Plastic waste campaigners and experts challenge businesses to improve their sustainability record

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As a result of lobbying by various celebrities and environmental campaigners, companies are being challenged to improve the way they use plastic in manufacturing and packaging. From targeting specific items such as plastic stemmed cotton buds to highlighting the importance of plastic recycling, businesses are being urged to reduce their environmental impact. Marks and Spencer are reducing the amount of packaging it uses by redesigning and repackaging more than 140 of its highest selling products, saving 75 tonnes in a year, but could more be done?

Ellen MacArthur, the founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has called for changes in the way that plastics are made and used, in order to prevent them from becoming waste. Since only 14% of the world’s plastic packaging is collected and recycled, after some are incinerated or put into landfill, 30% pollutes the environment including the oceans. Unless fundamental changes are made, by 2050 there may be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish.

CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, Hugo Tagholm has suggested that a nationwide deposit return system would reduce the number of plastic bottles polluting beaches and marine environments. At present, only slightly more than half of the 38.5 million plastic bottles used daily in the UK are collected and sent for plastic waste recycling. In addition to reducing the waste, the recycled plastic could be used for the manufacture of new bottles, thus creating a circular economy.

Actor Lily Cole, who is a patron of the Environmental Justice Foundation, claims that single use plastic water bottles should be avoided altogether and reusable bottles should be used instead. According to Brita, research for their SwapForGood campaign revealed that, in the UK, 71% of people were embarrassed to ask for tap water if they were not purchasing something else. The stigma associated with asking for tap water in restaurants and cafes needs to change so that people are more willing to reduce their use of single use bottles. Although these are suitable for plastic waste recycling, many are simply carelessly discarded and end up in the oceans.

Plastic straws have been targeted by global consumer group, SumOfUs. Their executive director, Hannah Lownsbrough, has stated that McDonald’s should take the lead by ditching plastic straws, which can have devastating effects on marine wildlife, including turtles and penguins. It is estimated that 500 million straws are used daily in the USA alone, and many of these are unwanted by the consumer. By using recyclable and sustainable alternatives, providing drink through lids or only giving out straws when they are specifically requested, companies can reduce the amount of plastic waste that they create.

Cotton buds with plastic stems are another problem and in the UK, they are the sixth commonest items of litter found on beaches. Madeleine Berg, of Scotland’s Cotton Bud Project, has called for companies to stop selling these and some, including Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have committed to banning them from the end of 2017. Body Shop and M&S have already introduced paper stemmed cotton buds as an alternative. In France, plastic stemmed cotton buds will be totally banned by 2020.

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