Around 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. This staggering figure is perhaps best represented by the infamous expanse of water known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, an area now estimated to be three times the size of Spain and home to approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. Documentaries such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, have in recent times managed to raise international awareness about the negative effects plastic is having on our marine ecosystems. This blog takes a further look at some of the campaigns being mounted by alliances around the world and how brands themselves are also starting to respond to what is becoming one of the most intractable problems of our time.
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UK charity Surfers Against Sewage have mounted a series of campaigns designed to draw attention to the scourge of single-use plastics accumulating in our seas and on our coastlines. Most recently they’ve turned their attention to the UK’s political elite, highlighting how more than a million throwaway coffee cups were consumed in the Houses of Parliament over the past year. Putting the spotlight on policy makers also looks to be bearing fruit, with Environment Minister Michael Gove announcing this week that the UK will be introducing a Deposit Return Scheme to further incentivise the recycling of cans,plastics, and glass.
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On a larger, global scale, the Plastic Pollution Coalition is an alliance of over 500 individuals, organizations and businesses that pledge to live a plastic-free lifestyle. The charity provides multiple guides outlining methods through which individuals and institutions can go plastic-free. They’ve also produced a thought-provoking short film, narrated by actor Jeff Bridges, that reveals the extent of the challenge facing humanity. Remarkably (and worryingly), the coalition estimates that by 2050 the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight.
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Given the scale of the problem, its heartening to see more and more brands responding to the public disquiet. Coca-Cola is at the forefront of this changing culture, having last year created its first ever ad made entirely out of its 100% recyclable packaging! The ad, titled ‘Love Story’, tells the story of two bottles who fall in love as they meet over and over again after being recycled into new bottles. The spot forms part of Coke’s revamped sustainable packaging strategy, a prescient move given the UK government’s imminent introduction of a deposit return scheme.
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Clothing brand H&M are also noteworthy for having recently taken a conscious step towards plastic sustainability. In January, they launched a new line of eco-active wear predominantly made of recycled polyester and elastane. With clothes recycling initiatives already in-store, H&M’s ultimate ambition is to create a closed loop for textiles in which unwanted clothes can be reused or recycled into new treasures. Expect other high street clothing brands to increasingly follow suit (yes, pun intended).
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One other brand cleverly innovating in this space is the men’s skincare company Bulldog, who’ve managed to successfully replace traditional plastic tube packaging with a sustainable version made from sugarcane. Not only is sugarcane a renewable resource, the crop also captures CO2 from the air as it grows. So for every kilogram of sugarcane plastic produced, its estimated that approximately 3 kilograms of CO2 is also removed from the air – very much a satisfactory case of two birds, one stone.
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As consumers become more enlightened as to the damaging effects of plastics, its likely that brands will come under increasing scrutiny to adopt sustainable initiatives. While a Mediacom study previously found that 49% of UK consumers would be willing to pay more for a brand that supported their ethics, this problem won’t be solved by first world consumption behaviors alone. The problem is global in nature, with many third world countries lacking both the will and the resources to effectively tackle the issue. Multinational brands are thus best placed to positively affect change across borders. The question remains, have they got the bottle?