If things don’t change, research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows there could be more plastic (by weight) than fish in our oceans by 2050. And the volume of plastic dumped will increase from one garbage truck per minute to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. Not only is waste plastic killing marine life in record numbers (reportedly more than 600 species), experts warn of the health implications for humans who eat fish that have consumed tiny plastic particles.
Rethinking the future of plastics
Dame Ellen launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010 to “accelerate the transition to a circular economy”, which looks “beyond the current ‘take, make and dispose’ extractive industrial model, to a circular economy that is ‘restorative and regenerative by design’”.
In 2016, the Foundation teamed up with the World Economic Forum and management consultants McKinsey & Company to publish a report – The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics. It found that plastic production has grown 20-fold in the past 50 years, while only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling after use, while vast quantities escape into the environment. And, each year, about 95% of plastic packaging material value (£63bn-£94bn) is lost to the global economy after first use.
UK Plastic Pact
Launched in May 2018, the UK Plastics Pact demonstrates how businesses can use less plastic, says Sander Defruyt, Lead, New Plastics Economy at the Foundation. “More than 60 businesses and 30 other organisations, including major food, drink and non-food brands, manufacturers and retailers right through to plastic reprocessors and packaging suppliers, have made their commitment to the Pact.” Together they are responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets.
“The Pact has set ambitious, time-bound targets, to eliminate unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging, and redesign all plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. Collection and recycling of plastic packaging will be increased, while more recycled content will be used in plastic packaging.”
Defruyt believes the private sector can play a crucial role in “developing innovative business models, packaging design, materials and technologies, in line with the circular economy, that provide sustainable solutions to add value to used plastics and thus reduce plastic waste”. Developing these solutions can provide economic opportunity for businesses of all sizes, he stresses.
Founded by Amanda Keetley in 2015, Less Plastic describes itself as “an ocean-loving, family-run organisation based in South Devon”.
She set it up in response to the “endless tide of plastic washing up on our beautiful local beaches, to raise awareness of the issues caused by ocean plastic and to provide easy-to-action solutions to significantly reduce the amount of plastic in our lives”.
Keetley says Less Plastic offers “inspiration, tools and strategies to enable individuals, businesses, schools and organisations of all sizes to use less plastic. Our talks and workshops apply proven behaviour-change techniques to enable attendees to successfully cut plastic use in their professional roles and personal lives”.
So, how can small businesses join the fight? “Well, if you’re running a small food or drink business, stop serving drinks with plastic straws,” Keetley replies. “They’re one of the most common items of marine litter and they would take hundreds of years to break down naturally in the sea. Don’t supply plastic knives, forks or spoons either.
“And instead of selling bottled water, offer to refill customer reusable bottles for free. Only sell drinks in glass bottles or other recyclable materials. Don’t supply single-serving plastic sachets of sauce, provide sauce in glass bottles. Also encourage your customers to compost their compostables.”
All businesses should avoid single-use plastics and encourage their suppliers and customers to do the same, advises Keetley. Many online retailers use too much packaging, she says. “We need to radically re-think plastic packaging, which some businesses are already doing. And staff throughout the UK can also do many other things to reduce their own plastic use.”
Forward-thinking businesses want to be part of the solution to tackle of ocean plastic, Keetley adds, “because it’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense,” she stresses. “It can save your business money and help you to attract customers. We want all businesses to refuse single-use plastic, choose reusables and play their part in reducing plastic pollution. We’re a small organisation, but we have one big ambition, which is to help make single-use plastic a thing of the past,” she concludes.