The growing problem of plastic in our oceans
It’s been a full year since I wrote my blog “Why don’t we take responsibility for the waste plastic we throw away?” A year on and what’s been happening?
Well, despite our best endeavours with straws, recycling and a 90% reduction in plastic bags, plastic production has risen yet again and shows no signs of slowing down. The reasons are not hard to understand, with clothing containing 60% plastic materials, recycling rates falling from 9% to 7% globally, the increase in home deliveries during Covid, including parcels and takeaways and finally the huge surge in PPE. Everything from face masks to gowns and vaccination kits.
In light of this, and the bear minimum being enforced by Governments, more and more plastic is being demanded by business.
The answer? Well its not coming from Government action anywhere in the world, and consumers cannot avoid buying products that contain plastic. Try buying a cucumber that isn’t wrapped up in its own personal plastic cocoon, or any fruit or vegetables for that matter. Consumers want the choice but today it just isn’t there.
So the only other people to help is Big Business. The ultimate producer of plastic but also the designers and producers of everything we consume.
So, before there is so much plastic in the ocean that we can walk from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, here are some ideas for our business leaders and also employees to consider if we are to stop the threat posed by plastic.
1. Become a B Corp
This was the number one solution last year and it continues to remain so. A B Corp is an organisation that doesn’t just want to be the best in the world but wants to be the best for the world. There are now over 4,000 companies in 77 countries that are certified B-Corp. They range from Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s, Cook to Patagonia. They are becoming a force for good, and find they have stronger engagement with employees and customers, easier access to finance and have become part of the environmental and social solution.
2. Look at the plastic content of your product and services.
A great example is the new tennis clothing brand Exeat, which launched recently, having designed women’s tennis wear using next-generation fabric made from upcycled ocean plastics. They are one of hundreds of companies finding solutions to make a fundamental difference to what they offer the consumer.
“Each year 12 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans. We seek to right this ecological wrong, collecting bottles, packaging and abandoned fishing nets from the seabed using specialist divers, then recycling it into our luxurious sustainable sports fabric. Not only does this remove over 99 tons of plastics from the ocean, it significantly minimises our carbon emissions. Notably, our recycled fabric has a better technical ‘court performance’ than the alternative, so it really is the ultimate win win for our planet and our customers.”
There are many of your suppliers who are now providing the solutions that are carbon neutral, across most industries. Business needs to search them out and join the growing trend of truly sustainable offerings. At Motivates, we were really surprised at the options available to make everything we produce environmentally friendly. By the end of this year, all our gift cards will be non-plastic or biodegradable along with all our office supplies.
There really shouldn’t be an excuse for any business not to explore these option, ensuring that the increase in plastic production we have seen over years can be reversed.
Although a great deal has been talked about recently, most consumers are either misinformed or haven’t fully understood about what is really going on with the growing plastic waste issue. There is a great video made by Sian Sutherland for the GCVA. She covers many of the myths and facts regarding the impact that plastics are having along with some of the solutions.
Businesses should encourage those in their organisation to create a forum to take responsibility for everyones training and education. You will find willing and knowledgable people, who would love the chance to get involved. Empower them to better understand what is really happening and then to help find ways to drive the use of plastic down. Many employees want to work for a business that takes these matters seriously and the levels of engagement will only increase along with the ideas that will flow up through the organisation.
4. Ask suppliers to use plastic-free packaging.
Have a think about what your workplace regularly orders in. Stationery, for example, can be heavily packaged and many items (such as rulers and ballpoints) are made mainly of plastic. Can you use alternative products that contain less plastic or use less packaging? If you have any say over procurement in your company, find out from your regular suppliers what they can offer by way of alternatives to plastic packaging. If your regular supplier can’t or won’t provide plastic-free alternatives, consider alternative suppliers and make it clear why you’re doing so.
Some of the impacts that are being seen today.
Plastic pollution is so pervasive that it’s been found in some of the wildest and most remote locations on our planet, including Antarctica, and the deepest canyons of the Mariana trench. Ocean currents have coalesced floating plastic into five huge, swirling deep sea gyres – such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which covers an area of ocean three times the size of France. Estimates suggest there could be upwards of 5 trillion individual pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. And if we continue producing plastic at current rates, the amount could outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
If this doesn’t make you want to try to make a difference, I am not sure what will. Perhaps the fact that we are eating more and more plastics through the food chain will help. Our fish is increasingly being affected and contains a great deal of micro plastic particles. Food for thought? What used to be one of the healthiest options to eat is in danger of affecting our health negatively.
Now in July we can all start somewhere, go to www.plasticfreejuly.org to find other ideas and join the movement to make a difference.
But the only way to truly solve this problem is to dramatically reduce the production of plastic, which means curbing our addiction to it. The most important thing we must do is stop plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place, because it is not feasible or cost-effective to do large-scale cleanups. Once in the ocean, plastic waste will stay there for hundreds of years or longer. That is not a legacy I would want to leave for future generations.”
Bill Alexander, Chairman
Motivates Inc. Ltd
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