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What are businesses really doing to reduce plastic waste?

Thursday, July 25, 2019


Plastic pollution is the modern world’s nemesis. It has become one of the biggest environmental issues of our time. Back in 2016, record-breaking sailor and environmentalist, Dame Ellen MacArthur warned the that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.It’s not just our oceans that are suffering the scourge of plastic waste. Last year the UN announced that tiny plastic particles are also polluting our soil and that terrestrial microplastic pollution is in fact much higher than marine plastic pollution.While plastic has transformed our lives mostly for the better – a report by National Geographic on how plastic has changed our world highlights plastic as being integral to helping the war effort (nylon parachutes), eased space travel, revolutionised medicines, extended the shelf-life of fresh food and so on - it has also undoubtedly begun to ransack the earth.

How did we get to this point?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), plastic output has grown 200-fold since 1950 and that plastic now accounts for 10 per cent of all the earth’s waste. Excessive production, insufficient recycling and plastic overuse have contributed to this unsustainable burden on the environment.

What are businesses doing?

Environmentally-friendly packaging alternatives

One of the answers to plastic pollution is not to create the waste in the first place. Many eco-conscious businesses are rethinking their business to eradicate the use of soft plastics, which are single use and non-recyclable (the most harmful to the environment).

Understanding packaging problems and switching to sustainable alternatives are ways businesses can reduce their environmental impact. Ethical Unicorn gives us a sobering reminder of the fact that a plastic grocery store bag has an average use time of just 12 minutes, yet can cause hundreds of years’ worth of damage.

Retailers have been forced to recognise the error of their ways and swathes of businesses are taking action when it comes to plastic packaging. Boots is the latest in a long line of giant retailers to ban plastic bags. The Guardian reports that there has actually been a decrease of 86 per cent in the sale of single-use plastic bags by the seven big supermarkets in England.

Source: Tinkture

Circular plastic use and recycling model

Yachtswoman, Dame Ellen Macarthur has created a foundation to accelerate the transition to a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. It promotes a framework where all materials, including plastic, are made to be re-used or recycled, without any waste.

Climate Action have named French bottled water company, Evian, as one of the top 5 companies really testing themselves on reducing plastic waste. With the help of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, Evian are working towards the creation of a truly circular model across the business.

So far, the business has introduced a new zero-carbon bottling plant, and has pledged to only produce bottles which are 100 per cent recyclable by 2025. They have also teamed up with the Veolia Foundation to work on projects to rapidly improve recycling rates.

The clean up

It is estimated that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the sea each year. The rubbish accumulates in 5 ocean garbage patches, the largest of which is located between Hawaii and California. Named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres. To put this in perspective that is three times the size of France!

Dutch non-profit organisation, The Ocean Cleanup believe that solving the crisis of plastic litter in the ocean requires a two-pronged approach -  closing off the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated. They are developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.

The future?

We’ve become addicted to plastic. It is up to every human being, every business and every government to stop. The crisis is escalating and the plastic waste problem can no longer be ignored. Governments and businesses need to do better.

On a positive note, public opinion on plastic has shifted in recent years. Attention is growing and consumers are demanding change. This is a problem everyone needs to solve, from households to the highest power in the land. Businesses have a pivotal role to play in the sustainable future of our planet.

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