It is not a big deal, but it is a great start and a way of thinking.
Alex Steffen once noted that "There is no such thing as garbage, just useful stuff in the wrong place." This TreeHugger has complained that recycling was "never anything but a justification for making more disposable stuff and making us feel better about buying disposables and throwing stuff out. It never was a green virtue, it was mostly a scam." TreeHugger contributor Tom Szaky tells the Financial Times that "recycling is not the solution to waste, it is just a temporary band-aid, the solution is to move to a world where garbage doesn’t exist."
In fact, the whole system of what used to be passed off as recycling, where the consumer carefully separates all their glass and plastic and paper has been turned on its head by China's refusal to accept contaminated waste. As noted in the Wall Street Journal,
Prices for scrap paper and plastic have collapsed, leading local officials across the country to charge residents more to collect recyclables and send some to landfills. Used newspapers, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles are piling up at plants that can’t make a profit processing them for export or domestic markets.
On top of the recycling problem, we have the plastics in the ocean problem that is driving companies to make changes, the most obvious being the corporate rush to eliminate straws. It's mostly symbolic; Burger King in the UK and A&W in Canada are banning straws, but will still be serving drinks in plastic-lined cups and let's not even get started about the climate impact of burgers.
But symbolic moves matter, they add up, and they inspire others. Via Business Green we learn that Credit card company American Express is going to be producing its cards from recovered plastic "found in the oceans and on the coasts."
The card will be made with "upcycled marine plastic debris" which is one of the few times I have seen the word upcycled used properly in a press release.
“Every second breath we take is created by the oceans. Without them, we can’t exist. American Express is creating a symbol of change and inviting their network to shape a blue future, one based on creativity, collaboration and eco-innovation.” Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans [working with Amex on this]
Making credit cards out of upcycled marine plastic is mostly symbolic, given that they do not have a lot of plastic in them and last a long time. But Amex isn't stopping there, but will also be phasing out single-use plastics in its airport lounges and offices, and pursuing zero waste certification for its New York offices. They are also going to "set a comprehensive waste reduction strategy to reduce single-use plastic and increase recycling rates in its operations globally by the end of the year." That is more than symbolic.
Interestingly, they also are making a "commitment to have 100% of its employee business travel be carbon neutral by 2021." Hypocrite that I am, I will feel better about paying for my not very carbon neutral flights with my American Express card because of all this.