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I just want to say one word to you: Plastics.

by Tamsin Chislett

What a busy few weeks it’s been for our most beloved man-made material: plastic.

Back in December, the UK’s TV-viewing population collectively recoiled as BBC’s Blue Planet showed albatrosses feeding plastic to their babies.

On January 1st, China’s ban on imports of certain types of plastic waste came into effect, closing the exit route for an estimated two-thirds of the UK’s waste plastic exports (and 95% of Ireland’s).

January 9th saw the launch of the UK’s ban on microbeads (a popular ingredient in body washes and toothpaste), described by Greenpeace as “the strongest ban on microbeads in the world to date.”

And then yesterday, Theresa May announced an ‘all-out assault’ on plastic in a new 25-year Environment Strategy (whilst at the same time Scotland banned plastic cotton buds with a bit more action and a little less fanfare).

For businesses and investors, it’s time to sit up and take notice.

The worst offenders are single-use consumer items like plastic bottles and food packaging. For businesses with such items in their supply chains, efforts to reduce, reuse & recycle should move to the top of the priority list.  But every company can ask itself, what’s our plastics strategy?

The way the UK population has embraced the plastic bag levy – with usage dropping 85% since the 5p charge was introduced – shows just how ready consumers are for change.

Meanwhile, legislation is ramping up. France has banned disposable plastic cups, plates and cutlery. Germany has established bold plastic recycling targets. Taiwan has imposed plastic levies on 14 different industries. And most countries across the world banned or taxed plastic bags long before the UK followed suit.

There are actions every business can take, in every sector, big and small. Just last week Pret increased their discount for customers who bring in their own reusable cup to 50p on all hot drinks, whilst a top London restaurant group announced a ban on straws in their 40 venues after working out that theirs could stretch from London to Leeds every year. By being proactive, those companies got great publicity, and some cost-savings too. Meanwhile over at Marks and Spencer’s – in perhaps the biggest story of the week – their food stores will no longer be selling ‘cauliflower steak’ (ie a thick slice of cauliflower, in a plastic tray, covered in a plastic film, with a plastic label) after customers complained.

For businesses and investors tackling the plastics challenge head on, huge commercial opportunities are abundant.  We need: a dramatic increase in recycling capacity; new techniques for recycling plastics particularly when its mixed with other materials; slick logistical solutions for deposit-and-return schemes; alternative materials and designs to replace coffee cups and plastic bottles; innovative methods for extracting plastics from our oceans; the list goes on.

For example, see Supreme Creations, already the largest supplier of reusable bags, which noted a further 20% increase in sales after the introduction of the 5p levy.  Or Recycling Technologies, turning waste plastic into a valuable low Sulphur hydrocarbon called Plaxx®. Or Vegware, proving that catering disposables can be fully compostable.

The tide has started to turn, and all the signs are that it will turn quick. In 2015, all 193 UN member states signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including “Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas, and marine resources.”  Yet if we continue as we are, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.

Any Mean Girls fan knows that the Plastics start off popular and are definitely ubiquitous, but ultimately their days are numbered.  Low-plastic is the new low-carbon, and it’s time for businesses to take note.

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If you’re a business tackling the plastics challenge with a commercial proposition (and you meet our capital-raising criteria), or you are an investor keen to find exciting opportunities tackling the issue, please get in touch: contact@clearlyso.com

Image source: pixabay/Creative Commons