35 million plastic bottles are sold in the UK each day. Around half are recycled, with the balance ending up in landfill or in our Ocean. The number of plastic bottles washed up on UK beaches increased 43% in 2015, and you may have seen predictions that we’ll have more plastic in our Oceans than fish by 2050.
Does it have to be this way? Perhaps not. There has been a sharp increase in interest in the health of the Oceans from media, business and a remarkable new generation of Ocean entrepreneurs. On March 6th we asked if Ocean plastics is the next big environmental issue for business, and mapped out the solutions.
After a keynote from ocean scientist Dr Heather Koldewey on the scale of the problem, we turned to the solutions. We heard from Fiona Ball on why Sky has launched its Ocean Rescue campaign, Tom Domen on how Ecover is making bottles from ocean plastics, and Selfridges' Daniella Vega on how consumers will give up plastic bottles more easily than one might think.
Catherine Cameron moderated a discussion of issues such as;
Beach cleans are a brilliant way to mobilise communities, exposing them to the scale of the plastic problem and setting them on a path to more sustainable behaviour. How can business, local government and charities work together to do more? We’ll share case studies and first-hand experiences to explore how a beach-clean-up movement can catalyse wider anti-litter action and education.
To activate the community, initiatives have to go beyond engaging the usual suspects in beach cleans. They have to be able to engage everyone to be effective. Usually most people are open to the possibility of participating to such cleans, but don’t end up doing it. Main obstacles keeping them from doing it are:
- It is still seen as an environmentalist thing, a “hippy” thing,
- It is seen as a burden, it is not a habit yet
- It is seen as cleaning up for somebody else, picking up someone else’s trash
When it comes to organisations trying to support or organise such initiative, the previous obstacles still apply. Moreover, these organisations have trouble keeping the momentum going. After one campaign, they find it hard to keep the “buzz” going among people. Additionally, partnerships in this field are often developed with a short-term sight which doesn’t help with this issue.
SOLUTION: Make it local, relevant, accessible
To activate communities, the solution that was discussed was to develop awareness campaigns to raise concern about marine litter. One solution to overcome the perception issue about beach cleans would be reframing the issue playing on the health problem it is for society. That would make it a personal concern as the plastics end up in the food we ingest. Another aspect would be to make the problem more visible and visual, so that people can have a better grasp of the issue at hand. We can also use the emotional connection that people can have to this environment which is often associate with their own memories. That would bring the issue closer to home and increase awareness.
Another important way to activate the community on the longer term is through education. To overcome the barrier of beach cleans being a burden, one way would be to educate youngsters to do it very early on so that is becomes a habit growing up.
Incentives can also play a role, rewarding community members for the beach cleans. Beach cleans can also become social events within the community and can feature in long last partnerships.
In relation with businesses and how they can contribute to activating the community, there is an amplification effect on the community when these companies get involved. This works when businesses also find value getting involved (through PR and media).
RED FLAGS (WARNINGS)
Perverse incentives can undermine the efforts of an incentive based cleaning initiative.
- FIDRA’s great nurdle hunt: encourage the people already beach cleaning to count nurdles and feed this information back to FIDRA for research purposes
- Different types of beach clean format such as scubadiving beach clean.
- Name tagged bottles to make people more responsible for their own litter
- Non-skilled volunteering day in the organisations and finding ambassadors that will advocate within the organisation
Most companies are yet to develop a response to the growing global problem of Ocean plastics. We’ll draw on the experience of other environmental strategies and look at how the retail, FMCG and consumer product sectors can: understand the materiality for their business; raise stakeholder awareness; identify risks and opportunities and set an ambition that will drive change.
This table was chaired by DNV GL, who also produced the following notes:
Synopsis: Most companies are yet to develop a response to the growing global problem of Ocean plastics. We’ll draw on the experience of other environmental strategies and look at how the retail, FMCG and consumer product sectors can: understand the materiality for their business; raise stakeholder awareness; identify risks and opportunities and set an ambition that will drive change.
Why act now?
• Widespread media coverage: Ocean in plastics has received huge media attention, directly supported by the Sky news Ocean Rescue campaign, and seems to be resonating with consumers, businesses and communities in ways that other sustainability issues have lacked. There is a window of opportunity to take action while this profile remains high.
• Strong foundations and precedent for action: Although media profile might suggest that this is a recent phenomenon there has been strong consistent groundwork in this area going back to 2011 and there are now many corporate examples from across the corporate, NGO and policy sector: some of which were shared in the plenary session including: Ecover/Selfridges/Adidas/Dell and others.
• Inaction can put companies at risk and de-stabilise the business. e.g. Neutrogena has received negative press over microbeads in its cosmetic products as it appeared inconsistent with contradicted with its mission for healthy and beautiful skin.
• Tangible engagement with consumers and communities – Ocean plastics can provide a great opportunity to engage with consumers and communities on a powerful issue. It can engender a “Can-do-attitude” as plastic in oceans is a more tangible issue that consumers feel “we can solve” (versus climate change which can be perceived as more intangible for many).
• Linking ocean plastics to the core purpose of your business: Relating your brand to ocean plastics can be is not always obvious, as oceans might not be linked to the core of the business. Consumers however are more and more conscious about the end use of products, feel that a responsible brand’s bottles should not end up in the ocean.
• Conventional materiality may be out of step – after years of communicating consistently that companies will act on their most material issues as determined by stakeholder consultation plus quantitative data e.g. from natural capital evaluation – it may jar to select this issue which appears more intuitively important but not yet supported by such deep analyses. In response there is a need to seek a robust connection with dimensions of the business already established as material and seek synergies there e.g. using this as a prompt to drive wider consideration round packaging and potentially wider supply chain sustainability.
• The business case is complex: the business case can be made on a number of levels each contributing to an overall case: reduction of costs by treating waste as a valuable resource; mitigation of reputational risk; upside for brand loyalty; consumer engagement with the product/service mix; each business case needs to be tailored to the specific business circumstances.
• Potential downside should be considered and addressed: Selling of single-use plastic bottles can be a significant revenue stream for retailers or organisations with concessions: balancing reputational risks and non-profitability is a challenge. Commercial functions will ask how might we compensate for lost revenues?
• Relatively low impact of packaging from a lifecycle perspective: As agricultural raw material sourcing is by far the largest contributor to indirect water consumption and carbon emissions, using a lifecycle argument to tackle plastics in the ocean might not get the most traction internally.
Elements to consider when formulating a strategy
• Value waste as a resource: Allocating a value to “waste” is crucial: Leakage of material = leakage of value. Regarding waste as a valuable input can reduce input costs helping reframe the issue. However not all external costs are borne by companies and recycled material costs can be higher than virgin materials, so valuation may need to be supported by policy/ regulation or getting ahead of the regulatory curve for reputational reasons as per the Coca Cola: Return on Deposit example.
• Map the value chain: in the same way that carbon and water have been mapped it’s possible to map plastic in the value chain to identify hot spots.
• Set targets: to keep the business accountable. E.g. Unilever’s 100% recycled packaging by 2025- not an answer to the whole problem, but a step into the right direction.
• Challenge your suppliers: to reduce packaging where possible and increase the recycled content. E.g. Colas Rail’s orange vests are made of recycled material and even the packaging the garments are delivered in can reused as a bag.
• Raise internal awareness: a campaign that is based on staggering/shocking facts (e.g. by 2050, we will have more plastic than fish in our oceans) can attract attention but there is a need for a balance here – its is hard to be the headache and the aspirin at the same time – senior audiences could become immune to negative issues. Given the high media profile a subtle approach is possible by positioning as having a response to an already established issue.
• Pursue consistency: consumers will pick up on any consistency at bets being confused by it and at worst resulting in criticising the brand – the Selfridges example was strong guidance form the top “do it all (including franchises) or do nothing at all”.
• Drive innovation: innovation will be required to move the dial – see also sustaining implementation. Increasing recycled content can and leveraging eco-design can help but quality and cost issues may be a challenge to scaling up.
Sustaining a strategy long term
• Invest in long term materials science: Ecover are investing in long term research to enable new materials with the characteristics of plastics but biodegradable. Lego are now investing in new research lab to redesign materials). These investments are typically long term and therefore need alignment with long term strategy and purpose as opposed to annual or short term plans.
• Cross-functional collaboration: is key – buy in from all business functions is essential to sustain any implementation beyond a pilot program and into a new business as usual.
• Proof of value – robust data and analysis of cost-benefit and outcomes will be needed where organisations have seen proven returns. This analysis will need buy in from senior functional leaders like CFO’s to unlock re-investment for scale up beyond pilot programs.
• Build critical collaborative mass – following the example of Partnerships like the one between Selfridge and ZSL – these can evolved into wider collaborative initiatives like #oneless. This can help sustain a critical mass of commitment, engagement and innovation for the long term.
• A number of companies sell plastic-based products e.g. single-use plastic water bottles. However, most businesses are consumers of plastics.
• There has recently been a bit uptick in interest and plastics are rising up the sustainability agenda.
• Something very visual about this problem for consumers. Bottles are branded – tell a story of their own.
• Part of a broader set of issues around waste
• There are now campaigns e.g. #Oneless to help change mindsets.
How can/ should businesses respond?
• Plastic footprint management plan, employee challenges
• Manage from a resource efficiency perspective (rather than focus on ocean plastics)?
• Generate a bigger impact through influencing the supply chain
• Consider how you can leverage your core strengths as a business
• Leverage bulk buying power through collaboration
• Use an initial product e.g. plastic bottles to get into the issue
• Help communicate the link to oceans to consumers
• Get internal buy-in by always using arguments as to why it makes business sense
• Disrupt or be disrupted e.g. from regulatory exposure
• Plastic bottles are branded litter – reputational risk
• Your brand is perceived by consumers as linked to all similar brands – need to collaborate
• Link brands to purpose --> differentiation
• Be proactive – bottles get distributed across the globe so there is an opportunity to share a global message
• Opportunity for innovation
• Resource efficiency – cheaper materials
• Need to balance having a global policy and narrative on ocean plastics but locally face very different issues when implementing.
• Large oil companies hold much of the power in the plastics supply chain
• There are so many different types of plastic blends used in single-use plastic goods.
• Consistent metrics are difficult
• Mix of plastics in the ocean: only 20% of it is reusable even when sifting through waste
• Focus to-date has been on consumer action (whether corporate or individual consumers) but this misses the systemic nature of the problem – need policy reform, innovation etc.
• Can’t respond to consumer/NGO pressure every time there is a new campaign. Perhaps need to think about this from a lifecyle approach rather than responding to a specific campaign on oceans.
• There are difficult trade-offs e.g. a switch to glass increases carbon footprint
• Difficult to go it alone – e.g. negative response to Coca Cola’s proposed bottling deposit-return scheme in Scotland
What good examples exist?
• Interface – fishing nets
• Farrell Williams - clothing range from ocean plastics
• Adidas – ocean plastics into swimwear and trainers through a partnership with the NGO ‘Parley for the Oceans’ (Ocean nylons are now a viable material that businesses can incorporate into their supply chains)
• Dell – collecting waste and using in packaging
• ISO 14001 now requires thinking in terms of life-cycle approaches which may help thinking on plastics
• Framework for common metrics and disclosure (note complexity around the materials)
• Standardisation of materials in the market
• Legislation to bring packaging waste issues into the mainstream
• Shareholder pressure
• Public-private partnerships
• 2017 Year of tourism (UN) – can this be an opportunity to engage on this issue?
• Satellite transmitters on rubbish to help tell the story about rubbish crossing borders.
• Making the financial case for business to tackle ocean plastics (impact on revenue, capex etc.) as has been done for other environmental issues. Natural Capital Coalition is working on this.
With 14% of global plastic packaging being recycled, and 1/3rd ending up in the Ocean and the natural environment (EMF), leading businesses are starting to move. Unilever has pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Which sectors need to be thinking differently about plastics, and what will the next generation of plastic strategies look like?
Giving plastic value: recycling
• We’re paying to send Sweden our waste which they burn for power.
• Schemes that are working in other countries aren’t working here: e.g. curbside collection- & our glass reuse system, could Brexit offer an opportunity to reinstate this?
• As consumers we take plastic for granted, bottle deposit schemes give value. But is this value intrinsic or is it given to incentivise people?
• Recycled material is more expensive than virgin. These economic issues might equalise if there were more purchases of recycled plastic. Consumers don’t know how much recycled material is in plastic, just that it costs more.
• We need to reduce, recycle and look at alternatives.
• Everyone who puts plastic on the market has to pay towards recycling. But this is a privatised system and not clear where money goes.
• This issue resonates with consumers but how can we get investors to think long term? Some are considering SDGs but there are many different types of investors.
• Investment shouldn’t look at taking plastics out but in stopping it going in. We need to have the right infrastructure so people have the option to do the right thing. This is especially important in developing countries where there may be no infrastructure: a role for policy, where business can invest, but first we need to understand why infrastructure is not already there.
• Global changes are having influence on local business: policy changes in Deli have worried London businesss into action.
• Different organisations have different priorities (their customers, making money, doing good). But long term investments feed in to long term consumer trust. We can’t make the business case so we need internal rules to make a case for the importance of reputation.
Sharing information and solutions
• Some business are already sharing ideas and putting in the money to fund change: this helps other businesses to take the same path. –but just because a company is speaking publicly doesn’t mean they are actually making changes (green/bluewashing).
• Can we create a platform to share success stories, to collaborate on/fund projects, and to help each other make changes, sign up to policy standards, and add value to plastics and to solutions. Can we create a future where we leave a legacy by investing in solutions and infrastructure?
• Plastic bank: swap plastic for money (http://plasticbank.org/)
• Deposit schemes being trailed in Scotland (Coca-cola)
• Wastebusters: clean-up for young people (http://www.wastebuster.co.uk/)
• Recycling lives: trains people to reclaim & recycle (http://www.recyclinglives.com)
• Plastic stewardship council: central governance on plastic supply chain
• The Ellen Macarthur foundation looking at dealing with plastics already in the environment.
PROBLEM AND REACTIONS
78 million tonnes of plastics end up in the oceans every year. Plastic is a cheap, convenient material that has become pervasive in our lives. Not surprisingly, ocean plastics are an issue high on the agenda for many organizations that were represented at the table. This may not have been a visible issue a few years ago, but as awareness spreads, efforts to solving this problem are gaining momentum in unprecedented ways.
While we talk about different parties having to do their bit to end the problem of ocean plastics, some participants pointed out that the greatest impetus must come from regulatory bodies. If it became too expensive to produce hydrocarbons and hence plastics, businesses would be forced to look for innovative ways of either efficiently reusing and recycling plastics or inventing new materials. Moreover, sometimes solutions already exist but require a considerable amount of investment - for instance, it is possible to replace black trays often used for food packaging in retail but strong commitment by companies is needed. Finally, we need to be wary of new, innovative technologies that may solve one problem but contribute to the ocean plastics issue - for instance, 3D printing may be a wonderful tool, but not at the expense of increasing demand and use of harmful materials.
- Design: an important role is to be played by research and development in designing new materials and products that would respect the environment and would fit with the idea of circular economy. First, we need to move towards simpler materials and packaging that would reduce the variety of plastics out there and thus the difficulty of recycling them. Second, design of new products or reinvented products that would overturn consumer habits is imperative: convenient products, new materials and new markets could accelerate the move towards circular use of plastics and their substitutes.
- Harmonization: first, cities and even countries need to have harmonized policies towards recycling, facilitating understanding for consumers about what and how can be recycled. Incentives should be aligned in order to reduce the use of plastics and increase recycling. In addition, labelling needs to be harmonized for easier interpretation by consumers and retailers.
- Education: a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness about plastic use is required. Rules need to be simplified to be easy to follow. Importantly, communicating information about how plastics affect our own food and health could be an important catalyst for people around the world to embrace change.
Design of new materials is gaining momentum among innovative startups and is receiving attention from the VC industry. Biodegradable materials such as seaweed may help substitute plastic by using the circular economy logic. Harmonization efforts have been implemented in Wales, which could be an interesting case study for others to follow. Also, some companies have shown that safety, ecology and business value may go hand in hand. For instance, some large packaging producers have invested efforts in harmonizing the after use market and have thus created more opportunities for themselves.
What are the critical issues and solutions that consumers and citizens can play a role in to improve Ocean health? From the many complex issues that exist, which ones are the most time critical and what are the positive actions individuals could take that should be prioritised when raising awareness and inspiring behaviour change?
People are looking at the challenges of bottles in sport. Is there an answer to what they can be replaced with? Those at sporting events are a captive crowds- the stadium can choose what they sell and the audience can be advertised to/utilise the audience engagement.
The solution may not all arrive at once but will be a series of small stepping stones to a conclusion- in order to implement one huge change it would require a joined up approach from policy makers, big business and government.
This issue is similar to energy- each country or region will have a strategy based on both economic and social factors. Many countries have a separation system which increases awareness, a small but important step.
Many solutions will have an intrinsic value proposition in order to appeal to consumers, for example a subscription service that replaces washing liquid means recycling is no longer viewed as a chore. It is key to put the customer in the middle of the chain- how does the solution improve their lives?
The part of the consumer is huge, and getting the message into the community will influence spending power. Use a fear or greed led approach- either appeal to the greed element (saving money, or time) or the fear factor (such as using a similar warning system on packaging as cigarettes).
The use of packaging in fmcg is a big issue- how much packaging waste could be reduced by bulk packaging, paper etc. Clothing is an example of a supply chain based wholly on plastic- to change wild take a new overhaul of the whole process. There are some businesses beginning to avoid using companies with poor supply chain practices, and although it's a slow process these small changes can have a huge impact when you consider the size of these orders.
However, demonising specific packaging is dangerous- bottles are only bad when disposed of irresponsibly, cans leave a bigger carbon footprint and paper cups are potentially a worse product. The key here is enacting a behaviour change across the board, from the way business disposes of waste through to the man on the street. A lot of the issue comes down to out of sight of of mind- take the example of people leaving coffee cups on the bridge in London- that will probably blow straight into the river but they won't see that. Another learnt behaviour is the practice of hotels and airlines wrapping individual cups/ blankets etc in plastic. Would we still use them if they weren't wrapped? Of course!
The behaviour of recycling needs to change first but giving people the right opportunity to recycle, and then look at longer term solutions.
There is a need for pragmatism there will always be situations in which plastic is the ideal material, eg marathon runners needing water on the move, however we need to be more aware of the value of these materials. Plastic is worth 8x more than a ton of steel-why aren't waste management companies making the most of this? Another example of plastic being an idea material is a fleece- the issue here lies in the microfibers getting into the ocean through washing machine use. Instead of trying to invent a new material why not fit a filter to washing machines? We don't have to reinvent, just manage it better. Plastic is everywhere and now always will be. There is a huge need to manage the waste disposal in a more effective way.
Currently companies pay to recycle their waste- why? We need to look at chancing the revenue stream ams scale up waste management.
Investment remains a challenge in business- there is always a need to prove the business case, and much like b2c marketing is key. You'll be unlikely to get it right in the first go, but with refinement there are strategies that can work for both business and the environment.
A big thing to bare in mind is the need for an emotional response, both from business stakeholders and consumers, with all the constant noise in the market its easy for people to buddy their heads in the sand. One solution here is making recycling cool- ADIDAS is a great example with their plastic trainers that are then used by German football teams. Use credible faces to stop people feel they are being preached to.
With a wider look at global challenges, while eduction may be a useful tool, if the infrastructure doesn't exist, the education will be wasted. This falls on government to implement. There's is also a wider cultural issue- waste culture is prevalent. The key here is given value to these items- if plastic bottles at sports events for example have a code to win things or are used as mementoes suddenly have value (using the example of oval cricket ground assigning value to cups). Overall, we need to find innovative and fun ways of entering people with recycling to change behaviour throughout society.
Tackling Ocean plastics requires changing household behaviour, particularly in the bathroom. This requires product manufacturers, retailers, marketeers, waste companies, water utilities and campaigners to work together in news ways. Is this form of collaboration as difficult as it sounds? Please join this conversation if you represent one of the key actors in the conversation.
- Convincing consumers to reduce their use of single-use packaging
- Finding scalable solutions – would successful strategies of a 3-store chain be just as effective in a 900-store chain?
- Making future generations aware of the problem and being an example for them, starting from our own kids
- Changing corporate behaviour, achieving sustainability on all levels of operations
- Creating an emotional connection with the issue on an individual, social and environmental level
- Finding a way of recycling plastics, which have already been in the ocean for a while and selling them as raw materials
- Consumers want what is convenient for them/ will not alter their behaviour patterns, unless it is absolutely effortless for them
- Unless switching to sustainable behaviour/solutions will be profitable, there is no possibility of making a real change in the behaviour of the masses
- Consumers will only stop using certain products/solutions if a cheaper and more convenient alternatives will become available e.g. smokers switching to vaping
- Non-existent recycling chains in many countries
- Sustainable solutions – fair trade clothing, food etc. are more expensive in store
- Almost all cosmetic packaging is made of plastic, which cannot be recycled – this kind of waste is burned
- Introducing sustainable solutions in big chains has the potential of changing behavioural patterns of the masses
- Educating the consumers from educating our employees
- Changes in daily operations/ working together with suppliers, concessions
- Using the commercial potential of recycling – conducting a figure-based cost analysis of various solutions and determining which ones are truly effective
- Creating recycling chains, as well as introducing sustainable products
- Making recycling possible for the poorest members of society
- Introducing legislation, which would only allow selling products in the transparent, recyclable plastic packaging
- Using social trends – pushing for change when the topic is hot
- Pfand – additional cost of €0.20 put on thick plastic bottles and cans, refundable on the return of the packaging to the store (the coupon can be exchanged for cash at the till) reduces the number of bottles being thrown away after single use. However, not all types of plastic are covered by it and products sold in the cheapest supermarkets are often sold in thin single-use packaging
A discernible groundswell of companies is turning to science-based targets to tackle environmental problems, mainly climate related. What is different from traditional target setting, and what are the pros and cons of this approach? Could the same principles be applied to other environmental issues? Could this emerge as the standard connecting business to environmental issues?
With the new US President launching an assault on liberal values, including environmentalism, “low sustainability” companies have already started to show a marked outperformance in share prices. How should progressives respond to this? Keep ones head down till the music changes, or seek to energise organisations to stand up for their values?
• Has there been a substantial change in the sustainability mood music?
o Example given is related to share price, but the question is more around the underlying performance how do we actually define this?
o The more forward thinking, liberal organizations may actually go further towards delivering sustainable solutions
o The state governments may do the same thing and become more progressive in order to counter the federal governments
o The recent move on Unilever where the deal didn’t go through with Kraft because of a difference in opinion on sustainability – presumably most of the value of Unilever came from the sustainability
o 3G thought that all the sustainable stuff that Paul Polman was doing was in contrast with the best interest of the bottom line
o What is happening in US now is short term opportunism, which is what the stock market trades on this explains the stock market prices of companies that are not sustainability-focused (they are outperforming)
o What is the relationship between publically and privately held companies and the willingness to adopt sustainability?
o One day we are going to run out of oil and need an alternative – whether or not you are a climate change skeptic
o “I have not found an environmental business case that does not make sense.”
o We need to explain the business case and the financial case for it. Continue to prove that these companies are outperforming the market. This is how we will combat what has happened in the U.S.
• Is there something bigger at hand? Rejecting globalization and the things that are closely associated with it? Environmentalism and sustainability are these things – Trump dismantling the EPA. Will the people that support this ever support a business case even though it makes sense?
o The liberalists and populists have screwed up so badly, that the supporters of Trump still support him
o The liberals have had their warning – they took their platform for granted
o Instead of speaking down to people, liberals need to now take people with them – this is our chance to prove that environmentalism works we have to make the business case and bring people with us
o You can’t make progress just being pure environmentalists people now think that being an environmentalist is a luxury for someone who is lower or middle class
o If you automate, it depends on what you do with the distribution of the wealth created by the robots – keep it within the communities that service and support the robots
o Universal income – implies that we won’t be able to get these people (truckers, etc.) new jobs and that we will have to just pay them to support us
o Trump and Brexit were campaigns run on lies and fear. Once some of these ‘threats’ like the immigrants are gone and we have no one left to blame, then what happens? We create a more skeptical and hopefully a more educated population
o Why can’t we use the 20p for returning plastic bottles?
o How do you communicate sustainability without sounding like greenwashing?
o It’s profoundly conservative to be environmental – but somehow now it is considered liberal. We are trying to conserve and preserve the lifestyle you enjoy. There is a language thing in there – we just have to crack it!
Could the visibility of the Ocean plastics problem create an opportunity to engage the public and business on our single-use / throwaway culture? Does the table feel this is a battle worth fighting, and where should a campaign like this begin? Who is already doing work that we can build upon, and who are the key actors that need to be engaged? Is this mission impossible?
This is a cause well worth fighting for, unanimously our table agreed. Ingrained behaviour from consumers as well as that from businesses and retailers requires to be challenged. The solution is to reduce the mountain of single use plastic we bring into our planet. So who should start? Big brand and big event joining force are steady change agents of crowd behaviour that despises rather than throw on the ground waste. Opportunities and options we discussed varied from putting in place the right value incentives that meet closely consumers’ reason and drivers for to returning containers to be refilled to setting up bins at the retail end for leaving in wanted packaging. Recycling levels would increase. Recycling itself however is actually part of the problem. We feel good about not sending all the waste to landfill but we ignore that is prone to contamination, hence only 7% of plastic is actually recycled.
If everyone in the supply chain and retail chain together with the government would come together and design a unified standard system for separating and recycling material, the percentage of recycled waste would go up.
Putting a tax on undesired or unwanted plastic is not a solution either. In fact it simply perpetuates the problem rather than reducing production and consumption of it. Ideally, system thinking applied to supply chain, buying department decisions and retail norms can help re-evaluate and reframe how goods are commercialised, identify how much and what kind of packaging is most vital to deliver the expected quality to consumers and scout for innovative solutions that are more in tune with nature.
Education to generate awareness and disseminate information is much more powerful to influence and ultimately change processes, customs and habits of consumption. Bold unilateral decision such as that of M&S to only sell fair trade banana, McDonald to pay its way into free range eggs in the U.K. demonstrate that if there's a will there's a way. If we are to succeed in reducing production of mono-use plastic packaging and changing for good how we shop, consume beverages and demand quality of products, more brave actor such as supermarkets, buying departments and petrochemical lobby groups are needed to bring about everlasting change.