Earth Day 2018: the war on plastic

Earth Day 2018: the war on plastic

The theme of the 48th Earth Day, on 22 April, is the damage inflicted by plastic pollution. Our Group’s sustainability projects include recycling, renewable energy production and world eco-missions


The days of plastic pollution are numbered. Indeed the countdown to the end of waste caused by products made from petroleum and other environmentally-damaging substances begins on 22 AprilEarth Day.

Earth Day is an annual event that was first organised in 1970 to raise public awareness about environmental issues. Its goal for 2018 is shared by Enel, which is involved in a variety of related activities.  

In November last year, the Group endorsed the Circular Economy Alliance’s Manifesto, which is essentially a shared commitment to preserving our natural heritage and speeding up the transition to a circular model.  


Plastic, plastic everywhere…

The consequences of plastic pollution go well beyond the 8 million-plus tonnes of waste dumped into the marine environment each year and the almost 5.55 billion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans. Aside from the damage inflicted on maritime ecosystems and coastlines, the ingestion of substances contaminated with polymer-derived microparticles is also playing havoc with human hormones. Our waters, in fact, are where most plastic waste accumulates and circulates in the environment and its toxic effects are passed on to us through fish and agricultural products.

The problem has now reached unsustainable proportions and if we fail to adopt new practices and solutions, our oceans will have more waste than fish in them by 2050. Plastic, for instance, compromised the sustainability mission of skipper Andrea Fantini during the Transat Jacques Vabre ocean race as collisions with several UFOs (“unidentified floating objects”) damaged the rudder of his Class 40 Enel Green Power, which was entirely green energy-powered, thanks to our Group’s role as its innovation partner. This interruption, however, will not prevent Fantini from competing in 2018 and 2019, when he intends to demonstrate that zero emissions sailing is feasible. To coincide with Earth Day on 22 April, the Italian skipper has also been invited to speak about his experience at the Rome Festival of Sciences, which is supported by National Geographic with Enel as main sponsor. The weeklong event includes the “In the footsteps of the glaciers – in search of the past to create a sustainable future” comparative photographic exhibition curated by Fabiano Ventura and supported by Enel Green Power. In the show, photographs taken by the early explorers are hung side by side with contemporary shots, providing visual evidence of the impact of global warming and the importance water plays in protecting the delicate balance of our ecosystems.  

As Enel’s Head of Sustainability Andrea Valcalda pointed out at the last Sustainable Development Festival, recycling, adopting new high tech solutions and new lifestyles is something neither citizens, institutions nor companies can opt out of because transition to sustainability is something we are all responsible for. Without shared change, the planet’s evolution will increasingly endanger the survival of the human race itself.  


"We adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined in Agenda 2030 as part of our strategy from the outset, particularly those relating to access to energy, slowing climate change and access to education and equitable economic growth"
Andrea Valcalda, Enel’s Head of Sustainability 

Turning plastic into energy

In January, the European Commission adopted the “A European strategy for plastic in a circular economy” document which aims to make 100% of packaging recyclable by 2030 (just 30% of the 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste produced today is recycled). For quite some time now, Enel has been driving projects in this direction in the nations in which it has a presence.

Having signed up to a partnership with the NGO Liter of Lights at COP21 in Paris, Enel began turning plastic bottles and recycled materials into solar energy lights. This innovative idea was launched by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and helps bring zero emissions lighting to the world’s most disadvantaged communities in line with Agenda 2030’s SDG7. Through the partnership, which is part of Enel’s Enabling Electricity programme, our Group has set up laboratories in several different nations, including Mexico and South Africa. In the case of the latter, in Nojoli in the Eastern Cape region, a wind farm (which is capable of generating in excess of 275 GWh per year) has been connected to the grid (thus preventing the creation of over 251,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually). Not only that, plastic bottles will now also be turned into 55 W solar lights as part of the rural electrification scheme. All that is needed for this process are ordinary plastic containers, some water, an electric circuit made from recycled materials, a LED, a solar panel and a recyclable lithium battery. A total of 18 Solar Bottles and 25 lanterns were made in the first laboratory course, which began in 2016 and was attended by 60 people.

In the Brazilian states of Cearà and Rio de Janeiro, the Ecoenel programme (a winner at the 2008 World Business and Development Awards) offers consumers who recycle waste, particularly plastics, discounts on their electricity bills. And the resources are there aplenty: at 250 tonnes per day, Brazil is the world’s third largest waste producer. In the areas where it has the concession for the supply of electricity, Ecoenel plans to install 74 “ecopontos” where people can leave their sorted rubbish. From there, it will be sent to recycling plants for sustainable reuse. A special waste sorting and recycling marathon race for teams was also organised to incentivise the sorting of waste for recycling.

The art of recycling was promoted in the areas of Italy that were hit by an earthquake in 2016, by involving 70 elementary school pupils in Abruzzo in three different workshops: waste materials were reused to make not just toys but also works of art, as well as costumes and accessories for a recycling-themed theatre show.


From recycling to the cradle

Recycling our waste is definitely a positive way of cutting plastic pollution. But the idea of waste itself needs to be done away with, by revolutionising the way goods are designed and manufactured through what has been dubbed the “Cradle to Cradle” model by German chemist Michael Braungart. This involves giving back to nature whatever we take from it. That is why Enel is committed to increasing its renewable energy production, by creating hybrid plants that bring together storage, solar and wind energy. One example is the Ollagüe project in Chile’s Atacama Desert, but Enel Green Power’s innovative solutions also extend to harnessing the power of the sea. Indeed it is estimated that over the next decade wave power will be used to generate at least 130 GW.

E-mobility is another sector that can radically change the way we live our lives by combining car sharing with innovatively using e-cars which can double as mobile batteries and grid stabilisers, thanks to Vehicle-to-Grid technology.

The Futur-e project also has a circular economy focus, as it will give a new lease of life to 23 thermoelectric power stations in Italy. These facilities supported Italy’s industrial growth for decades and now, thanks to collaborations with the local areas and the creation of shared value, they will have new stories of sustainable development and innovation to tell.

All our Group’s projects are gathered together and presented in our Sustainability Report. They are the result of work that will never cease because as far as Enel is concerned, every day is Earth Day.