17th June 2019

Staying ahead in the plastic revolution

The attitude towards plastic – and single-use plastic in particular – has changed massively over the last few years. Bottled water, drinking straws and plastic supermarket bags have all become less popular with consumers as environmental sustainability has slowly replaced convenience on the high street.

It’s not just consumer habits that are changing though, as government legislation is also shifting towards a greener future. This has mainly been in the form of pledges to hit certain targets on plastic reduction so far, but it can’t be too long before a full-blown crackdown gets underway.

And while this is good news for the planet (which can only be good news for us too), it does mean businesses are going to have to find innovative news ways to cut out plastic and do things in a more ecologically friendly way.

So, let’s look at some of the opportunities out there for businesses.

Develop a plastic strategy

This probably sounds a bit strange, but the key is to treat it as you would any other strategy in your business. Start with changing your mindset about plastic and how much you use in your business. Things to consider are looking at alternative packaging options (more of which later) and sourcing these, using and designing products that are more recyclable, and your own recycling policy.

Once you’ve done this, get your people on board followed by your supply chain. Tell them your plans and take them along for the ride. Don’t be afraid to drop people on the way if they’re not with you.

Think about alternative packaging

If you supply or manufacture something, can you use a more environmentally friendly material to package it? Food containers made from forestry by-products, cardboard and bamboo are becoming more popular, and there’s lots of degradable plastic-type packaging being developed all the time.

These include food wrappers made from milk protein you can eat (or throw away if you prefer as it’ll break down on its own) once you’ve finished the contents, packing boxes constructed of mushrooms and crab shells, and a new ‘plastic’ suitable for making disposable cutlery and bottles has been made from cactus leaves in Mexico.

These products are all non-toxic and degrade naturally. They can be used for just about anything, not just food. Their use isn’t widespread just yet, but there’s likely to be a huge increase in the not too distant future.

Create a ground-breaking product

Rather than simply using someone else’s invention, why not try and come up with something amazing of your own. Former classmates Dennon Oosterman, Alex Kay and David Joyce did just that in 2013 when they built a 3D printer that uses old plastic as filament (the base material needed to build 3D models). It shreds the plastic and melts it down before winding it onto a spool to be used to print.

Incentivise your people

This could be a great way to do something truly innovative. Rewarding the person or group of people who come up with the most creative way to tackle the plastic problem in your business could see something amazing. Think how great it would be if someone in your business invented a 100% degradable coffee cup or a way of carrying soft drinks without a plastic bottle, for example.

There’s no doubt the plastic revolution is in full swing, and the focus on replacing it will keep getting sharper. Make sure you keep your business at the forefront of it.