture your imagination and tickle your project management fancy.
So – all that said, let’s start with Part 1: Risk Identification. What’s the risk, and why was it so depressing at first?
Here’s a challenge for you, dear reader. Consciously note and identify the number of plastic items you touch over the next 24 hours. In fact, let’s make this a bit interactive. I request that you respond to this post with that count of touches and items. Log it on a piece of note paper, remembering that the pen you use is also likely made of plastic. Plastic is everywhere. You’re reading this post while touching a plastic bezel of a device or with your hands resting on a plastic keyboard and/or mouse, and looking at a plastic monitor, perhaps snacking on pretzels in a plastic bag (watch those crumbs!). So the risk I’m talking about is indeed – plastic.
Many of you have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For those not familiar with the situation, first of all, the word “patch” makes it sound way too small. It’s actually (currently) twice the size of Texas. And – ask anyone in Texas, Texas is BIG. Below is an image from a recent article in New Scientist magazine:
This is not just about litter – the plastic affects a much larger food chain – including us. And it’s not just this patch, where the plastic happens to concentrate. Remember your project management training – a risk is not a risk unless it has an effect on project objectives. In this case, for sake of argument, the “project” is continuing good quality of life on this planet. From the below, you can see that this definitely qualifies as a risk. Research suggests that not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution. Here is one small sample regarding fish, from research on the effect of plastics on sea life:
“Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.”
Where’s the plastic coming from? In other words, what’s the cause – the source of this risk?
Professor Jambeck has collaborated on a technical article recently published in Science magazine which details this:
Science magazine article - Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.full
From the abstract:
By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. The plastic garbage patch may even be much bigger than we thought, according to this recent article. And, oh, by the way, this is not the only mass of debris. Each of Earth’s gyres (click on the link and/or see below) also contain vast amounts of plastic.
So, the problem is huge, and it’s growing, but we have identified the threat and we have a much better handle on its size. In Part 2 of this three-part post, I’ll talk more about the risk analysis and move towards a risk response.
But before you leave... remember my challenge to you. Track the plastic items that you touch over the next 24 hours (or whatever period you can bear doing this) and respond to this post with your numbers and if you're willing, a table showing the number and the items.