FROM SOURCE TO SOLUTION: THE ROLE OF BUSINESS IN REDUCING PLASTIC POLLUTION
With an aim to reduce pollution and confront some of the world’s most challenging environmental problems, a circular economy uses a multitude of approaches. Whether through design, sharing, repair, recycling or behavioural change, a circular economy fully accounts for the products and materials we use. But underpinning the numerous aspects of how a circular economy reduces waste is a single factor: accountability.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS OUR BUSINESS
Accountability is key in waste reduction, and especially key in the movement to stem the tide of plastic pollution choking our oceans and waterways. Plastic use in Australia is projected to double by 2040, with 130,000 tonnes already making its way into the marine environment. And as we’re now finding, this is just the tip of the polystyrene iceberg. Last year, CSIRO suggested there might be up to 14 million tonnes of microplastics (plastic of 5mm diameter or less) in the deep ocean – an amount that as it decays, will spread even further. Yet despite it’s globally significant and ever-growing impact, plastic production and use has been normalised to the point of being almost unconscious.
With inconsistent legislation state-to-state around single-use plastic in Australia, there is a growing consensus that businesses need to start leading the way. Plastic Oceans Australasia have been prioritising industry collaboration to educate and drive change. As well as partnerships with organisations such as workplace recycling company Ecobin, during the last year, POA have been both host and guest on a variety of digital media, including podcasts and webinars. These have featured not just research and advocacy experts, but businesses that are changing the current plastic-use paradigm, such as ’The Great Wrap’, makers of the only Australian made compostable cling wrap, and Replas, a hugely successful Australian business transforming soft plastics into an ever-growing range of products, from play equipment to playground equipment.
Though the solution doesn’t just lie with businesses that have plastic reduction baked into their business model. The solution lies with the way we all do business. Work is, for many, where a large portion of our time is spent as adults. The behaviours and ideas that are cultivated in the workplace are normalised and carried into everyday life. This idea is central to some of the work POA has been doing in a range of different businesses, instituting plastic reduction and recycling programs and inviting employees at all levels to examine how their organisation can reduce their plastic footprint.
AN EPIC SOLUTION
POA’s work with Australian businesses to reduce the plastic pollution in their value chains, is called the Engagement for Plastic-free Innovation and Change—or EPIC—Program. The EPIC program has brought plastic consumption into full-focus in the workplace this year, with 1,870 staff in a variety of organisations undertaking the campaign. These are not small wins. Targeting workplaces not only creates tangible organisational change, but increases awareness around single-use plastic that will continue to drive change into the future.
POA’s EPIC program is solutions-based – looking at the full lifecycle of plastic within an organisation, from procurement to use, as well as reflecting on the effectiveness of measures implemented during the life of the EPIC program. Through plastic habit surveys, workshops, audits and guides to identifying barriers to behaviour change, EPIC doesn’t dwell on the simple identification of the problem. Instead it focuses on empowering individual decision making and eliminating barriers to change.
A WAVE OF CHANGE
Of course, accountability can’t rest with business alone. With half the global population living within 100km of a coastline, our individual choices around plastic make a difference. The Port Phillip Eco Centre’s Baykeeper report cites fragments of hard plastic, often crushed or decayed plastic bottles, as the main pollutant found in both major rivers feeding into Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, with the remainder led by other recognisable consumer items: polystyrene and soft plastics.
And the data clearly links this with our activity choices: the data peaking in summer and also spiking close to key recreation events, such as the Flemington Racecourse during spring racing.
This need for an individual behavioural shift has been instructive in the delivery of education programs to more than 17,500 students during 2020-21, as well as the landmark ‘Picnics Unwrapped’ campaign. Launched on World Picnic Day on June 18 this year and continuing to November 15, Picnics Unwrapped spread awareness about single-use plastic by encouraging people to host their very own plastic-free picnic. With campaign ambassadors ranging from artists and CEOs to marine scientists, Picnics Unwrapped was a fun, positive way to spread the word about plastic use, and highlight the need for more accountability in how we consume.
The growing popularity of the circular economic model is proof that both businesses and individuals are beginning to account for, and address, their respective attitudes towards consumption. And with plastic pollution causing what the UN has called “severe environmental consequences”—in addition to single-use plastic still being on the rise—there is no better time to be a part of the move towards a cleaner, healthier, plastic-free future.
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