This is the first in a four-part blog series by Tom Idle and Victoria Page exploring not just the problem with plastic, but the huge opportunity for business to take a positive stand in the face of the biggest environmental catastrophe of our time.
In the past 50 years, we have become increasingly reliant on plastic. From food packaging to plastic bags, children’s toys to electronic equipment, plastic, it seems, is everywhere.
And yet for all its convenience, the tide has finally turned as we begin to understand and appreciate the damage it’s causing to our precious ecosystems. In little over 30 years, 12 billion tonnes of plastic will have been produced and thrown away, with more plastic waste found in the ocean than fish.
The reality is: Plastic is now on a par with carbon in terms of an environmental catastrophe – and it demands urgent action. But unlike carbon, there’s no counter argument. It is visible. It is damaging. And it is highly emotive.
The prevalence of plastic in our ecosystem is causing unimaginable damage, not least to the seabirds and fish that ingest plastic particles, mistaking plastic for food.
Plastic particles are already entering our food system. In fact, by the end of the century, people that regularly eat seafood could be consuming 780,000 pieces of plastic a year.
Right now, the damage that plastic might cause to our health is completely unknown. But that will soon change.
Buoyed and encouraged by the BBC’s Blue Planet II series, the consumer response to this ecological time bomb has been made very clear: We must turn the tide on plastics and protect our natural ecosystems before it is too late.
Thankfully, action is coming, and quickly
In early January, the UK Government set out a 25-year plan for plastic, which included expanding the plastic bag charge, and exploring the introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, something that has been a huge success in Germany. Yes the plan has been welcomed, but the lengthy timescales to achieve action and lack of regulatory bite have been noted.
At a global level, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals includes a clear commitment to protect our oceans. Last year’s UN Ocean Conference supported the implementation of SDG14, to reverse the decline of our ocean ecosystems with businesses and governments collaborating to mobilise action.
And most interestingly, the business community has reacted with pace and purpose. The media business Sky announced a £25m Innovation Fund to tackle single use plastic. It promises to get its own house in order too, by eliminating all single use plastic from its supply chain in the next two years.
Even individuals have started to realise their potential in doing something positive. Grassroots campaigns to clear waterways of plastic waste have sprung up across the world, spearheaded by the likes of Surfers Against Sewage.
We’ve spent decades enjoying a lifestyle surrounded by this cheap, flexible material, with little regard for the repercussions of its disposal.
Now the world is waking up to the devastation plastic is causing, with the ‘Blue Planet effect’ taking a hold everywhere.
With the appetite to do something about the issue now greater than ever, businesses are at the very centre of finding practical and tangible solutions.
Victoria Page (Victoria Page Communications) and Tom Idle (Narrative Matters) are working with a number of organisations to help them understand the dangers and opportunities of plastics, and how to take a positive position through developing business strategy, communications and storytelling. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.