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Should your business ban single use plastics?

Plastic bottles in the sea

 

The purge of plastic products has gained a lot of momentum worldwide, and is only increasing in popularity. Companies around the globe are all putting in effort to cut down on the amount of single use plastics in circulation, and more and more are joining in to help tackle this huge problem.

It seems a little drastic, but is banning single use plastics the answer?

First, we have to explain the reason it is so dangerous.

Why are they bad?

Single use plastics are a symbol of how wasteful the modern person is, often without even realising it. Companies put this in all of their packaging, since it’s cheap and strong, but the truth is, it is very rarely used again after being used once.

The U.N. has reported that just nine per cent of the world’s 9 billion tonnes of plastic has been recycled (as reported by National Geographic here: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash-debris-environment/). Most of this used plastic ends up in the ground or in the ocean. Plastics don’t biodegrade, they instead slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics, which are equally harmful.

Research shows the effects plastic has on the Earth as well as on humans. For example, Styrofoam containers have a life cycle of thousands of years. They contaminate our earth and water by releasing toxic chemicals, which then gets absorbed into animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain. Styrofoam can also damage nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs if ingested.

Animals are affected heavily by plastic as a whole. I can personally say I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose, or a bird caught in a carrier bag, or countless other heart-breaking photos with similar messages.

There is definitely a long way to go, but in the meantime, people and companies alike are working to cut down on the number of plastic products they release.

What are people doing about it?

Plastic pollution is a complicated issue, and one that’s unfortunately invisible until it’s too late. While there aren’t many solutions that clean up the mess that has already been made, there are many that can slow down the amount that is still being produced.

The biggest solution is just to cut down or stop buying them altogether. Simple, but effective, and it’s catching on.

The U.N.’s Environment Program and the World Resources Institute had recently conducted a survey with 192 countries with this subject in mind, and to see how much effort countries are putting into cutting down on plastic (available here: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/regulatory-landscape-single-use-plastics-shows-widespread-momentum).

As of July 2018, they found that 127 (66%) of the countries they asked have put together some type of policy or law to regulate plastic bag use. Going back to the early 2000s, countries have been trying to target these especially, since they have ready-made replacements and are easily dropped. Reducing their availability in supermarkets is a huge step that will save a lot of plastic.

Australia recently reported that its gradual phasing out of plastic bags has resulted in an 80% reduction of use. 27 countries have a tax on the production of plastic bags, and 30 charge consumers a fee if they want to use them, the UK included. 27 countries have also taken action to straight-up ban other single-use plastic, straws being the most famous example.

How would it affect me?

Consumers are always willing to invest in companies they feel do the right thing, with research showing that firms shifting focus to being green often do better than their unsustainable competitors. An example of this is Unilever, who’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands (https://www.unilever.co.uk/sustainable-living/) were responsible for 60% of the company’s growth in 2016, and this group grew more than 50% faster than the rest of the business.

While many brands will see trying to cut out plastic as the eco-friendliest thing to do, some companies also gain a financial benefit from this. Brands including Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have actually saved on packaging costs by altering how much plastic they use.

PR is an important part of the growth of green companies too. Good publicity can be very effective for a business. At the least, a lack of bad publicity is a good thing.

Social media is a hugely powerful thing that can seriously provide you with a lot of free marketing if you’re loved. Companies often go out of their way to be more helpful, nicer or funnier online with this in mind. Going green is no different!

While you shouldn’t be jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon for any reason other than saving the earth, admiration is definitely a benefit of being a good company. Keep this in mind.

Are there any negatives?

Well, this depends entirely on the area your business operates in. As a store, banning plastic bags isn’t a huge risk. Replacements are easy to come by and even without a ban, charging a small fee for bags can help push consumers in the right direction.

As for companies that use straws or lids, the alternatives may be more expensive and less effective than their plastic counterparts. Profits won’t be massively affected, but it is worth noting that plastic is unbelievably cheap and difficult to beat in that aspect.

So, should I?

There aren’t really many reasons not to! It depends on what your company does of course, but if there are other options for your product’s packaging, it’s almost always a more positive step to at least cut down on plastic use, if not cut it out altogether.

This might take some research and careful planning but there are always going to be benefits.

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