You’re already in the habit of bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, upcycling glass jars, and maybe even tossing food scraps in a compost pile. Perhaps you’ve ditched single-use plastics, too.
If you’ve taken sustainable strides in an effort to save the planet, you’re not alone. Millions of others just like you have joined in the fight to conserve Earth’s resources and mitigate climate change. Together, we make a difference, but only if corporations commit to doing the same.
Individual-centered solutions, like the ones listed above, are inaccessible to many and, most notably, this approach ignores corporate influence. The truth is, when it comes to reducing plastic waste, there’s only so much you as an individual can do. Businesses have a far greater influence on climate change than the general public. That’s because major entities use, create, and waste more resources than consumers ever could.
Ultimately, it’s up to brands to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic waste. Here are eight tips companies might use to achieve their sustainability goals and join you, the consumer, in defending the Earth.
Americans have developed disposable lifestyles that practically depend on single-use plastics. Whether it’s straws, utensils, or shopping bags, it seems you can’t go a single day without using or at least seeing one-and-done products.
Researchers estimate that about 50% of all plastics fit into this category. Sadly, much of it ends up in wildlife ecosystems and landfills, where it’ll take thousands of years to break down. Even then, toxic chemicals will leach into the soil and pollute the Earth.
That’s why it’s so important that businesses ditch single-use plastics. Grocery stores can swap plastic bags for paper ones. Restaurants can stop offering straws and including plastic cutlery in carry-out bags. Meanwhile, clothing brands and other companies can remove plastic items from their shelves and sell more sustainable materials in their place.
Some businesses like coffee shops simply can’t avoid single-use plastics. Those paper cups you sip from? They’re lined with polyethylene, a type of plastic that creates a waterproof seal to keep your beverage from seeping through. These businesses lack a better alternative, so they’ve begun charging extra for anyone who wants the disposable cup. Those who’d rather save a few cents can bring their own reusable one.
Some grocery stores, like Walmart, have taken a similar approach by charging customers a few extra cents for each new reusable bag they use. Others like Aldi don’t even offer plastic bags. Instead, customers can bring their own or purchase paper ones at the register.
Of course, the best alternative to single-use plastics is no plastics. However, this option isn’t feasible for many businesses. Instead, they must invest in reusable items. For instance, a small business might replace the Keurig in the break room with a classic coffee maker that doesn’t require plastic pods. Meanwhile, a major corporation could start delivering products for manufacturers in reusable containers instead of plastic wrap or disposable cartons.
Even businesses that provide personal care and health services can invest in reusable equipment. For example, dentists can switch to reusable air, water, and suction tips and stainless steel prophy cups for tooth polishing. Simply disinfect them in the autoclave between patients and voilà! Zero waste.
If you’ve ever used a bottle return, you’re likely familiar with the deposit-return scheme. This strategy requires that customers pay a small deposit when they purchase plastic products. Then, if they return the empty containers, they’ll get their deposit back and the business can repurpose or recycle them properly.
Deposit-return schemes support a circular economy where all plastic is reused instead of becoming waste. In an ideal world, all companies would adopt this approach. However, it often works best for grocery stores, convenience stores, and other businesses that provide consumers with products in plastic containers.
Packaging is responsible for 46% of global plastic waste generation. The second-largest contributor was textiles at 15%. Needless to say, it’s about time businesses ditched plastic packaging and switched to something more sustainable. While useful, cling wrap, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, and other kinds of plastic packaging pose a number of environmental threats.
Essentially, plastic waste will be around forever. So it’s best not to use it at all. Instead of replacing it with something that’s recyclable — like glass or cloth — businesses should choose biodegradable or compostable materials. By using paper, cardboard or, better yet, no packaging at all, nixing plastic packaging is one of the best things companies can do for the planet.
Faced with increasing consumer consciousness and dismal predictions for the future, many companies have made a pledge to reduce, offset, or completely eliminate plastic waste. For example, in 2018, Coca-Cola launched a World Without Waste plan with goals that included having 50% recycled material in packaging by 2030 and recycling a bottle or can for each bottle they sell by that same year. Microsoft made a similar goal to use 100% recyclable packaging.
Of course, once a business makes a pledge, they must honor it by actually doing what they set out to do. Otherwise, their words are meaningless. For a company to truly commit to and actually create lasting change, it must support its goal with a plan and a reasonable timeline. Analysts must consistently collect and provide data so management can problem-solve and do the work to reduce plastic waste. If they follow through, they’ll achieve their goals and encourage others to do the same.
Businesses both big and small must make an effort to reduce plastic waste if they’re to survive in an eco-conscious world. Consumer voices have made a huge difference in the kinds of products and services companies offer. Now, the most successful companies are the ones that prioritize the planet over making a profit. Together, the brand and the consumer can work together to reduce plastic waste and create lasting change.