Updated: Jul 15
✦ Much has been documented and we are all aware how serious the issue of plastic pollution is to the welfare of our planet. Just like climate change, it is a looming threat to our very existence and something that cannot be brushed under the carpet to be left for future consideration.
The month of July is designated as a plastic free month where people and businesses are urged to refuse the use of single-use plastic items. Plastic Free July is a global movement that has raised awareness and motivated hundreds of millions of people from hundreds of countries to take a stand on plastic pollution and strive to create a healthier, more beautiful and sustainable planet.
July 3 specifically is ‘International Plastic Bag Free Day’, as self-explanatory as it gets.
As stated, we are aware of the perils and the ominous warnings that plastic pollution presents and that is why this article chooses not to dwell on that but instead to look at some of the positive strides being made by countries, organisations and individuals.
Like with any robust structure the foundation is key, a dynamic that is very much the same in this instance where policies set at government level are key to driving positive progress. UN Member States endorsing a historic resolution at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in Nairobi on March 2 last year to End Plastic Pollution and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024 is a promising stride for sure. The globally binding legal agreement, set to be finalised by the end of next year, is expected to:
“Reflect diverse alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials, and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building and scientific and technical cooperation.”
Many of the governments involved have offered encouraging pledges of support; “The resolution will clearly take us towards a future with no plastic pollution, including in the marine environment,” said Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, Japan’s Environment Minister. “International partnerships will be crucial in tackling a problem that affects all of us, and the progress made at UNEA reflects this spirit of collaboration,” said Dr Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda’s Minister of Environment.
Currently Germany is the world leader in waste management, recycling 70% of all waste produced, including plastic. Austria has one of the world’s highest recycling rates where 96% of its population adhere to a strict waste recycling process and plastic bags have been banned since 2020. In Switzerland it is mandatory to recycle and failure to do so can result in fines for offenders. China banned single-use plastic bags and utensils from its major cities in 2021, while single-use straws were banned nationwide. A full run-down on individual country action can be found in this Sustainable Ocean Alliance report.
At corporate level sustainability has become a mission-critical directive in recent times – in other words a BIG deal. Failure to have a robust policy demonstrating a firm commitment to sustainability is seriously frowned upon and can ultimately impact market share – something board directors and owners don’t take too kindly to!
Coca-Cola is arguably one of, if not the most recognisable brands in the world. However, worryingly for the beverage behemoth, a 2018 Brand Audit Report showed that Coca-Cola branded goods were the most common items found in beach cleanups in 42 countries. The company responded by pledging to have 50% recycled material in all its packaging by 2030, collecting and recycling a bottle or can for each one that it sells by 2030 and making 60% of packaging either refilled or collected for recycling. The fact it launched new bottles made out of 100% recycled materials to selected areas of the United States in February 2021 is a positive sign that it can follow through on its promises. More recent projects like the “Coke Recycle Me with Trash Lucky'' campaign in Thailand are also positive as the company encourages residents of one of the worst offending countries of plastic pollution to act in a more responsible and accountable manner.
McDonald’s has pledged that by 2025 all of its 36,000 restaurants in 122 locations around the world use packaging, including straws, made from renewable, recycled, or certified sustainable sources, while Nestlé has committed to all its packaging being recyclable or reusable by the same year, as has Estee Lauder. Unilever has committed to make 100% of its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable, also by 2025. Avery Dennison launched its Plastic End Cap Recycling Program in Australia last year which focuses on waste material generated in operational use, diverting discarded plastic waste to create raw materials for everyday products. Similar pledges have been made by a whole range of companies that you can read more about here. Likewise, there are a number of smaller companies and startups that are structuring themselves around a more sustainable approach to waste management and preservation of our planet.
Talking the talk and walking the walk are, of course, two totally different things although it does appear that companies and governments are realising that a responsible and feasible waste management policy is absolutely imperative, particularly in relation to plastic waste. The ‘New Plastics Economy Global Commitment’, launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the UN Environment Programme in 2018, is a hugely positive initiative that can keep things on track as it strives to achieve a fully-functional circular economy for plastic, in which it never becomes waste or pollution. There are over 500 signatories pledged to support this project, including L’Oréal, Mars, Incorporated, Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Walmart, Amcor and Veolia. The sports industry is also taking steps in the right direction to drive sustainability and limit plastic pollution.
Small steps can yield big results
Of course any structure is only as effective as the sum of its parts, and while it is crucial that positive action is being taken at the highest levels in the public and private sectors, ultimately every person can play their part. Small steps can yield big results so adopting a more ethical and sustainable approach to our daily routines can have a much grander impact. Recycle and reuse goods, stop using single-use plastics such as containers, carry bags and straws and lower the number of plastic-based products we purchase and use. Use a reusable shopping bag each time you go to the store instead of using an endless supply of plastic bags and try to buy more eco-friendly and sustainable products from trusted suppliers.
It is certainly encouraging to read that Generation Z (those born after 1997) and millennials regard sustainability as a huge deal, something that is important enough to define their lifestyle and them as a person. A recent UK survey revealed that 90% of Gen Z consumers have made changes to be more sustainable in their daily lives and they would be willing to spend 10% more to acquire sustainable products.
It’s been said countless times before: we only have one planet and it needs our help right now, so let’s make sure we are all adopting the best possible approach we can to play our part and help out to ensure a more sustainable and brighter future.
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