It is not news that plastic waste is a bad thing.
But after many years of slowly growing awareness, it seems quite suddenly to have reached the mainstream. Last weekend, Sir David Attenborough could be found on stage at Glastonbury praising the organisers for cutting down on plastic waste to huge cheers.
A new BBC documentary, called the War On Plastic, aims to shows how everyone can do more to reduce plastic consumption. Almost every day a new post seems to be shared on social media showing an unfortunate creature tangled in plastic waste. There is plastic in the deepest ocean and strewn over the beaches of the remotest islands. According to a recent report, we all ingest at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathe in a similar quantity.
It is horrifying. Yet the response by most businesses to this pressing issue has been sluggish at best.
Yes, most pubs have stopped serving plastic straws. Starbucks incentivise the use of reusable cups. M&S introduced wooden disposable cutlery. And most of us have been successfully nudged into using reusable bags, thanks in part to the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags introduced in 2015.
But it feels like a tiny token drop in the plastic polluted ocean. Walk down most supermarket aisles and numerous products are still wrapped in multiple layers of plastic. Even the organic fruit in my local Booths comes in plastic packaging. You have to question whether they know their audience.
There is a huge opportunity for brands to tap into the public sentiment around this issue and provide more thoughtfully designed and packaged products.
Leadership on this issue, as so often is the case, is coming from small independent agile brands. Look hard enough and you can find brilliant products made with more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic including bamboo, silicone, steel and glass.
“As strange as it may sound, I would encourage people to treat plastic with respect,” says Sir David. “Because if it escapes into the environment, it will remain there for a very long time. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.”
- By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design