Plastic is not inherently bad, but our throwaway use of it is. Brands and consumers are reviewing their own behaviors to prevent plastic pollution. But are we all doing enough? Sadly the answer is, “probably not.”
I recently stumbled upon a Netflix special called History 101, and the first episode that caught my eye was titled “Plastics.” In the first 2 minutes I was stopped dead in my tracks when they said “Almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists today.” That was hard to wrap my head around, which led me to dig deeper to understand how serious the issue is and what can be done about it.
A seismic shift in plastic usage is underway as consumers become more aware of the damage plastic waste does to people and the planet. It takes roughly 450 years for a plastic bottle to break down, but plastic is also one of the most functional materials humans have ever created. Plastic lightens transportation, reduces fuel emissions, extends shelf life and prevents food waste. Nevertheless, as images of islands of waste continue to flood the internet, there are more and more plastic bag fees and bans in place and callouts from brands and celebrities on social media to abandon plastic straws, concerns are growing and consumers are reflecting on their usage and throwaway behaviors of plastic items.
It is estimated that over 6 billion tons of plastic waste have been produced globally since 1950 – only 9% of which was recycled, 12% was incinerated and 79% ended up in landfills or the natural environment. While consumers urge for more thoughtful ways of using plastic that does not sacrifice convenience, there is a bigger need to develop systems to allow better recoverability and recyclability of plastic products and packaging. Despite this, consumers need to see greater innovation and disruption to make any substantial kind of behavior change, including redesigning products that contain plastic, the introduction of more recycling programs, more waste management facilities and developing alternative materials that can biodegrade faster.
Shifting consumer behavior
Consumers are limiting their reliance on single-use plastic items, especially those that are relatively easy to omit, such as plastic bags and straws. This empowers consumers to be socially responsible as well as to “do good” to “feel good”. Some people feel good about themselves for changing certain behaviors for the environment, like stopping using the plastic straw, so they don’t feel the need to take further action. Nevertheless, brands need to stay ahead of consumers, guiding them with more education around the impact of plastic waste and how they can take greater responsibility in embracing a lifestyle of reuse.
Brands are making big changes
As pressure increases from consumers to increase sustainability efforts and decrease environmental impact, newer brands are innovating in order to appeal to the eco-conscious consumer and large companies are working to shrink their footprint.
- Allbirds expanded its natural, warm weather options by introducing flip-flops made from sugarcane and shoes made from eucalyptus trees.
- Marriott is eliminating hotel-size bath products in favor of bulk dispensers in the rooms.
- Grocery giant, Kroger, pledges to stop using plastic bags by 2025 – it currently uses 6 billion single-use plastic bags per year.
- McDonald’s and Starbucks joined forces and launched a competition to create a compostable cup solution.
The plastic problem is one that isn’t going away, and it will take a global shift in corporate and consumer behaviors to create meaningful change. From new companies creating environmentally conscious plastic alternatives to each one of us simply walking around our house and finding ways to limit plastic waste, we all will need to do our part.
Consistent small changes can have a huge impact. So what are you willing to change? Follow along with us during 30 Days of Change.