Letter to business on plastic waste: Here’s what happens if you don’t respond

This is the third in a four-part blog series 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.

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In our second blog post, we explored some of the innovations currently being trialled to combat the volume of plastic we consume. Plus, we addressed the expectation that consumers should take more control of their use of plastic to actively reduce how much is used. 

But the counter argument remains strong. Shouldn’t businesses, governments and the not-for-profit sector be leading the charge?  

The damage caused by plastic stirs powerful emotions in us. And that increases consumer expectation for action. As the issue continues to take hold of our society, consumer pressure will continue to increase.

What’s fascinating is the translation of that consumer interest into a commitment to doing something positive for our planet. It has led to individuals spearheading campaigns, such as Natalie Fee who heads up Refill. The grassroots movement to install drinking fountains in cities has gained formidable traction, motivating city hall leaders across the UK, including Norwich, Brighton and London, to act.

Meanwhile, Surfers Against Sewage started as a group of individuals committed to cleaning our seas. With support from individuals in local communities up and down the UK, last year they held 680 beach cleans, with almost 35,000 volunteers clearing 100,000kg of rubbish from UK beaches. 

Then there’s the OneLess campaign which is urging people to use one less plastic bottle. It’s a campaign that demonstrates the value in working together, across sectors, to bring different and valuable skills and expertise. Fronted by Selfridges, ZSL and Thames Estuary Partnership, amongst others, OneLess is a great example of how non-profits and the private sector can come together to achieve more. 

On the flip side, other non-profits are great for turning up the heat. 

Longstanding online and off-line campaigns by Greenpeace continue to rally against Coca-Cola. The giant Plasticide statue, which took up residence outside the company’s Hammersmith offices last year, symbolised the current mood of protest against its production of single-use plastic bottles.

The campaigning has worked it seems; Coca-Cola now supports deposit return schemes (which it previously vowed not to endorse), and has recently announced a new, ambitious strategy to collect and recycle a bottle or can, for every one sold, by 2030.

As we progress through 2018, there will be hundreds of boardroom discussions trying to understand how business can take advantage of the current plastic debate.

Plastic is undeniably bad for our planet. The subject is dominating the global agenda and public consciousness. It has stirred human emotion like no other topic, and thankfully, action is already being taken.

And let’s be clear: There are huge advantages to taking positive action, not just for the environment, but for enhancing the reputation of businesses too.

But there’s also a huge risk to taking action that isn’t credible, or that is inauthentic and insincere – what you might call, classic greenwashing. We see regular examples of purpose-driven, values-led businesses appearing in the news agenda that have failed to deliver on their promises. Uber, United Airlines and PepsiCo are a few that spring to mind.

The risk is real. 

It’s easy to be opportunistic and set to work on a creative strategy to highlight the issue and the part your business is playing, such as using ocean plastic to create a one-off product line. If you can use this waste stream in your supply chain, why stop at just one product line? 

With so much energy and enthusiasm to do the right thing on plastic, it is vital that we channel that energy into action that will lay the foundations for long term, scalable 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.

Forget carbon. There’s a new war going on. Are you ready for it?

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.

 Copyright Troy Mayne

Copyright Troy Mayne

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.