World Oceans Day: How businesses are tackling the plastics problem

Today (June 8) marks World Oceans Day, and businesses around the globe have announced new initiatives aimed at curbing the amount of plastics seeping into the oceans. Here, edie rounds up some of the best new business-led programmes.

More than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, with more than eight million tonnes finding its way into oceans annually, according to data from charity Plastic Oceans.

The scale of the problem is such that there are now more pieces of microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way, and a damning Ellen MacArthur report predicts there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.

In response to the issue, which has piqued public interest following last year’s Blue Planet 2 series, a string of big-name companies across the retail, hospitality and leisure and food and drink sectors have recently announced plans to phase out single-use plastics in their operations – but several corporates have additionally made fresh pledges to mark World Oceans Day. Here, edie rounds up some of the new business initiatives aiming to turn the tide on ocean plastics.

How to solve a problem like plastics

In one of the more ambitious pledges made today, Anglian Water has announced a commitment to rid the East of England of “problem plastics” – those which cannot be reused, recycled or composted – by 2030.

As well as eliminating these plastics from its own operations and supply chain, the water company is looking beyond its own business impact by partnering with other corporates, retailers and suppliers from across the region to tackle problem plastics across their whole life-cycle; from manufacture to disposal.

The move follows on from Anglian Water’s past campaign against plastic-stemmed cotton buds being sold in supermarkets in conjunction with City to Sea, and its behaviour change incentives aimed at discouraging customers from flushing wet wipes.

Turning to supermarkets, Marks & Spencer (M&S) and Waitrose have joined an alliance of organisations which are funding the removal of abandoned fishing nets, pots and lines from the sea.

The waste is also known as ‘ghost gear’ and is estimated to account for 70% of all macro-plastic ocean waste, with 640,000 tonnes being left in seas annually. The problem is being tackled by the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which includes members from the fishing industry, seafood companies, NGOs and governments, including the UK Government.

Indeed, the Government itself has today unveiled its own pledge, committing to create 40 new Marine Conservation Zones across the UK in the most significant expansion of the nation’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas to date.

No new activities deemed damaging – such as dredging, or significant coastal or offshore development – will be allowed to take place in the zones, which collectively cover an area almost eight times the size of Greater London.

Bottling it

Turning back to business, another notable pledge today comes from beverage company Pernod Ricard UK, which has committed to achieve zero plastics in its point-of-sale materials by 2020, starting with an immediate ban on the use of virgin or single-use plastics in its packaging. The company has already banned plastic straws and stirrers from its own operations ahead of a proposed national ban on the items.

The move from the Absolut Vodka manufacturer has attracted praise from Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who dubbed it a “significant contribution” to help the environment.

“We all have a responsibility to our environment and this simple yet effective initiative is a fine example to other large businesses,” Gove said. “We want more companies to say no to unnecessary single use plastics.”

Also in the beverage sector, Corona has partnered with not-for-profit Parley For The Oceans (PFTO) to create a limited-edition shirt made from ocean plastic.

The garment, which contains the equivalent weight of six plastic bottles, features pictures of a polluted ocean as the company seeks to raise awareness of “putting plastic where it doesn’t belong”.

While some initiatives like the Corona and PFTO partnership seek to repurpose existing waste streams, others have sought to reduce them in the first instance.

For example, consultancy PwC saw 600 of its employees sign up in May for a daily water consumption monitoring scheme in return for receiving a metal water bottle. During the behaviour change drive, the company saw a 58% drop in plastic weight purchased during the working day by participants– a figure which would equate to as much as 23 tonnes if this shift in behaviour was replicated across the UK firm.

Meanwhile, other corporates such as Volvo have gone old-school and organised their own beach litter picks. On Tuesday, more than 850 Volvo employees left work to collect litter on the shores of 16 countries, including at Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire. The UK group were between them able to provide more than 70 hours of litter clearing in a move that follows on from Volvo UK’s ongoing phase-out of single-use plastics in its offices and factories.

 Sarah George

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