October 10 2018 Wednesday at 07:32 PM

Turning off the plastic tap

Unless you have been living on another planet recently, you will be painfully aware of the hype around plastic and the impact it is having on the environment, food chain and life on Earth. The most recent documentary, ‘Drowning in Plastic’ shows the extent to which plastic pollution has become one of the top priorities of many countries and organisations.

Hot topic indeed and a subject I can bore you for hours about!

A Plastic Planet (aplasticplanet.com)

One organisation working hard to lobby government, retailers, brand owners and influential groups is A Plastic Planet (APP). Their message is simple; ‘turn off the plastic tap’ and switch to alternative materials which are plastic-free. Their plastic-free trust mark acts like a beacon to any discerning consumer looking for this commitment. Since launch 18 months ago they have made significant impact across Europe which started with Ekoplaza in Holland, then Iceland Foods and is gathering influence. In May 2018 Ekoplaza announced its world first plastic-free aisle which is now being rolled out across all 74 stores. It won't be long until see our first plastic-free supermarket aisle in Britain.

100 years of plastic addiction

Our 100 year addiction to plastic began during the industrial revolution. In 1907 Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first synthetic mass-produced plastic. By 1933 polyethylene was discovered by ICI and from the 1940’s all sorts of advanced plastics and laminates were developed and mass produced.

The growth of the supermarket and changing consumer habits have played their part demanding lower prices, higher volumes, more choice and convenience. Busy working lives, eating and drinking on the move have also added to the growing litter mountain. Add to this the lack of any cohereant policy on waste management locally, regionally, nationally or internationally and you begin to understand why we have ended up in such a mess. Producers and supermarkets have been focused on convenience, freshness, shelf-life and products looking great and less about how the packs will be fully recovered and recycled.

Less than 10% of plastics are actually recovered and recycled in the UK and since China and other countries stopped taking our waste the value of mixed plastic for recycling has fallen sharply. Recycling needs much investment and smarter governance, but all of this will NOT fix the problem. 

We need a 360° rethink of how we process, consume and behave. This will be like moving from diesel to electric, but when we commit and achieve the transition we will look back and wonder why we did not adapt more quickly.

The Original Laces Company goes plastic-free

I own a business which makes shoelaces. We produce bespoke and made-to-measure laces and ship them worldwide. Clients include Ted Baker and Osprey. Each pair of laces is packed in a plastic tube and sealed with a cork and branded with a paper label. We chose PVC because it's clear, strong and low cost. However, we are just in the throws of replacing the tube with a small glass bottle.

We have just acquired the plastic-free trust mark and added this to each bottle label to reflect our commitment and reassure our customers that we actually do care how we make and pack their products. Cost actually reduced by 25% before adding soft cost savings in less outer packaging, handling and storage. The bottles are also much easier to merchandise and take up less space in store.

This is an example of where better does necessarily need to cost more. To fix something you often need to take a holistic approach. This will mean involving key people and partners and making sure they understand the strategy and the part they play in the final production.

Final thought 

We are just residents on this planet so let us leave it in a better state than when we found it.