Plastic pollution: a new revolution?

Plastic pollution has become an important topic in today’s society, with Sir David Attenborough describing it as an “unfolding catastrophe.” There are currently 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy, and new research shows that every week we are ingesting an average of 5g of plastic, which is the equivalent of a credit card… scary thought, right?

More and more brands are taking it upon themselves to take action and do their part in ending the plastic crisis. The most effective way to cut avoidable plastic waste is by reducing consumption. Many big coffee shop brands now offer incentives for customers who bring their own reusable cup, and UK supermarkets have also been trying to cut down plastic consumption in recent years. For example, Marks & Spencer is replacing disposable plastic cutlery with wooden alternatives, Aldi and Asda are switching polystyrene pizza boards to cardboard ones, and in 2018 Morrisons reintroduced brown paper bags for loose fruit and veg to cut the use of single-use plastics. Outside of the UK, Rimping supermarket in Chiangmai, Thailand, has gone one step further by wrapping its produce in banana leaves and securing with flexible bamboo!

And it’s not just supermarkets, beverage brand Diageo also received praise earlier in 2019 for bringing in 100% recyclable and biodegradable cardboard to replace plastic packaging on multipacks of its beer brands including Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s.
Of course, there are ways to re-use existing plastic products too. Dettol is encouraging consumers to re-use spray bottles by creating Dettol Spray Refill pouches which use 70% less plastic than a new bottle.

The third route brands can go down is to recycle materials. Adidas is an adopter of this, having announced that this year it will produce 11 million pairs of trainers made from recycled ocean plastic in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans.

Reverse vending is another way in which corporations can help to recycle. In the UK, Boots, Tesco and CitiPark are amongst the brands that have trialled schemes to offer customers incentives for returning plastic bottles. At Boots, customers were rewarded with Advantage Card points, Tesco offered 10p per bottle, and in CitiPark’s case, customers got 20p towards their parking for each contribution.

Now, obviously pollution and the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling aren’t new concepts. The scale of the generated waste crisis was recognised in 1981, when a group of statisticians from all over the world conducted calculations into the impact of overpopulation and waste. And even earlier than this in 1970, the first Earth Day was created in America to protest the deterioration of the environment. So why now, almost 50 years later, are businesses only just starting to take action?

It could be argued that this new-found ‘ethical’ interest in the war on plastic serves brands’ own selfish publicity reasons. Quirky initiatives gain media coverage and positive brand awareness – so how do we know if brands genuinely care or whether they’re just following the latest trend in cause-based marketing? As Brad has spoken about previously, brands need to exercise honesty, relevance and humility, as well as taking action.

Overall, whilst having an ethical stance may mean consumers are more likely to buy that brand’s products, companies taking responsibility, making positive change and helping our planet become more sustainable can surely only be a positive thing.

Written by:

Barry Bell


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