Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. While many have now become used to using alternatives to plastics such as paper cups and paper straws, there are other detrimental plastic polluting products such as tea bags, disposable nappies and chewing gum that urgently need to be combatted. When it comes to responsible product manufacturing and disposal, there’s still a long way to go to fight the climate and plastic pollution crisis – but who does the responsibility lie with?
Where business leads, society follows
Businesses can act immediately, and when business leaders take steps to change the world, the knock-on effects on society and indeed government, follow. Change from retail business leaders often starts from reconsidering the materials of the products they sell, offering reusable alternatives, having more honesty around how products are labelled (many manufacturers often make false eco-friendly claims), and creating a sustainable supply chain. There are so many ways that businesses can assess and improve their environmental impact on our planet.
Third, fourth, or fifth time lucky
No company is perfect, and retailers in particular have faced a myriad of challenges over the last few years, owing to the pandemic which has forced store closures, needing to adapt quickly to digital transformation and also navigating a labour shortage. And, while most retailers could be doing more, it’s better to do something than nothing at all. No company is perfect, by merely existing businesses have an environmental impact, but efforts can be made to take responsibility and constantly improve impact.
The disposable nappy industry for example is outdated when it comes to environmental transformation and is a major contributor to our climate and plastic pollution crisis, with 250 million nappies thrown away each day across the world, equating to 9 billion a year which end up in landfill or are incinerated which produces hazardous air pollutants.
Some companies within the industry are trying to develop products to improve the carbon efficiency of nappies – but ultimately reusable products within the baby industry and across categories are the best option for the environment to help reduce single-use plastic waste as well as reducing CO2 emissions.
The consumer role
Consumers will predominantly buy what’s affordable and accessible for them, especially with the cost-of-living crisis causing a crunch on households; which in turn is making some low-income families ditch their preferred eco-friendly options and instead are having to buy cheaper single-use products due to the smaller upfront costs, despite significant long term cost savings through the use of the reusable alternatives
Greenwashing is also a huge factor here – it’s not the consumers fault if brands are appealing to them with ‘eco’ claims that are in fact misleading. For example, biodegradable plastics products are often pushed as sustainable and better for the planet. These properties are inaccurate, not only are biodegradable plastics made from fossil fuels, they normally still end up in landfill meaning they don’t biodegrade, and also end up creating microplastics and contaminating other plastics recycling streams.
Thankfully, we do live in a world where information is just a click away. Consumers need an honest helping hand to be guided to make better choices, and this is largely down to the information they are given by brands who understand their struggles, including a need for sustainable solutions that are cost-effective and convenient.
Retailers can only do so much, and it will take a combined effort from businesses, government and consumers to make global changing impact. It would make difference if businesses develop more carbon efficient practices and become more honest about the environmental impact of the products they offer. But ultimately, reducing the production of single-use plastic products and opting for reusable alternatives is the way forward for a more circular economy and is the best chance we have of successfully combating the climate crisis together.
Spokesperson: Guy Schanschieff MBE, Co-Founder & MD, Bambino Mio