Are brands ready to turn their plastics ambitions into actions?
Like plastics, talk is cheap. The world's largest businesses are continuously committing to various plastic phase-outs, but the time is now to move the dial and turn ambitions into action - and edie is here to help.
Whether you’re reading this on the train commute, at your desk, or even on your mobile at home, I want you to look around and answer this question. How far away are you from a piece of plastic?
Think back on some of your most treasured memories; weddings, holidays and a time when Brexit wasn’t in the dictionary yet. Chances are you’ll be close to plastic in your memories too. Plastic is etched into our recent history. From flags on the moon to Olympic ceremonies, plastics have become the material of choice.
It has also become the talking point of choice across the wider public, acting as the emblem of a society that is no longer oblivious to its impact on its surroundings. At the start of the month we polled the edie readers on what areas of corporate responsibility and sustainability were set to have a "plastics moment". With more than 370 votes, plastics appeared towards the top of the list, second only to meat and dairy consumption. Evidently the issue is a major talking point amongst sustainability professionals.
Plastic is cheaper, lighter and more applicable than the materials it has replaced. It has changed the way we interact with products, notably with how we consume and discard them. While plastics have a deep-rooted and valuable role to play in global production, they have also fast-tracked a linear and disposable culture of consumerism.
Researchers have, time and time again, estimated that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, yet more than 60% of that amount has ended up landfill, oceans and the natural environment.
Between eight to 12 million tonnes of plastic is believed to seep into the oceans each year and by 2050, there could be more plastic (by weight) than fish in the oceans. By that time, it is believed that plastics could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.
Driven by the “Blue Planet 2 effect”, public opinion on plastic has shifted to the point of obsession. I recently spoke to a sustainability lead at Waitrose, who told me that consumer queries relating to single-use plastics had increased by 800% since Blue Planet 2 aired.
The response has been continuous and driven at a high-level. UK Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Gove called plastics waste “one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world”, while Prime Minister Theresa May described it as a “scourge”. The Government issued its formal response to this global issue through the 25-Year Environmental Plan that is spearheaded by a target to phase-out all avoidable disposable packaging by 2042.
The business community has taken a more immediate approach, with goals seemingly ranging from as early as 2020 all the way to 2025 and beyond. A key consideration for this relatively quickfire action is to placate consumer concerns. Plastic is visible, tangible and intertwined with everyday actions, meaning the public has resonated with its issues far more prominently than it would with the indefinite and somewhat fantastical notions of climate change.
While businesses have been quick to act on visible products and items such as straws and cutlery, the public is growing increasingly aware of plastic and its insidious use in items such as tea bags, clothing and car tyres.
Refreshingly, the conversation is starting to switch. It’s no longer a case of “will a company remove single-use plastics” but “how will that company do so without generating any unintended consequences?”
Solutions ranging from bio-based materials, compostable and biodegradable have all been examined for potential adverse impacts relating to land-use and recycling rates and we could be entering a new era of greenwash.
What is clear is that NOW is the time for action. Companies big and small have told the world their destination and the journey must start today. Mistakes will inevitably be made, but it’s the only way we really learn.
That’s why we’ve launched the Mission Possible Plastics Hub. In its infancy, the hub will host plastic pledges from some of the world’s biggest companies, providing readers with regular updates as to how these sustainability leaders are eliminating and replacing single-use plastics.
It will act as a reminder that these targets have been set and need to be reached, but it will also inspire and educate on what works when it comes to reducing single-use plastics and what doesn’t yet have the science behind it to make it a viable solution.
During a recent podcast conversation, Surfdome’s head of sustainability Adam Hall told me “there’s a bigger threat from us not doing anything and, on that journey from not being 100% perfect, we will find 100% perfect”. This is the mindset businesses need to adopt to start turning their plastics ambitions into tangible action that drives us towards a more prosperous and resource-efficient world.
So, help us help you. If your business has already reached key milestones in reducing single-use plastics, then head over to our Pledge Wall, send us your target and let us know what has been put in place to reach it.
edie has already reached out to some of the major businesses that made commitments in 2018 to find out what achievements and progress have been made so far. Join them and us in driving action on plastics and equip readers with the knowledge need to reverse one of the world’s most alarming and damaging trends.
You can view the contents of the Plastics Hub by clicking here.Matt Mace