Over the course of six decades, we have produced over 8 billion metric tons of plastic waste. Plastic doesn’t degrade; it merely breaks down into micro fragments, and so the majority is still in existence today. It is either accumulating in a landfill, littering our natural environments, or worse, polluting our oceans. With up to 4.5% of the world’s total plastic production washed into the sea each year, scientists predict the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050; unless we take action, and soon. Reducing consumption, increasing recycling and choosing non-plastic alternatives are changes we can make; but equally necessary are the actions of government, manufacturers and business if we are to see a genuine transformation.
Which US businesses are reducing their reliance on single-use plastic?
Bon Appétit, the foodservice operator running cafes across college campuses and public spaces in 33 US states is among the first businesses to announce an outright ban of plastic straws and stirrers. The move comes in with immediate effect but is following a phased roll-out strategy with hopes of being plastic-free by September 2019. The chain will offer paper alternatives to those with specific needs or who request a straw. However, the company will not repurchase the 16.8 million plastic straws and 420,000 stirrers it bought in 2017.
Ikea has sent a bold message to the world as it seeks to remove plastic bags and straws and become “people and planet positive.” The action forms part of a broader strategy to incorporate sustainability into the design of all its products. In practice, the manufacturer hopes to repurpose, repair, reuse, resell, or recycle anything from across its product catalog.
McDonald’s will introduce plastic-straw alternatives to select locations later in 2018. They are yet to specify what they will use instead, but the plastic ban will remove the millions of straws the chain gives out every day: McDonald’s is among the largest contributors to the 500 million straws thrown away every day in America.
The move is only a first step in a global campaign, but the importance of their leading example cannot be underestimated as affirmed by Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Eric Goldstein, “The drive to eliminate plastic straws is a good step, and it's symbolic - and symbols are important.”
Fittingly, SeaWorld Entertainment has joined the battle, removing all single-use plastic items, including straws and bags from their 12 theme parks. The group announced the move in the days following World Environment Day whose 2018 focus was to Beat Plastic Pollution.
The State of New York
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now supporting proposals to outlaw plastic bags in a ban that would have a state-wide effect. Announced the day after Earth Day, Cuomo’s decision reverses his stance from a year ago when he rejected calls for a 5-cents surcharge on single-use plastic.
The Blue Planet effect
Perhaps there is no greater a rallying cry for collective action than that of the final episode of BBC Documentary Blue Planet II. The program zeroed in on how human behavior is having a disastrous impact on our marine ecology with plastics the crux of the issue and asked the world to force a change. Since airing, organizations have been compelled into action with a wave of bans on single-use plastics; aptly dubbed the “Blue Planet Effect.”
Five tips to reduce your business’ plastic needs
Below are five quick tips to help you reduce plastic consumption in the workplace
1. Pinpoint Your Plastic Waste
Make a note of everywhere your business uses plastic; then identify if there are alternatives and make the switch.
2. Returnable Packaging Scheme
Work with suppliers who offer returnable packaging schemes to cut disposable goods, reusing and recycling.
3. Install a mini-kitchen
Food packaging contributes a significant portion of plastic waste. By offering staff the facilities to store and reheat homemade meals, it will mean fewer store-bought lunches, so less plastic to throw away.
4. Ask Suppliers and Clients to Follow Suit
Encourage others throughout your supply chain to take the same steps, spreading a message of sustainability to reduce plastic waste, together.
5. Install a Bottleless Water Cooler
Plastic production continues to rise at an exponential rate. Close to 50% of all plastics ever manufactured have been since 2000.
Unless we change production and consumption habits now, the crisis will deepen. It is vital for businesses, communities, and government to work together to reverse the situation. 2018 has also been a watershed year in industry with numerous global brands starting ambitions to reduce their reliance on plastic. Sustainable business practices are finally becoming the norm; so, if you are yet to take affirmative action, rest assured – you are firmly in the minority.