In the wake of Earth Day 2018 and the latest media reports regarding the ‘fight against plastic’, this issue has been the subject of great concern across our Newcastle and Nottingham PR agency offices of late.  The questions we’ve been putting to one another include: How bad is the current situation globally? What is the UK doing about reducing plastic consumption? Who is stepping up to do more and what role should we all play in tackling this worrying environmental plight?

According to Greenpeace, there is currently an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ending up in our oceans each year.  This includes everything from plastic bottles, to bags and microbeads.  A particularly sly perpetrator, microbeads are extremely small pieces of plastic, used especially in cleansing products such as exfoliating agents and toothpaste.  They are so small they are unable to be filtered by our sewage systems and pollute our oceans dramatically, including being ingested by seabirds, whales, turtles and other marine life.

Thankfully, the UK seems to be implementing some positive changes in the fight against plastic pollution. Even though we’re only a few months into 2018, a number of concrete steps to combat single-use plastic have been put into effect.  When it comes to microbeads, in January the government officially banned their usage within the UK.  The first phase of the ban prevents their use in the making of cosmetics and cleaning products and a complete sales ban will be enforced from July.

Last week it was announced that the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds could soon be banned in the UK, helping the Government meet the objectives of a 25-year plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.  Shockingly, around 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year.

The Government is also considering a deposit scheme for plastic bottles which would see a small, refundable charge added to products that could be recouped by taking empties to ‘reverse vending machines’.

However, despite Thereasa May citing the British public as showing, “passion and energy embracing our plastic bag charge and microbeads ban,” another media report released in the last week shows that most people still don’t care about buying plastic bottles, with only a third of the population drinking from reusable bottles when out and about.  The results were based on a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people conducted for Keep Britain Tidy in the wake of the BBC’s screening of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet ll. The programme showed devastating scenes of the impact of plastic pollution on marine life and was the most watched programme of 2017.

So, who is leading the way to go greener when it comes to plastic?

  • The Queen – Queen Elizabeth has implemented a plan to phase out the use of disposable plastics at royal estates after being inspired by David Attenborough while working with him on The Queen’s Green Planet.
  • Food and drink chains – the likes of Costa Coffee, Pizza Express, Wagamama restaurants and Weatherspoons have all put plans in place to phase out the use of non-biodegradable drinking straws in 2018.
  • Scotland – Scotland has taken the phasing out of plastic straws a step further by announcing plans for a countrywide ban on straws to be developed this year.  The nation also announced in January that it would be banning the sale and manufacture of plastic cotton buds, which will be phased out during 2018.
  • Supermarkets – having already banned plastic straws, in January supermarket chain Iceland became a trailblazer when it announced plans to eliminate plastic packaging for all Iceland branded products.  The company released a five-year strategy that calls for introducing paper and pulp food containers, as well as paper bags, all of which can be returned to in-store recycling facilities.
  • Celebrities – the plastic waste reduction movement has become a cause célèbre, with anti-straw hashtags and a celebrity-heavy YouTube video encouraging people to ‘stop sucking’, A-list actresses flaunting their designer water bottles as well as Hollywood’s elite supporting conservation projects globally.
  • The North East! – Tynemouth, a beautiful seaside town at the mouth of Newcastle’s River Tyne has just been awarded plastic-free status after a campaign to ride the coastline of harmful materials.  The area has been given the status by marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) after it met a number of criteria laid out by the charity to help slash the amount of plastic waste output.  Penzance is the only other place in England to hold this title and a number of our team are backing these regional initiatives.  In fact, just last month our very own co-founder and director, Georgina Phillips won an award for the sterling job she did taking part in her local beach clean.

Since Iceland made its announcement other supermarkets have stepped up and announced similar plans.  This is in response to increased demands from shoppers for environmental responsibility. It also ensures that their reputations remain in tack through positive PR relating to a very real trend to be more environmentally aware and responsible.

Similarly, yes, we’re sure that celebrities do believe in the causes that they publicly endorse, but by doing so it definitely elevates their celebrity further, giving fans another reason to support them and their work.  However, it’s a win-win situation as in lending their face and name to important issues and sharing their support via social media, celebrities do play a major role in encouraging the general public to think twice about their own plastic consumption – despite what the YouGov poll shows.

So, what can you do to reduce your own plastic footprint? To find out what your current plastic footprint is click here and if this shocks you then try to implement some of the following to lower it:

  1. Plastic bags – an obvious one but bring your own! This works – according to Greenpeace the number of plastic bags picked up on British beaches last year was down by half – amazing! And if you often forget, invest in a foldaway keyring bag so you’re never without.
  2. Bottled water – stop buying it. Invest in a refillable bottle and keep it with you when you’re on the move.  There are so many attractive designs out there, make it your must-have accessory!
  3. Milkman – get yourself one! Reusing bottles is far more green than recycling them.  Home deliveries which deliver milk in glass bottles to your doorstep and collect and refill for you are still going on in many parts of the country – follow this link to find and book your local milkman today!
  4. Cardboard and paper over plastic – make intentional choices when you do your weekly shop – eg: pick pasta in a box instead of in a bag and stop using the small plastic bags for your fruit and veg – either don’t use at all or purchase your own reusable produce bags such as these here.
  5. Take the Plastic Pledge – Follow the link here to Greenpeace’s Plastic Pledge where you can keep updated about the organisation’s campaigns and others ways that you can help.

As it stands our oceans are currently turning into what Greenpeace describes as ‘plastic soup’ as plastic enters every level of the ocean food chain, even ending up in the seafood on our plates. It’s not too late though, whether you’re a business owner or an individual we can all make a decision to ‘consciously consume’ meaning that we are in control of the amount of plastic we each produce.

This week is Responsible Business Week, an opportunity for businesses to show how they are driving positive social, environmental and economic change in communities across the UK.  Making these positive changes to reduce plastic waste can form an important part of your CSR policy and establish you as an environmentally and socially aware operation – hugely important in today’s economic landscape.

Here at The Tonic Communications we have all taken the plastic pledge, are keeping our local milkmen busy and are getting updated regularly on local and regional initiatives to help this cause.  If you’re already doing your part to be more environmentally aware and want to shout about it contact us here.