by Aurora Samuelsson, Senior Engagement Manager at GES
In an average person’s lifetime, plastic has entered into the world as the revolutionary material that we are all surrounded by and use constantly. Through all its forms, plastic has truly revolutionised everything that we consider to be a developed and modern life. Thanks to plastics we have developed vital and lifesaving medical equipment, we can store food in hygienic and safe ways and we have countless technical devices that have changed the way many of us work and live. The list goes on and on. Plastic entered the world as the material saint but as the years pass by its glory has become questioned.
For many years now, the side effects of our dependency on plastic has been known and the islands made of floating plastic in the oceans grow larger each year. Since most of us live on land and not on the oceans, the issue of plastics floating in the oceans has been out of sight and therefore out of mind for the majority of people. However, there is an ongoing shift in awareness and an urgency to manage the issue in every way possible and to ensure that we are part of finding a solution rather than contributing to the continued pollution.
Since the issue of plastics, and microplastics, in the oceans is global and everyone contributes to the issue but no one can be held accountable, it has become the responsibility of us all to try and change the situation. At GES, we have seen clear signs, almost daily, that more and more companies actively work to decrease their usage of and reliance on plastic. Earlier this month, several Swedish clothing brands introduced the “one bag habit” where stores encourage and educate their customers to reuse shopping bags and think through if they really need a plastic bag at all. This has received positive attention and employees witness that most customers are pleased about this initiative and it has also already led to interesting debates about how we can potentially change our plastic habits. Similar initiatives can be found in the UK where the use of single-use plastic bags has decreased significantly after a five pence tax was introduced in October 2015. In 2016, France passed a new law that prohibits single-use cutlery, cups and plates made of non-compostable material, the law will enter into force in 2020. In 2014, one of the first non-packing stores (in modern time) in Europe opened in Berlin and since then more have followed in several countries.
The packaging of everyday consumer goods is really a key issue that relates to producers’ responsibility and the individual’s recycle responsibility. Earlier this year Unilever announced its commitment to shift towards 100 per cent recyclable plastic by 2025. It is an ambitious goal to try and reach in less than eight years but it is necessary as it is estimated that by the year 2050, we could have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the oceans if no action is taken to reduce our plastic waste, and that is a tipping point no one wants to experience.
It has also become increasingly urgent that more companies adapt a circular economy where the company takes a responsible approach in all steps of its products’ lifecycle, from the design phase, through the usage phase to the recycling phase. This is also gaining more attention from many stakeholders, and investors are urged to use their leverage and take the opportunity to engage and invest actively to be a part of the shift towards a more sustainable way of living.
Finally, two weeks ago in New York the UN held an important Oceans Conference where countries agreed how to approach and manage the shared problem of plastics in the oceans. It is encouraging to learn that the 193 United Nations member states unanimously agreed to a set of measures that will begin the reversal of the decline of the ocean’s health. The UN wrote that: “The outcome document, together with more than 1,300 commitments to action, marks a breakthrough in the global approach to the management and conservation of the ocean”.
We all have a duty and a possibility to be part of the responsible and necessary shift to ensure that the saint will not end up being the irreversible and eternal pollution sinner.
 Microplastic is be found in many of our everyday consumer products like toothpaste, hygiene products, clothing etc. and is unknowingly consumed by fish and is then absorbed by humans which in itself is a serious health issue for humans. Please read more in this UN Report from 2016: http://web.unep.org/frontiers/sites/unep.org.frontiers/files/documents/unep_frontiers_2016.pdf