5 Things Big Brands Can Do To Eliminate Single-Use Plastics from Their Supply Chains

Please welcome this post from Daniel Ball, Business Development Director, Wax Digital

Plastic use and pollution remain a key environmental issue for businesses and supply chains all over the world. According to research from Surfers Against Sewage, the world’s population now produces 320 million tonnes of plastic; up from 1.5 million produced in 1950.

This rise in production of plastic inevitably leads to increased plastic pollution, harming our oceans, seas and land. Environmental campaigners have called for immediate action and placed pressure on big brands to respond, so how can organisations cut down their plastic consumption in their supply chains?

Blue Planet II, the BBC documentary fronted by veteran presenter Sir David Attenborough, significantly raised the profile of plastic pollution across the world, highlighting that plastic pollution has become a major issue - and one that all businesses should pay close attention to.

Why is plastic such an issue?

There are several reasons why plastics are a big problem. These are:

  • It takes years for plastic to decompose – plastic can take anywhere between 450 and 1000 years to fully break down
  • It’s harmful to animals – a simple Google search will show you that animals can get stuck, tangled or trapped in plastic bags or packing, resulting in injury or death
  • Animals ingest it – thinking plastic is a food source, animals in the seas or on land ingest plastic causing digestive issues or in some cases, death
  • Humans consume plastic too – microplastic has entered the food chain in our oceans as documented by researchers in 2017, and has also been found in 83% of tap water samples across the globe.

Sir David Attenborough lobbied global governments to do their part to reduce plastic pollution, and the sitting UK government responded quickly. Seen as a key policy, the UK government announced in April 2018 it would introduce a plastic packaging tax in April 2022. The tax covers production and import of plastic into the UK.

In the run up to the announcement, the government consulted businesses and numerous experts and discovered that 44% of plastic used in the UK is solely for packaging goods. In addition, 67% of that is wasted. So the levy is designed to encourage businesses to transition away from non-recyclable plastics, to more sustainable solutions.

It’s not possible to eliminate all plastic immediately – so start small!

It is unrealistic to suggest and implement a blanket ban on plastic – it’s a key component of our society and is in pretty much everything we use. Televisions, smartphones, cutlery, crockery; the substance is cheap to manufacture and serves a wide range of purposes.

However, what businesses can do is phase out their reliance on single-use plastics. This includes items such as coffee cups, carrier bags, plastic water bottles and other types of plastic packaging used across global supply chains. Businesses should act quickly now to tackle the problem.

In the catering and hospitality sector, big businesses like Starbucks have been under fire for their use of non-recyclable plastics in their drinks containers. In the UK alone, 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away, each year. Some are sent to landfill, others end up in our oceans.

There are numerous alternatives catering companies could consider, including compostable lids as well as bioplastics, such as the Biome coffee cup that is made entirely from plant-based sources.

How to eliminate single-use plastic from your supply chain

In the first instance, businesses would benefit from change management experts to assist them in the process, which we suggest should follow these steps:

1  Set out your objectives and start planning

Define exactly what single-use plastics you intend to eliminate from the business. It’s here you would complete a financial analysis to identify if cutting that specific bit of plastic from your business is feasible or not.

You’ll also need to take time to identify alternatives in the market and work out how you’re going to source the packaging, whether your supplier can accommodate this request or if you’d need to use an alternative supplier to cater for the change.

2  Get your stakeholders onboard

Any project or business transformation needs stakeholders invested in what you are planning to do, so this is the time to get people onboard. As this is a procurement-driven exercise, getting finance onboard is a logical step. It’s also key to get production areas involved and ensure that they will be able to cope with the changes that will arise from reducing single-use plastics and using an alternative.

And don’t forget about the leadership team. You’ll want to leverage their influence to cascade any change throughout the business.

3  Clearly define scope of single-use plastic reduction

You’ll need to clearly set some boundaries in your plastic reduction operation. What mission-critical functions can’t exist without single-use plastic in its existing structure? Identify these and ring fence them from any change.

4  Audit and evaluate all single-use plastic in your supply chain

Now is the time to make a comprehensive checklist of all the places in your supply chain that utilise single-use plastic and what substance can replace it. Identify each place and detail exactly how it is used, why it is used and how much it costs to use it. Identify an appropriate alternative material for packaging before establishing and approving costs for this replacement.

5  Keep employees in the wider organisation onboard

Throughout the entire process keep employees in your wider organisation invested and involved in what you’re trying to achieve. You can do this by establishing regular communications, informing people in the business what procurement is doing, why procurement is doing it and what benefits it will bring to the organisation as well as the environment.

Remind yourself and your business that it’s a gradual change

Eliminating single-use plastic from your organisation isn’t something that will happen overnight. It takes meticulous planning, determination and creative solutions to make progress – but stick at it. Your customers will thank you, but most importantly, so will the planet.

 

 

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