Singling Out Plastic

Cities, countries and organizations take a stand against bags, bottles and straws

Just about everywhere you look, there’s plastic. Hundreds of millions of tons of it is produced each year, and that number is rising. On average, Western Europeans and North Americans consume about 220 pounds of plastic per person every year.1 But that's been the case for decades, so what has people fussing about it now?

Well, most plastic isn’t recyclable. And even if it is, much of it isn’t recycled—each year, between 22% and 43% of plastic products wind up in landfills and 10 million to 20 million tons ends up in oceans.2 And if the plastic is petroleum based, that means it isn’t biodegradable, either. It does, however, break down into millions of tiny pieces and make its way into just about everything—oceans, drinking water, sea creatures and even your bloodstream.3

Erik Solheim, head of United Nations (UN) Environment, said in a recent report, “Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use. Much plastic may be single-use, but that does not mean it is easily disposable. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastic can take up to a thousand years to decompose.”4

How can we reduce our use of a substance that is so pervasive in our lives that so often turns to waste? What are organizations and countries doing to be socially responsible and influence how plastics are used­—and reused?

According to the UN Environment report, “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability,” more than 60 countries—including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom—have implemented taxes and bans to try and curb single-use plastics.5

Although the United States hasn’t adopted a nationwide ban, some cities and states are implementing their own regulations. New York City, for example, instituted a $.05 per bag fee on single-use plastic bags. Massachusetts has proposed banning retailers from dispensing plastic bags and requiring them to charge at least $.10 for each recycled paper or reusable bag provided to customers at checkout.6

But these measures don’t always have the desired effect. Of the 60 countries that have implemented bans on single-use plastics, only 30% said it has dramatically reduced consumption or pollution. Half said they have no data on the ban’s impact, and 20% said it has had little to no impact.7

The UN Environment report suggests that banning single-use plastics is the first step to a more comprehensive approach: “[O]ther actions that could be pursued to reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste include technological, social and waste management system responses.”8

For there to be sustainable, successful improvement in reducing waste, there must be greater social awareness and pressure to make changes, the report suggests. It is that public pressure that will then trigger policy changes.

“Public awareness strategies can include a wide range of activities designed to persuade and educate,” the report said. “These strategies may focus not only on the reuse and recycling of resources, but also on encouraging responsible use and minimization of waste generation and litter.”9

The opposition

The plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industries employ about 24,600 people across the United States, so it comes as no surprise that they are on the other side of the fence and oppose banning single-use plastics.10

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, founded in 2005 to support plastic bag manufacturers and their products, promotes recycling, encourages bag reuse and educates people about the benefits of using plastic bags over alternatives.11

Novolex, a manufacturer of recycled content, launched the “Bag the Ban” initiative in response to plastic bag bans and taxes, instead promoting recycling and reuse. According to Novolex, their recyclability and reusability make plastic bags the most environmentally friendly option.12

Even some consumers are opposed to the measures retailers are taking against single-use plastics. In July, customer pushback caused Coles, a major supermarket in Australia, to back down from imposing a plastic bag fee at its stores. Customers would have had to either bring their own bags or pay $.11 per reusable plastic bag.13


As the UN Environment report suggests, reducing the use of single-use plastics will take more than implementing bans and taxes. Several big names in the food and beverage industry are getting ahead of regulations and innovating to create more eco-friendly products.

Starbucks and McDonald’s, for example, have teamed up to facilitate a competition called the NextGen Cup Challenge. Although the cups the organizations currently use are recyclable, they generally end up in the trash due to the United States’ poor recycling infrastructure. So, the organizations are challenging the public to create a cup that is not only recyclable but also compostable.

The organizations also have set individual goals for themselves. By 2020, Starbucks aims to stop using plastic straws,14 and by 2025, McDonald’s will make all of its consumer packaging from renewable and recyclable materials.15

Coca-Cola, too, has joined the initiative. By 2030, the organization plans to recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging, meaning for every bottle or can it produces, it will take one back.

According to Ben Jordan, Coca-Cola’s senior director of environmental policy, “We don’t currently see a viable replacement for packaging, so the solution is very much about putting better stuff out there and bringing it back.”16

These organizations—among others—are working to reduce the amount of plastic they produce each year, but what about the plastic that’s already in the oceans and landfills? Adidas is one organization tackling that problem.

In partnership with Parley, an environmental organization, the shoe giant has created new manufacturing methods that use recycled plastic found in the ocean to create yarn. The yarn is then used to create shoe laces, sock liner covers, and heel lining and webbing. Each pair of shoes uses about 11 plastic bottles.17

What’s next?

So, what’s the answer? Should single-use plastics be banned? Maybe better recycling infrastructure is needed. Or maybe efforts should be made to reduce the use—and waste—of single-use plastics. The answer likely lies among all three options—a balance of reduce, reuse and recycle.

—compiled by Lindsay Dal Porto, assistant editor


  1. “Global Plastic Production Rises, Recycling Lags,” Worldwatch Institute, Jan. 28, 2015, https://tinyurl.com/zdcapmh.
  2. Ibid.
  3. “What Is Single-Use Plastic and Why Is it a Problem?” Plastic Free Challenge, https://tinyurl.com/y9qrlpgf.
  4. “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability,” United Nations Environment Program, https://tinyurl.com/ya9ht675.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ben Adler, “Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast,” Wired, June 10, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/hggmdvg.
  7. “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability,” see reference 4.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Sara Merken, “Plastics Industry Opposes Patchwork of Rules as Bag Bans Expand,” Bloomberg Environment, Jan. 17, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ycul9duo.
  11. “About the APBA,” American Progressive Bag Alliance, www.plasticsindustry.org/apba/about.
  12. “Learn the Facts,” Bag the Ban, www.bagtheban.com/learn-the-facts.
  13. “‘Bag Rage’ Prompts Backdown on Plastic Bag Levy in Australia,” Reuters, July 31, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ydavgmey.
  14. Carson Kessler, “Starbucks and McDonald’s Team Up to Create a New Sustainable Cup,” Fortune, July 18, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybs69dbt.
  15. “‘Banning the Bag’ Won’t Fix Ocean Plastic Problem Manufactures Say,” Bloomberg, March 15, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y6wcdxcx.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Dennis Green, “Adidas Has Sold 1 Million Pairs of Sneakers Made From Ocean Trash—and Reveals a New Normal in Footwear,” Business Insider, March 17, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yb6qn7bn.

New @ ASQ

What’s on our minds

ANAB’s Randy Dougherty and Lori Gillespie are among the recipients of the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) 2018 Leadership and Service Awards. Dougherty, who serves as ANAB’s international technical specialist, will receive the Gerald H. Ritterbusch Conformity Assessment Medal, which honors distinguished service in promoting the understanding and application of conformity assessment methods as a means of providing confidence in standards compliance for the marketplace. Gillespie, ANAB’s vice president for management systems, is among 10 individuals who will receive ANSI’s Meritorious Service Award in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the U.S. voluntary standardization system. For more on the awards, visit www.anab.org/latest-news/dougherty-and-gillespie-ansi-award-recipients.

Two ASQ conferences are in the works. The second annual ASQ Quality 4.0 Summit on Disruption, Innovation and Change will be held Nov. 12-13 in Dallas. The conference features presentations, demonstrations and discussions led by technology experts, industry leaders and quality professionals. For more information and updates on conference events, as well as announcements about keynote speakers, visit asq.org/conferences/quality-4-0. ASQ’s Lean and Six Sigma Conference will be held March 5-6, 2019 in Phoenix. The theme of the conference is “Lean and Six Sigma in the Digital Age.” For more information and updates on the two-day event, visit asq.org/conferences/six-sigma.

John Karlin, an ASQ member, will receive the Excellence in Neonatal Nursing Practice Award at the Academy of Neonatal Nursing’s National Neonatal Nurses Conference in New Orleans this month. Karlin is a registered nurse who works in Oklahoma City.

Getting to Know…

Govind Ramu

Current position: Program manager for the end-to-end closed-loop learning process for Google, Mountain View, CA

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Bangalore University, India; post-graduate certificate, Indian Statistical Institute; and licensed professional engineer (Ontario)

What was your introduction to quality? I was assigned to the quality function just after graduating college as a trainee for an organization that produced mechanical and electrical assembly for railway safety. I remember the hiring manager saying that I looked like a “quality kind of person.” I’m not sure what that meant!

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Stay scrappy. Learn to live with half the resources, and when times are difficult, you can survive.

Are you active in ASQ? Since 2002, I have been a volunteer with ASQ’s Ottawa Valley section, working as its certified quality improvement associate trainer, treasurer and chair. I have served as a reviewer for ASQ Quality Press, and a reviewer and item writer for ASQ’s certifications. I also have volunteered as an ASQ discussion board moderator and presented on behalf of ASQ at many international events. I am a core team member for ASQ India, a reviewer and moderator for the ASQ Technical Conference Committee, a U.S. technical advisory group (TAG) expert for ASQ’s Standards Committee and chair for the U.S. TAG’s Technical Committee 176/Subcommittee 1 for ISO 9000:2015 standards.

Have you had anything published? Since 2006, I have had several articles published in QP, Six Sigma Forum Magazine and Standards Connection newsletter. I have also had several books published through ASQ Quality Press. Most recently, I co-authored ASQ Technical Report 2:2018: Cost of Quality, Guidelines for Development, Implementation and Monitoring to Improve Quality and Performance.

What noteworthy activities or achievements outside of ASQ do you participate in? I contributed as a lead author for the Solar Quality Management System Standard International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Technical Specification (TS) 62941:2016 and a key contributing author for IEC TS 63049:2017. I served as a one-time Baldrige Award examiner and a three-time California State Award examiner.

Any recent honors or awards? I was the recipient of the 2017 ASQ Crosby Medal and the Simon Collier Award, given by the ASQ Los Angeles Section for the year 2018. I also was recognized for outstanding professional achievement by the ASQ Standards Committee last month.

Personal: Married with two children.

What are your favorite ways to relax? Watching historical dramas and documentaries, gardening and listening to National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” program.

Quality quote: Processes and results are important for a well-functioning system. Processes without results are useless, and results without processes are unsustainable.


Quality-Related News From Around the World  —powered by Lexis Nexis

Top Patient Safety Pain Points and Where to Focus Improvement Efforts

Many healthcare organizations are working to improve patient safety but serious challenges remain. Medical errors are among the leading causes of death in the United States, and non-lethal harm occurs even more frequently—at a rate 10 to 20 times higher than deaths. A big part of the problem is the fact that determining exactly where to focus patient improvement efforts is a difficult decision for most organizations. Read more: https://tinyurl.com/yd7rr9hf.

Businesses Expect IIoT to Boost Their Revenues by $154 Million

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is set to revolutionize how businesses function in the next few years. There will be significantly increased automation and operational efficiency using real-time data and machine-to-machine communication across the planet. According to a new global study by Inmarsat, a mobile satellite communications organization, organizations across the global supply chain expect IIoT to increase their annual revenues by 10% within five years. For more information, visit: https://tinyurl.com/ycsvxt78.

To get a roundup of the week’s most noteworthy stories delivered to your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the QNT Weekly e-newsletter at asq.org/newsletters.


New Menus, Technology Fuel Rise in Restaurant Customer Satisfaction

Full-service and fast food restaurants have been revamping their menus and rolling out more mobile ordering options to the delight of diners.

Customer satisfaction with the accommodation and food services sector overall increased 1.8% year over year to a score of 79.4 on the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) 100-point scale.

According to the ACSI Restaurant Report 2018, full-service restaurants jumped 3.8% to an ACSI score of 81, while fast food establishments gained 1.3% to a score of 80.

“As the economy improves, consumers have more money to spend, and they’re dining out more,” said David VanAmburg, managing director at ACSI.

“At the same time, restaurants are adapting their menus and technology in line with shifting consumer preferences, as millennial tastes for fresh food, mobile ordering and automated kiosks take hold. The bottom line: Restaurants are working hard to please consumers, and the latest ACSI scores show that it’s paying off,” VanAmburg said.

For more specifics on the ratings, visit https://tinyurl.com/acsi-report-restaurants.


Data Privacy, Ads Drive Customer Dissatisfaction in Social Media

Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have the least satisfied users in social media, according to the latest data from a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index’s (ACSI) report.

Customer satisfaction with social media fell 1.4% to a score of 72 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale, ranking it among the bottom five of all industries measured by ACSI and the lowest of the three e-business categories.

The other two categories fared better: Internet news and opinion held steady at 75, while internet search engines and information climbed 3.9% to a score of 79. In internet news and opinion, FOXNews.com maintained its lead over NYTimes.com, with CNN.com a distant last place. Among search engines, there were few surprises as Google remains well in the lead.

“Privacy concerns, bots and toxic online discourse have taken their toll on social media. But users report they’re even less satisfied with the amount of advertising on social media sites than with privacy protections,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI managing director.

For more from the report, visit https://tinyurl.com/acsi-report-data-privacy.

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