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What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is a vast area in the North Pacific Ocean where marine debris, primarily plastics, has accumulated due to ocean currents.

What we have come to know as the great pacific garbage patch was first discovered by Captain Charles Moore in 1997 when sailing back after a yacht race. Its location is now known as the Eastern Garbage Patch and is found between Hawaii and California. Later the 5 Gyres Institute has discovered another five garbage patches in oceans around the world. Unfortunately, it is likely that more will be discovered over time.

The current Great Pacific Garbage Patch is composed of two main areas: the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, found between Hawaii and California. The debris in the GPGP ranges from microscopic particles to large materials, such as abandoned fishing nets and other discarded items.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an alarming environmental issue that has gained significant attention recently. Over the decades, this massive accumulation of plastic and other debris floating in the Pacific Ocean has grown, endangering marine life, and threatening the planet’s health.

The garbage patch is not a visible island of trash, as some might imagine. Instead, it is a dispersed collection of plastic particles, often called microplastics, which are challenging to see with the naked eye. More oversized plastic items are also interspersed within the garbage patch.


How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Estimating the size of the GPGP is challenging due to its ever-changing nature and the fact that it is not a solid mass of debris. However, according to researchers, the patch covers an area of approximately 1.6 million square kilometers. That is the equivalent of 620,000 square miles. For example, this is often compared to being twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. 

The patch is estimated to contain over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing about 80,000 metric tons. This vast accumulation of debris continues to grow, making it increasingly challenging to address the problem.

While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most famous, it is not alone. As reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), researchers have found other collections of plastic garbage in the ocean, such as in the South Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic. This means the problem of plastic waste in the sea isn’t a contained issue, it is spread all over the world and is a global concern.

Causes and contributors to the GPGP

The primary cause of the GPGP is the massive amount of plastic waste that humans generate daily. It is estimated that 8-15m tons of plastic garbage is released into the ocean from global rivers each year. Plastic Collective’s own research on remote Asia Pacific islands (where 370million people live) has discovered that plastic leakage into the oceans, can be close to 100%, with an estimated additional 11million tonnes of plastic entering the oceans per year.

Single-use plastics are a source of pollution in the ocean. Items such as plastic bags, straws, and plastic bottles are some of the most significant contributors to the GPGP. These items are often not recycled and end up as ocean plastic, with these plastic pieces breaking down into microplastics over time and causing problems for marine ecosystems and ecology.

Another contributor to the GPGP is abandoned and lost fishing gear. Fishing nets and other equipment, such as ghost nets that are left behind or lost at sea, also contribute to the GPGP. Plastic debris from fishing can trap and kill marine life, causing further damage to the ecosystem. It has been estimated that some of the plastic pollution found in the GPGP comes from the fishing industry, and we estimate that this counts for around 20% of the total ocean debris. However, the vast majority of the plastic waste found in the oceans come from single use packaging and containers. Plastic Collective have regularly noted that the beaches in northern Australia, Indonesia, and other places around the globe are littered with drink bottles, plastic containers, oil bottles, thongs and lights, and other land and household based items.

Other sources of litter found in the GPGP include marine and coastal waste. Litter from beaches and coastal areas can be carried out to sea by winds and tides, eventually ending up in the GPGP. Plastic litter from rivers and waterways also feeds into the ocean, and plastic dumped in these water sources can end up in the open ocean. Plastic left on beaches that do not immediately enter the world’s oceans can still harm coastal species such as seabirds such as albatross, seagulls, sea turtles, and seals, who can still get tangled or ingest plastic waste.

How Ocean Currents Affect the GPGP

The GPGP is located in an area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. This is an ocean area where ocean currents from the South Pacific and the Arctic converge.

Four ocean currents converge where the GPGP is located, creating an area of water known as an ocean gyre that swirls around (on a vast scale), moving litter and waste through these currents to form at the center of the vortex. There are still waters at the center of where these currents converge. These ocean mechanisms trap debris and litter in the area at the center of the convergence point, which over time, contributes to the escalating growth of the patch.

Typically, when we discuss the GPGP, we discuss it as one entity. In actuality, it is split into two huge areas, known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, which expands towards California and Hawaii and the Western Garbage Patch, which extends from Hawaii to Japanese waters.

The environmental impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The GPGP poses a significant threat to marine life and the health of the oceans. Some of the consequences of the patch include the ingestion of microplastics. Many marine animals mistake tiny plastic particles for food, resulting in ingestion. Once ingested, the microplastics can cause internal injuries, blockages, and malnutrition. Not only does plastic break down into microplastics, but it can also leach toxic chemicals. Once microplastics or toxic chemicals have entered the food chain of marine animals, they can, in turn, end up entering the human food chain. It is thought that ingested plastic in humans might cause illnesses such as cancer. 

Another issue is that plastic can alter the ecosystems it is introduced into. Jim Carlton of Williams College and Mystic Seaport Museum and Lindsay Haram of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center conducted a study. They found that while open-water pelagic species were found in the GPGP, so were non-pelagic species from coastal areas, implying that the plastic had carried these species out to open water creating unnatural communities in the sea.

Entanglement is a big issue for marine mammals, fish, and birds: larger pieces of debris, such as fishing nets and ropes, can entangle marine animals, leading to injury, drowning, or starvation.

Plastic is also a cause of habitat destruction. Accumulating debris can damage marine environments, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs, which are essential to many species. Often microplastics can be found on beaches, and once integrated and mixed into the sand and stones, it is challenging to remove. Microplastic removal and filtration systems exist – but the problem is so severe that it is hard to improve the overall situation.

What can individuals and businesses do to help combat the GPGP problem?

Individuals and businesses can significantly reduce the waste that enters our oceans and, in turn, the size of the GPGP by adopting more sustainable practices in their daily lives and business practices.

One of the first steps is to reduce our unnecessary plastic consumption. Consumers can opt for reusable items, such as water bottles, shopping bags, and straws, to reduce the amount of single-use plastics used. Businesses can play their part too. For example, switching to biodegradable packaging and from single-use plastic to other materials can make a massive impact.

For manufactured plastic, there needs to be better recycling options available, and consumers and businesses need to recycle the plastic used. Properly recycling plastic waste ensures it does not end up in the environment. It can also be reused, meaning that less plastic will need to be manufactured in the first place. Deploying and investing in new recycling technologies, such as (for example) chemical recycling, can potentially increase recycling rates and reduce plastic waste.

Moving to biodegradable plastics and materials instead of single-use plastics is necessary and important. For example, developing biodegradable plastics alternatives that break down more quickly and have a lower environmental impact. Product developers, shop owners and importers can help by stock and selling products that are more economical and sustainable such as refillable bottles, or using natural fibers such as banana leaf for fresh snack items.

Improved recycling help create a circular economy. By promoting a circular economy, wherein products have been specifically designed to be reused and recycled, we can reduce the amount of waste thrown away in landfills, incinerated, or dumped in the ocean.

Ultimately, plastic waste is already in the environment, escalating the problem. Therefore, initiatives that work to reduce plastic in the environment are needed and should be supported.

At an individual level, joining a local beach cleanup group can help prevent debris from entering the ocean, contributing to the GPGP and overall ocean pollution. Also, supporting organizations through donating is another way that an individual can help.

For example, ocean-focused organizations such as The Ocean Cleanup, founded by Boyan Slat, have created innovative ways to clean up the plastic found in the ocean. While this scheme was a great initiative, it wasn’t going to solve the plastic problem by itself. The Ocean Cleanup has moved operations to river mitigation using floating booms because once the plastic waste is in an ocean gyre, it is too late to effectively deal with. Because of this, many organizations are focusing on this area, as mitigating the plastic pollution at the source is much more effective in tackling the problem.

Businesses can help by carrying out a plastic audit within their business to determine how much plastic is used and what plastic can be replaced with more environmentally friendly materials. They can also help by becoming a plastic-neutral business.

Tourism also has a massive impact on remote island pollution. Tourist should be aware of the plastic items they use and should try to minimize the plastics they take to and use while traveling. If everyone used a refillable drink bottle, boiled water to use when needed, and carry a reusable bag instead of a plastic disposable one, it would help to reduce plastic waste. Tourists should remember that plastic recycling facilities are not always established or effective in every country around the world so the onus on the individual to deal with their own plastic waste.

Education in the impact of plastic on the environment is essential as is providing developing countries with incentives to collect and recycle. One approach is to focus on community led initiatives. The Plastic Collective works with local communities to take the plastic they have collected and turn it into recycled goods. Firstly, they remove plastic from the environment and recycle it into valuable products that help reduce plastic waste and support their local community’s development. Read about some of the projects we have established.

The role of governments and organizations in tackling the GPGP issue

Governments and organizations play a vital role in addressing the GPGP problem through policy, funding, and international cooperation. Some of the ways governments and organizations can help include implementing plastic bans. Bans on single-use plastics can help to reduce the plastic waste entering the ocean.

Many countries have implemented specific plastic bans, which is good news for the environment. The problem is that not all countries are in sync with their policies. Since plastic is an environmental issue affecting the world, all nations must implement complementary legislation. This is why promoting international cooperation and working together with other governments and organizations to address the GPGP problem on a global scale is crucial to finding effective solutions.

Another way governments can help is through funding research and promoting innovation. Supporting the development of innovative solutions to the GPGP problem, such as advanced recycling technologies and biodegradable plastics, can support the cleanup efforts already underway in our oceans.

The future of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and our responsibility

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a pressing environmental problem that requires significant attention and action. However, TGPGP is just one garbage patch out of many. Many more garbage patches exist in the oceans. The Plastic Collective is currently researching the less known Gulf of Papua current, a smaller gyre that potentially could be the source of the pollution on the Great Barrier Reef.

Governments, organizations, and individuals all have a role in addressing this problem and ensuring the health of our oceans and marine life. By adopting sustainable practices, supporting innovative solutions, and promoting international cooperation, we can work towards a future where issues such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is no longer a threat to our planet.

How The Plastic Collective Helps

Our schemes work with local communities who find and collect waste plastic that has been discarded in the environment. The projects they run with the discarded plastic turn this plastic waste into new products they can sell. This improves the livelihoods of their local communities while also removing plastic from the environment, helping the entire world.

These community programs help create a circular plastics economy and give a second life to single-use plastics.

The Plastic Collective can also help businesses reduce their plastic footprint through our innovative plastic offsetting scheme.

If you’re a business looking to become a plastic-neutral company, then the Plastic Collective can help. Contact us today to learn more about our plastic-neutral scheme.

Plastic Pollution Facts & Statistics

Plastic Pollution Facts & Statistics

Plastic Pollution Facts & Statistics

Plastic pollution is a problem has quickly become one of the most important environmental issues in recent years. It is a global problem that affects every corner of the planet, from the deepest ocean trenches to the most remote mountain ranges. The ubiquity of plastic in modern society has given rise to its widespread use and, consequently, its disposal. As people become more aware of the issue, they are confronted with a plethora of plastic pollution facts that reveal the magnitude of the problem.

The consequences of plastic debris is far-reaching, affecting the natural world, human health, and the global economy. By understanding the impact of plastic pollution and the steps that can be taken to combat it, individuals can make informed decisions and contribute to the global effort to reduce plastic waste.


Plastic Pollution Facts: Production and Consumption

Global plastic production has increased exponentially: Ever since plastic was first invented in the 20th century, global plastic production has grown alarmingly. According to plastic pollution statistics from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world has produced more than 9.2 billion tons of plastic since 1950, with half of that amount produced in the last 13 years alone. The trend for new plastic shows no sign of slowing down, as plastic production is expected to double by 2050.

Single-use plastics dominate the market: One of the most concerning plastic pollution facts is the prevalence of single-use plastics in modern society. These disposable items, such as plastic bags, bottles, and packaging, are used for a short period and discarded. It is estimated that around 36% of all plastic produced is for single-use purposes, contributing significantly to the global plastic waste problem.

Plastics are not effectively recycled: The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) have stated that despite recycling efforts, only 9% of all plastic waste has been recycled globally. The remaining 79% has ended up in landfills or the natural environment, with the remaining amount of plastic (12%) being incinerated. This problem with recycling rates highlights the need for better plastic resource recovery and a shift towards more sustainable materials.

Environmental Consequences of Plastic

Plastic pollution affects every ecosystem on Earth: Plastic pollution is not confined to one area or ecosystem. Plastic waste has been discovered in the world’s most remote locations, such as the Arctic and Antarctic regions and the deepest parts of the ocean. Furthermore, microplastics (tiny plastic particles less than 5mm in size) have been discovered in the air, water, and soil, demonstrating the pervasive nature of plastic pollution.

Microplastics are a growing concern: The prevalence of microplastics in the environment is one of the most alarming plastic pollution facts. These tiny particles form when larger plastic items break down into smaller pieces of plastic or are intentionally produced for use in cosmetics and cleaning agents. Animals can ingest Microplastics and can accumulate in the food chain, posing a significant threat to ecosystems and human health.

Plastic pollution contributes to climate change: The production, use, and disposal of plastic all contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the issue of climate change. Plastic production uses fossil fuels, and the mining and manufacturer of these materials and the conversion of them into plastics is a cause of climate change. It is estimated that plastic pollution accounts for approximately 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, as plastics break down in the environment, they release additional greenhouse gases, adding to the overall impact of climate change and air pollution.

Plastic Pollution Effects on Wildlife

Marine life is severely impacted by plastic pollution: As stated by National Geographic an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic is released into the oceans from coastal nations each year.

One of the most well-known plastic pollution facts is the devastating impact on marine life. An estimated 100,000 marine mammals, sea turtles, and one million seabirds die each year due to plastic ingestion and entanglement. In addition, countless fish and other marine organisms are affected by plastic pollution, threatening the overall health of marine ecosystems. The scale of the problem in the marine environment is almost unfathomable but the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This plastic garbage patch is located between Hawaii and California and is bound together by the currents and gyre that are located in the area. The GPGP covers an estimated 620 thousand square miles gives an indication of the scale of the problem that humans have created.

Plastic pollution threatens terrestrial wildlife: While the impact from ocean plastic pollution on marine animals is widely recognized, the effects of plastic pollution on land-based wildlife are often overlooked. Animals on land can also ingest or become entangled in plastic waste, leading to injury and death. Plastic debris can remain in the body of the animal has been found in the stomach of animals. Furthermore, plastic pollution can disrupt ecosystems by altering habitats and introducing toxic chemicals into the environment.

Plastic pollution poses a risk to endangered species: With hundreds of species known to be affected by plastic pollution, the problem poses a significant threat to biodiversity. Many of these species are already threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and other factors, making the additional stress from plastic pollution a critical concern for their survival.

Human health Implications of Plastic

Plastic pollution can adversely affect human health: As plastic pollution infiltrates ecosystems, it can also, directly and indirectly, impact human health. Microplastics and toxic chemicals associated with plastic waste can enter the food chain, leading to potential ingestion by humans. The long-term effects of exposure to these substances are not yet fully understood. However, there is growing concern about possible links to various health issues, including hormone disruption, cancer, and developmental problems in children.

Plastic Waste Solutions and initiatives

Despite the overwhelming plastic pollution facts, there is hope for the future. Governments, businesses, and individuals worldwide are taking action to reduce plastic waste and promote sustainable alternatives. Some of these initiatives include:

  • Implementing plastic bag bans, plastic straw bans, or fees for usage
  • Encouraging the use of reusable products such as bags, bottles, and containers
  • Investing in research and development of biodegradable and sustainable materials to reduce plastic use.
  • Supporting recycling and resource recovery infrastructure improvements

Plastic Waste Progress and Challenges

While progress is being made in the fight against plastic pollution, challenges remain. Plastic pollution statistics show that despite efforts to reduce plastic waste, global production and consumption continue to rise. Additionally, the issue of plastic pollution is complex and multifaceted, requiring collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders to develop and implement effective solutions.

Plastic Waste Progress and Challenges

While progress is being made in the fight against plastic pollution, challenges remain. Plastic pollution statistics show that despite efforts to reduce plastic waste, global production and consumption continue to rise. Additionally, the issue of plastic pollution is complex and multifaceted, requiring collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders to develop and implement effective solutions.

Steps to Combat Plastic Pollution

Individuals play a crucial role in combating plastic pollution. People can contribute to the global effort to reduce plastic waste by making small changes in their daily lives. Some actions that individuals can take include:

  • Reducing the use of single-use plastics by opting for reusable alternatives such as reusable water bottles
  • Reducing plastic consumption – especially the use of plastic bottles and plastic packaging.
  • Properly disposing of plastic waste and participating in recycling programs to reuse materials
  • Supporting businesses and products that prioritize sustainability
  • Advocating for policies and initiatives that address plastic pollution
  • Educating others about the issue and raising awareness

These plastic pollution facts highlight the severity of the plastic pollution crisis and the urgent need for action. As the global community becomes increasingly aware of the problem, it is essential to continue working towards sustainable solutions and promoting responsible consumption of plastic products. By joining together in the fight against plastic pollution, it is possible to protect the environment, safeguard human health, and preserve the planet for future generations.

How the Plastic Collective Helps

The Plastic Collective helps reduce the plastic problem whilst also supporting communities around the world in several ways such as through education and training. The Plastic Collective also supplies resource recovery and plastic recycling machinery. This helps support communities to recover and recycle plastic and turn discarded plastic materials into valuable local products which can provide valuable income to the community.

The Plastic Collective also supports businesses to reduce their plastic footprint through the use of a plastic offsetting scheme. The Plastic Collective will evaluate a business’s plastic use and create a comprehensive strategy to reduce its plastic use to work towards becoming plastic neutral.

Image by Maruf Rahman from Pixabay

Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutral

Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutral

Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutral

In recent years, the phrases “net zero” and “carbon neutral” have become buzzwords in the climate change and sustainability discussion. Governments, businesses, and individuals are increasingly encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint and instead adopt green practices to minimize their environmental impact.

Understanding the differences between net zero carbon emissions and carbon neutral is crucial to developing effective strategies for tackling climate change.

Learning the critical differences between net zero and carbon neutral is helpful. We will examine their significance in the context of sustainability and the challenges and strategies associated with achieving these goals. We will also look at how different industries are adopting these ambitious targets, the role of governments and businesses in promoting sustainability, and how these concepts shape the global fight against climate change.

Defining net zero emissions

Net zero emissions, often referred to as “net zero,” is a concept that refers to the balance between the total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

Achieving net zero emissions means that a country, company, or individual is effectively contributing no additional GHG emissions to the atmosphere than they produce. This is a crucial step in the fight against climate change, as rising levels of atmospheric GHGs are a primary driver of global warming and the resulting environmental impacts which rising temperatures cause.

To help mitigate these effects, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for global emissions to halve by 2030

Defining carbon neutrality

The definition of carbon neutrality is relatively straightforward. It is achieving a state where the total amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions produced is offset by an equivalent amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere or stopped from being released.

Carbon neutrality can be accomplished by reducing emissions, increasing renewable energy sources, and investing in carbon offset projects that counterbalance the remaining emissions. This means that the net amount of carbon emissions associated with a specific activity, organization, or individual is zero. The goal here is to reduce the climate impact to zero. Neutrality is typically achieved by measuring and reducing one’s carbon footprint and compensating for any remaining emissions by purchasing carbon credits and supporting initiatives that reduce or even remove GHG emissions elsewhere.

On the surface, carbon neutrality is a similar process to net zero. However, there are some differences between them.

What Are The Key Differences Between Net Zero and Carbon Neutral

Both net zero and carbon neutral revolve around balancing emissions and removals or offsets, but the two concepts have some key differences.

Net zero targets all greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the main difference is that carbon neutrality primarily focuses on just CO2 emissions. This distinction is essential since other GHGs, including nitrous oxide and methane, can also contribute to climate change. In short, net zero is a more comprehensive and ambitious approach to tackling global warming when compared to just carbon neutrality.

Emissions reduction vs. offsetting: Achieving net zero requires a greater focus on reducing emissions at their source, while carbon neutrality allows for more reliance on offsetting measures. While both approaches highlight the importance of lowering emissions, net zero emphasizes the need for a more systemic shift toward a low-carbon economy.

Net zero emissions targets are typically set decades into the future. Still, carbon neutrality goals can be set for shorter time frames, making them suitable for companies and individuals looking to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability in the short term.

Net Zero and Carbon Neutral in Sustainability

Both net zero and carbon neutral play significant roles in promoting sustainability and addressing climate change. Governments, businesses, and individuals acknowledge the importance of reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and taking steps towards a more environmentally responsible future by aiming for net zero emissions or carbon neutrality.

Net zero targets, in particular, have gained traction as a crucial component of global climate change mitigation efforts. The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, calls for limiting global temperature increases to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels to limit the increase to 1.5°C. Achieving this goal requires that greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2025 and decline by 43% by 2030.

While less comprehensive than net zero, carbon neutrality still significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and promotes greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability. By offsetting their emissions, businesses and individuals can support projects that contribute to the global transition to a low-carbon economy and demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship.

Achieving Net Zero Emissions

Reaching net zero emissions requires a combination of different strategies alongside brand-new and innovative technologies. Some of the critical approaches to achieving net zero are:

Decarbonizing the energy sector: Transitioning from fossil fuel-based energy sources to renewable options, such as solar and wind power, is essential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, improving energy efficiency and investing in energy storage technologies can reduce the overall demand for energy and make renewable sources more reliable.

Electrifying transportation: Shifting towards electric vehicles (EVs) and public transportation options can significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector. This transformation requires investments in EV infrastructure, such as charging stations, and policy incentives for manufacturers and consumers.

Implementing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies: CCS technologies capture CO2 emissions from industrial outputs to store them underground, ultimately preventing them from entering the atmosphere. While CCS is still an emerging field, it has the potential to be one mechanism in achieving net zero emissions for industries with hard-to-abate emissions. Other even simpler options for carbon removal include planting more trees and forests since these act as carbon sinks.

Promoting circular economy principles: Embracing the circular economy, which has a goal of reducing excess waste and helping to maximize resource efficiency, can help lower emissions across various sectors, from manufacturing to agriculture.

Businesses can adopt science based practices to achieve net zero: For example, The SBTi’s (Science-Based Targets Initiative) Corporate Net-Zero Standard is a framework for corporate net-zero target setting. This scheme uses climate science as its basis. This helps businesses reduce their own emissions to help hit climate change targets.

Ensuring that set targets are met: For example governments and businesses need to follow the guidance from the United Nations and the outcomes from conferences such as the COP26 in 2021.

Achieving net zero emissions is a challenge. Some key obstacles include:

Technological barriers: Many technologies necessary for reaching net zero, such as advanced CCS or new materials for energy storage, are still in the early stages of development and require significant investment to scale up.

Economic and social considerations: Transitioning to a low-carbon economy requires a shift in how we produce and consume goods and services, which can have significant economic and social implications, such as workers losing their jobs due to changing working practices and higher costs for certain products.

Political and regulatory issues: Achieving net zero emissions requires political will and cooperation among governments, businesses, and individuals. Implementing the necessary policies and regulations can be challenging, particularly in the face of competing interests and priorities.

Achieving Carbon Neutrality

Attaining carbon neutrality involves reducing emissions at their source and investing in carbon offset projects. Some key strategies for achieving carbon neutrality include:

Reducing energy use: Improving energy efficiency in buildings, appliances, and industrial processes can significantly lower CO2 emissions. For instance, energy consumption reductions can be achieved through better insulation, energy-efficient lighting, and smart energy management systems.

Using renewable energy: Switching to clean energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro, can help reduce emissions from electricity generation. This move may involve installing solar panels, purchasing green energy credits, or supporting the development of new renewable energy projects.

Promoting public/sustainable transport: People and businesses need to get behind climate action initiatives such as encouraging public transport use, carpooling, cycling, and walking to help reduce emissions from the transportation sector. Investing in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure can also support the transition to low-emission transportation options.

Offsetting emissions: After implementing measures to reduce emissions, residual emissions may remain. At this point if it is economically viable, carbon neutrality can be achieved by purchasing carbon credits to offset any remaining emissions. These credits support projects that remove or prevent CO2 emissions, such as reforestation or renewable energy initiatives.

Challenges for Carbon Neutrality:

Measuring and tracking emissions: Accurately tracking an organization’s or individual’s carbon footprint can be complex, particularly when determining indirect emissions from supply chains and other sources. Carbon accounting can be challenging and it can be difficult to ascertain whether an organization is truly carbon negative.

Quality of carbon offset schemes: Not all offset projects are created equal, and some may be less effective at reducing emissions than others. Ensuring the quality and credibility of offset projects is crucial for achieving genuine carbon neutrality and avoiding tokenism.

Balancing cost and environmental impact: While offsetting emissions can be an effective way to achieve carbon neutrality, it’s essential to balance the cost of these investments with the need for meaningful emissions reductions at the source.

Greenwashing: often companies and organizations may appear to adopt green strategies such as offsetting but often their business practices remain unchanged. Often an organization will only make changes to their business practices if either governments or consumers force through the change.

Comparing carbon neutral and net zero goals across industries

Different industries face challenges and opportunities in pursuing net zero or carbon-neutral targets. Here are some examples of how:

Energy: Some major energy companies have announced net zero or carbon neutral targets, aiming to shift their portfolios from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This transition often involves investments in solar, wind, and other clean energy projects and efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce operational emissions.

Transportation: The automotive industry increasingly focuses on electric vehicles to pursue net zero and carbon neutral goals. On the other hand, airlines face significant challenges in reducing emissions and often rely on carbon offsetting to achieve carbon neutrality.

Manufacturing: The manufacturing sector faces diverse challenges in reducing emissions, depending on the specific industry and processes involved. Some common strategies for achieving net zero or carbon neutral targets in manufacturing include improving energy efficiency, adopting circular economy principles, and offsetting. Manufacturing can also include climate change metrics in their value chain analysis

Retail: Bricks-and-mortar retail businesses can pursue net zero or carbon neutral targets by reducing emissions through energy-efficient lighting and heating systems and promoting sustainable sourcing and transportation practices. Online retailers can work towards lowering excess packaging, such as plastic, and improve shipping and handling, for instance, shipping orders in one package instead of separately.

The Role of Governments and Businesses

Both governments and businesses play critical roles in driving a low-carbon economy and promoting sustainability. Governments can set ambitious climate targets, such as net zero emissions goals, and implement policies and regulations encouraging emissions reductions across various sectors.

Examples of government actions include:

  • Implementing carbon pricing mechanisms.
  • Introducing legislation and laws to tackle green issues and climate change.
  • Providing incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • Supporting research and development in clean technologies.

Businesses can also take significant steps towards promoting sustainability by setting their own net zero or carbon neutral targets and implementing strategies to reduce their emissions.

Initiatives can involve investing in renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and adopting more sustainable business practices. By moving towards sustainability, businesses can do two things. Firstly they can reduce their environmental impact, but secondly, they can bolster their reputation, attract customers and investors, and drive innovation in their industries.

Understanding net zero and carbon neutral differences helps develop effective strategies to combat climate change and promote sustainability. While both concepts aim to balance emissions with removals or offsets, net zero represents a more comprehensive and ambitious approach, encompassing all greenhouse gases and emphasizing the need for change.

Achieving net zero or carbon neutral targets requires deploying new technologies, forward-thinking policies, and collaboration between governments worldwide, businesses, and individuals. By understanding the nuances and their implications for sustainability, we can better inform our actions to address the urgent challenge of climate change.

How the Plastic Collective Helps

Plastic manufacture and use is a significant contributor to climate change since the manufacture of traditional plastics uses fossil fuels. Once used, plastic is often discarded in the environment, in landfills, or burnt at incinerators which also causes greenhouse gases to be emitted. Greenpeace states that over two tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere for every tonne of plastic burned.

The Plastic Collective can help businesses with plastic audits so that they can work to achieve plastic net zero within their organization. Sign-up for our innovative plastic offset program to help your business become plastic-neutral. This scheme is similar to a carbon offsetting scheme in its function. If your business is working towards net zero or carbon zero targets, then one aspect that can help is focusing on reducing plastic from your workflow and business processes. Learn more about becoming plastic-neutral at the Plastic Collective

Image by Marcin from Pixabay

The Plastic Waste Problem and its Solutions

The Plastic Waste Problem and its Solutions

The Plastic Waste Problem and its Solutions

We’ve all come across plastic waste in some form or other. You can find it in our homes, in our streets, and in our oceans. Plastic pollution has become a global issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

While there have been some inroads over the years in terms of attempting to reduce plastic usage and changing the way plastic is dealt with once it is discarded, plastic usage continues to increase in most countries. This means the plastic problem poses a significant threat to the environment, and yet more needs to be done.

The Issue of Plastic Waste

Plastic waste is one of the most serious environmental issues of our time. It has been estimated that over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually and around 14 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans around the world. Not to mention the tonnes of plastic that end up in landfill or into the general environment each year.

This can lead to the contamination of both land and water with plastic debris. To make matters worse, plastic does not degrade easily and can stay in the environment for a long time. Depending on the plastic it can take between twenty and five hundred years for the plastic to decompose.

The plastic waste problem has been around for many years, but it is only recently that people have started recognizing it as a major environmental issue that needs to be addressed.

Causes and Effects of Plastic Pollution

One of the main cause of plastic pollution is by the use of single use plastics. Common single use plastics include water bottles, straws, food containers, plastic bags and plastic packaging. As the name suggests this type of plastic is designed to be used once and then disposed of. This has the potential to cause a number of issues. While single-use plastics have made our lives convenient, this has come at a cost.

One of the big problem relates to the improper disposal of plastic. Much of the plastic waste comes from the single-use plastic types which are not always recycled. As a result, these plastics accumulate in the environment and ultimately cause plastic pollution.

According to Our World In Data – 55% of these plastics will end up in landfills and 25% while are destined for incineration.

It is estimated that incinerating plastic in a single year will dump 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions also occur when the plastic industry manufacture new plastics since they use fossil fuels in their construction. This means that when plastic is disposed of through incineration the harmful effects are duplicated at the start and end of its life cycle. When this life cycle consists of just a single use it means the plastic material has a high cost in terms of environmental impact and for climate change.

However not all plastics are destined for incineration or recycling. Some do not even get that far and instead are dumped in the environment where over time they decompose.

Chemical leakage known as leachate, can occur and enter the earth, and the plastics release green-house gasses into the atmosphere. Plastics that are not disposed off correctly can also enter the waterways and in turn, the world’s oceans.

The effects of this type of plastic litter is far-reaching. It can have a devastating impact on the environment and the health of wildlife which now, even includes humans over time. The most immediate effect from introducing plastic waste into the environment is the destruction of habitats and ecosystems.

Plastic waste accumulates in the oceans, lakes, and rivers, and can choke and suffocate aquatic life. As mentioned, plastic also contains various toxins, which can leach into the environment and contaminate water sources. This can cause serious health problems for animals and humans.

While fishing gear is a big source of plastic and general waste pollution in the ocean other forms of plastic such as single use plastics are also major contributors. 20% of ocean plastics is from sea-based sources, while 80% of the plastics found in the ocean are from land based sources.

Animals can ingest plastic and micro plastics have been found in the stomachs of marine life. The ingestion of plastics can cause the death of the animal, disrupting the lifecycle, food chains and the ecosystem that the animal is a part of. When this is disrupted, biodiversity can also be impacted and the environmental impact can be huge. In the marine environment all creatures are affected by plastic pollution. From fish, plankton to seabirds. Over 900 species of marine megafauna (birds, turtles, whales and dolphins) have been found to ingest or get entangled in marine debris

The Microplastics Problem

In addition to the plastic waste problem, there is also the problem of microplastics. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, which are smaller than 5mm in size. These microplastics come from the breakdown of larger plastic materials, such as bottles and bags, and can accumulate in the environment. Recently, microplastic particles have even been found in human blood. The long term effects of this are still to be understood fully.

Once microplastics enter the environment they can be extremely difficult to deal with. Ultimately the best way to tackle issues surrounding microplastics is to address the tons of plastic that enter the environment in the first place through proper waste management, before they get a chance to break down into microplastics and cause environmental harm.

Solutions to the Plastic Waste Problem

The plastic waste problem is a global issue and requires global action. There are various ways the issues surround plastic waste can be tackled. Generally, they can be divided into four main categories:

  • developing sustainable alternatives
  • reducing plastic usage
  • recycling plastic waste
  • implementing laws and regulations

One way of dealing with the plastic waste problem is to focus on sustainability and develop eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. This can be done in various ways and many companies have made strides in this area. Plastic has frequently been used as a material of convenience and in some cases alternative materials could not perform as well as its plastic counterparts or were simply cheaper to produce and therefore increased profit margins. However, with modern materials and processes this is not strictly the case any more.

Moving away from plastic made with carbon polymers is something that has been tackled by a number of material manufacturers. There has been a lot of progress with the development of biodegradable materials, that can be used as plastic alternatives such as paper, bamboo, and corn starch. These materials are generally more eco-friendly, but historically have come at an increased cost. For some businesses this increased cost can be difficult to justify in a competitive market. Ultimately, the cost of sustainable materials has reduced and will continue to reduce and become more cost effective as its use becomes more wide spread.

For some businesses the switch to different materials is less problematic but is still something that needs to be factored into production and sales costs. This is often why government has needed to step in to legislate against the use of plastic for certain product types. Some recently examples of this are banning the use of plastic drinking straws and plastic carrier bags. In some cases the items haven’t been banned but instead an environmental tax has been imposed on the item.

Legislation and taxes aside, finding alternative materials to use instead of continuing to focus on the production of plastic helps with one of the key elements of successfully tackling the plastic problem – which is reducing plastic usage in the first place.

Reducing Plastic Usage

When it comes to materials and packaging in general, for some product types the material used in its production may not be as sustainable as you might imagine. One example is single use drink containers. The manufacturer of aluminium cans, glass bottles and plastic bottles all have a cost on the environment. Switching from plastic to one of the other materials may have some environmental benefits (plastic being a potential pollutant) but the real gains are found in terms of the products recyclability and the ability to recycle the material in the first place. Since in many locations all rubbish will end up being disposed of together and is not recycled at all, any material will likely have some negative environmental impact, especially if its primary purpose is single use only.

This is why there have been incentives such as attempting to remove single use packaging at the point of sale. For example – coffee chains allowing customers to bring your own re-usable drinks container instead of providing a single-use cup, regardless of its recyclability potential. Reuse schemes can have a lot of positives but there also needs to be a consumer mind-shift away from convenience to pro-active engagement in plastic avoidance. Ultimately, the goal is an overall waste generation reduction which will tackle all forms of excessive manufacturing and not just virgin plastic.

This can be done by using reusable products, such as reusable bags and bottles, and by avoiding single-use plastics, such as straws and disposable plates. Ultimately, the goal being the reduction of single-use items which will reduce the need to manufacturer the item in the first place. Since single-use items are often made of plastic by moving to reusable containers it will help reduce the tons of plastic waste that enter the supply chain. These changes to the way a business operates can also save the business money once there has been a change in the mentality of the consumer away from convenience to conscientiousness.

Improved Recycling

Improved recycling is another way to reduce plastic pollution. By recycling plastic waste, it can often be reused and repurposed into new products, which reduces the amount of plastic waste in the environment.

Recycling plastic comes with its own issues. While pretty much all plastic can technically be recycled, it is often not always practical or cost-effective to do so for every plastic type. Depending on where a person lives can have a big impact on what particular plastic types can or cannot be recycled.

Another problem is that recycling facilities are not always available where they are needed most. For example – in a fast food establishment or when people are away from home and waste disposal has less flexible options. This issue has improved a lot over the years but again it is very dependent on how an individual country deals with the issue and is still a big source of where a lot of the single use plastics that enter the environment originate from.

Improving waste management systems where people need them most will help tackle the problem of plastics and other materials not being effectively recycled. Improving the circular economy of the lifecycle of global plastics is paramount to helping the environment.

Unfortunately, plastic recycling is a global issue but is often tackled at a local level. This is where organizations such as the United Nations work with countries to create legally binding agreements such as the End Plastic Pollution initiative to make changes such as with dealing with plastic pollution. Unfortunately, often these agreements are slow moving and can be compromised depending on the demands of individual nations who may have their own economic agendas.

Implementing Laws and Regulations

As we have already touched on, governments have needed to address the plastic problem through increased legislation and dictates on what materials can be used for certain product types, typically revolving around single-use items.

Nobody like bans but often change does not occur without intervention from the state. These laws and regulations have been introduced to help reduce the amount of plastic waste that is being created. This includes banning single-use plastics, such as straws and bags, and implementing taxes and fines on plastic products.

Many countries have already started to do this – but there is no global mandate for this. Any initiative that currently implemented is on a country by country basis and therefore the effectiveness of these legislations tend to be limited. When legislations and laws can be an effective way to reduce plastic pollution, these rules need to be in place in the first place, and not every country is committed to the same degree.

How the Plastic Collective Can Help

The plastic waste problem is a global issue that needs to be addressed. It is essential that steps to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment are taken, as this can have a devastating effect on the environment and long-term human health.

By developing sustainable alternatives, reducing plastic usage, recycling plastic waste, and implementing laws and regulations, a real difference in the fight against plastic pollution can be made.

The Plastic Collective helps reduce the plastic problem in a number of innovative ways.

Plastic Collective work with communities to reduce plastic waste. The Plastic Collective provides education programs and supply machinery and training to communities to build sustainable plastic recycling micro-enterprises. The Plastic Collective also provides a marketplace for communities to sell the recycled plastic products that are produced.

The Plastic Collective also supports businesses reduce their plastic footprint through our innovative plastic offsetting scheme. We can help you identify, plan and improve areas of your business in terms of plastic reduction.

Image by Anja from Pixabay 

How Can Businesses Reduce Plastic Use and Improve Their Plastic Footprint

How Can Businesses Reduce Plastic Use and Improve Their Plastic Footprint

How Can Businesses Reduce Plastic Use and Improve Their Plastic Footprint

Every day, thousands of tons of plastic are produced, used once, and then just thrown away. This plastic pollution is causing massive problems in the environment and is directly contributing to climate change. Businesses, in particular, are major contributors to the plastic problem because many products are either made from or shipped with plastic packaging.

While there are many efforts to recycle plastic waste it is not always effective with much of the plastic produced ending up in landfill, or worse the oceans. A better approach is to reduce the usage of plastic and switch to more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials where possible.

While all plastic use can be problematic, the real concern that needs to be urgently addressed is single-use plastic and this is where some improvements (at least) have been made. However, for companies looking to become more environmentally progressive, or to future proof their business, there are a range of different initiatives and steps that can be done to improve their plastic footprint.

Changing a business model or business operations to reduce plastic use can make financial sense. One of the main reasons is to ensure compliance with any legislative changes implemented by governments, so that these changes in the law do not impact the bottom line of the business in the future. While it may be impossible to completely eliminate plastic use, there are many ways for businesses to reduce their plastic footprint and make improvements.

The Environmental Impact of Plastic

Plastic has become an integral part of our daily lives, and it is used in everything from packaging to the products we use. While initially considered a miracle material, it remains extremely convenient, but this comes at a cost since the environmental impact of plastic is huge. Plastic waste is one of the major sources of environmental pollution, with an estimated 390 million tons of plastic waste produced every year (in 2021 for example).

This plastic waste can harm the environment and it is also a major contributor to climate change. Plastic is made from fossil fuels, and when it is burned, it releases carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. For more information on this topic we covered the subject in more depth in a blog post titled, “How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Climate Change”.

In addition to the environmental damage caused by the production and burning of plastic, plastic pollution also has a terrible impact on ecosystems and the wildlife that lives in them. Plastic waste can end up in the oceans, where it can be ingested by marine animals and cause death. Plastic also has a devastating effect on coral reefs, which are already suffering from the effects of climate change. Over time plastic breaks down into microplastics and these small pieces of plastic can even enter the human food-chain which could have serious implications for human health. Learn more about this issue in this article, “Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean”

Becoming a Plastic Neutral Business

There are a lot of good reasons for becoming a plastic neutral business. Firstly, it is good for the environment and climate change which in turn means it is much better for the company’s image to both customers and investors. If a company is actively reducing its exposure to these issues, then it is a much more positive story than continuing poor environmental practices which may end up being highlighted by concerned individuals on social media. Brand damage can occur quickly and can take a long time to recover, if at all.

Governments are actively legislating to reduce single-use plastic and ensuring that the company is ahead of any potential changes in the law is good business practice. Many businesses believe it is inevitable that changes will need to be made to their plastic footprint and are taking steps in advance to ensure that they are addressing the issues.

Having positive environmental policies in place can be good PR for a business – just as long as they avoid the issues surrounding greenwashing. This is where a business claims certain environmental credentials when still actively polluting. In short making token concessions to sustainability, the environment and climate change for marketing benefits alone. Read our guide on how Businesses can avoid greenwashing.

Identifying Plastic in the Business

Any business that has decided to reduce their plastic usage firstly has to understand what their exposure to plastic use is in the first place. This typically means that many different departments will need to work together to compile this information. Often the best way forward with this is to have a person(s) or team in a business who has plastic reduction as a part of their remit.

Another good option is to arrange a plastic audit to understand the true impact plastic has on the business. This will identify where plastic is used and more importantly help provide a plan to reduce the plastic that is being used.

A business should create a plan on how to reduce plastic use. It can be long-term plan and even making small changes initially can help. These are challenges that the Plastic Collective can help your business with. Read more about being plastic neutral here.

Changing Materials and Suppliers

One thing to consider when appraising plastic within a business is whether it is possible to change the materials that are used in production or packaging, or even the suppliers that are used, to switch to those that provide more environmentally friendly options.

For example: is plastic packaging used in the warehouse, and are there both cheaper and more environmentally friendly options available? Are consumable goods that are used within the business being shipped with excessive packaging? Are there more sustainable suppliers available? Often, asking these simple questions, and making small changes to the way the business operates can improve its environmental credentials.

It might be prudent to do this – since governments have are progressively introducing new rules and regulations for plastic usage. For example: some governments have included a plastic bag tax at point of sale (United Kingdom) whereas other countries (such as Tanzania) have banned the use of plastic bags completely and have mandated reusable bags.

With these changes and challenges in mind, a business would do well to consider that other forms of plastic may be banned in the future – especially any plastic that falls into the category of unnecessary single use plastics. For instance, some countries are looking to (and have already) put in place a ban on single use plastic cutlery and plastic straws.

Since plastic packaging falls into this single-use category and is sadly, often non-recyclable, planning ahead to change the plastic materials that is used to a more sustainable option makes good business sense.

If businesses that do ship out products wrapped in single-use materials – such as plastic – how is this waste dealt with? Is it simply forgotten about and left to the customers to dispose of the waste, or are there initiatives in place to help with this disposal? For example: some companies will collect plastic waste from their customers when delivering their services to repeat buyers. This can work well for consumer good delivery companies but is not helpful for all business types.

It is worth exploring various options to see if there is an innovative and clever way of tackling the plastic problem. For instance, resellers could have a policy of removing single use plastic from the products they sell from third-party manufacturers prior to shipping and having this policy communicated to customers. This makes the waste easier to process since it will be contained in one place and the customer is not left to deal with it. Progressive policies such as this can involve more work and administration but can also be beneficial to an organization.

When it comes to packaging materials there are a lot of options out there for businesses looking for a more environmentally friendly option, and importantly because these materials are much more widely used than they used to be, the cost of the packaging has reduced. It’s also worth mentioning that not all types of plastic are bad. Some plastics are much more environmentally friendly, such as bioplastics, that can degrade faster than traditional plastics, and can also be made from renewable crops and not from fossil fuels.

Some of the more popular packaging alternatives include:

  • paper bubble wrap
  • corrugated packaging
  • bioplastics
  • biodegradable packing peanuts

Not only are governments looking at ways to reduce single use plastic use – consumers also view more favourably those companies that supply products that use more sustainable products and packaging. A recent survey indicated that 75% of millennial respondents said they think about sustainability when making a purchase.

Other Plastic Use in Businesses

Don’t forget to include all business activities. For example, a business might focus just on the plastic packaging that they are responsible for but might overlook the plastic impact that the employees have on the business.

For instance: single use plastics are often brought into the office with employees’ purchased lunch items and then disposed of in the office waste. A business might not have a mechanism in place to address the recyclability potential of plastic waste generated by employees, therefore the waste will end up in landfill.

In a large organization this can be significant amount of waste and can impact the plastic footprint of the business. Imagine tonnes of plastic being generated by employees that a business has to dispose of!

What are the options here? Businesses could educate employees about their plastic use and plastic consumption in general. They could also provide cutlery, reusable containers, coffee cups, and other reusable items for employees to use.

A simple option is to improve the organization’s waste management strategy to ensure that there are recycling bins available in canteens and in the office itself, which is not always the case.

A more impactful policy could ban plastic cutlery, plastic bottles and other single use plastic from the businesses premises. Or a business could provide alternative facilities for food within the business itself.

Even offering reusable water bottles and water bubblers for employees is better than them bringing in single-use plastic bottles. Businesses that decide to offer bottles that can be reused provide a good opportunity to include the brand name and logo of the business on the bottles which may get seen by other potential customers. This provides some additional low-cost branding whilst helping the environment.

Plastic Offsetting

Plastic offsetting is an interim strategy for reducing plastic use when a business finds it difficult to change its practices in the short term. It involves offsetting the plastic used by the business through investment in certified projects that collect and recycle plastic waste. This investment will ensure that the plastic waste in a company’s footprint that it is not immediately able to address is done so by another entity (often community-based non-profits) through funding their collection and recycling activity.

As a first step, the company would calculate its total plastic footprint. Second, it would develop a long term footprint mitigation strategy that plans in detail its steps towards achieving its plastic footprint mitigation goals. It would then implement all immediately available strategic options to reduce this footprint – which might include for example, reducing use and substituting alternative materials, in-house collection and take back schemes, and product reformatting (eg labels, colour – to increase recyclability). Third, it would purchase plastic credits from a certified collection / recycling project to offset the remainder of its plastic footprint.

The business will then measure and report its progress and ensure it is successfully implementing its strategy to reduce its plastic use. With these strategies, a business can help reduce plastic use and contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

The good news is that the Plastic Collective can help businesses with these steps and with becoming plastic neutral. This service provides organizations with all the tools and resources it needs to mitigate its plastic footprint.

If you’re a business that is looking to become a plastic neutral company, then the Plastic Collective can help. Contact us today to learn more about our plastic neutral scheme.

What Are Plastic Offsetting Schemes for Business

What Are Plastic Offsetting Schemes for Business

What Are Plastic Offsetting Schemes for Business

Contact us today to learn more about our plastic neutral scheme.

As a business it is almost inevitable that you will use a certain amount of plastic in either the products you supply or as a by-product of carrying out commerce. Many organizations have set themselves targets to improve the sustainability of the business operations, including reducing the use of materials with large carbon and plastic footprints.

One of the big buzzwords from recent years is carbon offsetting. Carbon credits are designed to help organizations to support the climate change fight – through the offsetting of carbon emissions. If you want to learn more about carbon offsetting and how this works you can read our guide to carbon credits

In the same way that carbon offsetting schemes via the carbon market can help a business become more sustainable, a more recent initiative that works in a similar way allows a business to offset plastic use in the form of plastic credits. This means that an organization can reduce their plastic footprint by investing in a plastic offsetting scheme that will compensate for a business’s plastic use. We will look at the benefits of this for a business in this guide.

The Impact of Plastic on the Environment

Plastic is an extremely useful material and can be used in so many ways that it is of no surprise that it has come to dominate our lives in so many ways. When its use became mainstream in the 20th century it was hailed as a wonder material. Unfortunately, the usefulness of plastic combined with its relatively low production costs has come at the expense of the world’s ecosystems and even our health.

While businesses, governments and consumers now know of the negative impacts of plastic, we still produce a very large quantity of it every year – in fact in 2021 this figure was estimated at over 390 million metric tons of plastic. Of this plastic produced half of this is single use plastic with much of this ending up in the environment as waste. Unfortunately, waste management is a problem since the majority of single-use plastic is not recycled and also made from fossil fuels.

These single use plastics take the form of plastic packaging, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, and plastic bags. Governments and some companies have changed their policies and have attempted to reduce the impact of these products on society, but there is still much to be done. unfortunately, much of this plastic is virgin plastic meaning that it is made from materials that have not been used before and not from recycled materials. This type of plastic has a high carbon footprint since it is made predominantly from fossil fuels. This is far from the net zero carbon ideals that governments, companies and consumers are increasingly striving for.

Plastic production continues to increase and our thirst for plastic products is still very high. If plastic consumption increases and remains high this means the amount of plastic waste also increases. Since waste collection and the recycling infrastructure needed to deal with this problem is not always in place, such as in some developing countries, plastic is destined for landfills or worse burned or dumped straight into the environment.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed since plastic pollution in the environment is extremely difficult to clean up (if not impossible in some cases) – especially when it enters the ocean where it can affect marine life. Plastic can also break down into tiny particles called microplastics that can even enter the food chain in humans and animals.

Learn more about plastic’s harmful effects in our oceans.

Why is Plastic Offsetting Beneficial?

As a business your immediate thought might be that the way forward is to remove as much plastic use from your business processes as possible. This is a goal for many businesses and an ideal scenario. However, for many organizations it is simply not possible to be able to remove absolutely all plastic use from its processes and supply chain.

One of the reasons for this is that traditional plastic products are cheap to buy, convenient and useful. Changing to eco-friendly and biodegradable plastics can sometimes impact the incomes and profitability of an organization. This mean that if a company has an overarching goal of becoming plastic neutral then this will immediately become a sticking point. This issue cannot always be addressed simply through a change in the operating methodologies of the business. This is why alternative solutions to the plastic problem are sought.

In a perfect world all plastic use would be multi-use – and be made from easily recyclable plastics. However, this is not always possible at least not in the short term. For businesses that are looking to make these changes in their business practices but are struggling to adopt different working practices in the short term, then plastic offsetting can help support a business to become more environmentally friendly.

Plastic offsetting can be beneficial for a business in situations where it is difficult or not immediately practical to change its plastic use. For example, a company’s product may be transported and sold (for human safety reasons) in plastic packaging, some of which ends up as post-consumer plastic waste once it leaves the producer’s direct control – and the producer has no viable packaging alternative )at least in the short to medium term). In these cases where a business cannot find a suitable replacement within its supply chain it is possible to invest in plastic offsetting schemes to help reduce its exposure to plastic use and waste.

Often one of the problems within a business is that they are not aware of just how much plastic they use and what the alternatives are. Therefore, a plastic audit can be beneficial to determine just what a business’ exposure is to plastic within their organization. This is something the Plastic Collective helps many businesses work through.

This can also help future proof the business from future legislation and changes in business practices. Understanding what the potential plastic liabilities are in the future is important for a successful long-term business strategy.

In short – moving towards a zero plastic goal is good for business, good for the environment and good for a company’s image in a world that is becoming ever more conscious of how unsustainable commercial activities impact the future of the world.

How Does the Plastic Collective Offsetting Scheme Work?

The Plastic Collective has created a plastic neutral program that can help a business move towards net zero plastic (that is, an equivalent amount of plastic put into a market is recovered from the environment). Firstly, the Plastic Collective will work with your business to audit your plastic usage across your supply chain. The goal of this is to ascertain the level of the business’s plastic consumption to then calculate the total plastic footprint for the organization.

Once a plastic footprint figure has been reached the next step is to design a strategy for the business to reduce its plastic consumption. This is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 12 which sets targets for achieving sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030.

This process helps a business reduce its plastic exposure and improves its environmental credentials. In some cases, new and innovative alternative materials that might not have been previously considered can be introduced into a company’s supply chain.

Changing the way a business interacts with plastic is an important step since it helps avoid negative press such as claims of greenwashing. This is where a company claims a certain set of environmental credentials while negative business practices are still in place. In short- it is a misguided attempt to use positive PR to change how a business is seen, while not changing its business practices for the better.

Even with the best intentions and adopting alternatives to single use plastics it can be difficult to remove all harmful plastics completely from an organization’s supply chain. but much can be done if a business is committed to do so. Contact us today to learn more about our plastic neutral scheme.

Ultimately, the goal of the plastic footprinting is to help businesses switch from plastics to more sustainable materials, and to work with business to recycle and reuse plastic to the maximum extent possible. These changes will add immediate benefits to an organization’s overall sustainability.

Where business still has a substantial plastic footprint after these actions, it can employ a plastic offsetting program with the Plastic Collective. These schemes will then cover and compensate for the remainder of the organization’s plastic footprint via the company’s purchase of plastic credits from a certified plastic recovery project. This helps businesses become plastic neutral while also supporting community projects and the environment.

How the Plastic Collective Helps

The Plastic Collective is a social enterprise that works with local communities to recycle and repurpose single use plastics that these community projects have collected in their environment to make new products out of the waste. A business that invests in plastic offsetting at the Plastic Collective not only reduces their own plastic footprint but also supports local communities and the environment in the process.

Our schemes work with local communities who collect waste plastic that has been discarded in the environment. The projects turn this plastic waste into new products that they can sell. This improves the livelihoods of local communities while also removing plastic from the environment. This helps to create a circular economy in plastics and give a second life to single use and virgin plastics that would otherwise remain as discarded rubbish in the environment.

If you’re a business that is looking to become a plastic neutral company, then the Plastic Collective can help. Contact us today to learn more about our plastic neutral scheme.

Image: Monfocus| pixabay

Sustainable Development: Challenges and Opportunities

Sustainable Development: Challenges and Opportunities

Sustainable Development: Challenges and Opportunities

Sustainable development has been on the agenda since the late 1980s and over that time much progress has been made in moving towards a world that is more sustainable. However, with population growth and issues surrounding climate change the challenges of sustainable development continue and its needs must be met with new initiatives.

What is Sustainable Development?

First, what exactly is meant by the phrase ‘sustainable development’? In simple terms sustainable development is a guiding principle that focuses on sustaining natural resources and the world’s eco systems in line with human development.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS)

A key aspect of sustainable development is ensuring that the development needs of future generations are met. For example, introducing sustainable energy initiatives so that fossil fuel use is reduced which helps keep current resources whilst reducing carbon emissions.

At the turn of the millennium the United Nations introduced the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This was a set of goals that focused on a range of sustainable development aspects. After 2016 this set of principles have been succeeded by a new set of goals, called the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS)

Perhaps one of the more general problems related to sustainable development is that it is a very broad principle that can cover a lot of different aspects. However, sustainable development does have some specific goals within this broad spectrum. The United Nations states that sustainable development’s goals cover three core aspects that include: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

The first two of these aspects, economic growth and social inclusion are focused on reducing poverty and inequality around the world. Sustainable development ideology has been designed to help create opportunities for individuals by raising the basic standards of living and to reduce inequalities. This kind of development can cover a broad range of topics from human rights, food security and to ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare, for example.

These aspects go hand in hand with the third goal of sustainable development ‘environmental protection’, which has a goal of ensuring that developmental goals work in tandem with environmental policies to eliminate the mismanagement of ecosystems.

Examples of Sustainable Development

Often, one of the first things that come to mind in terms of sustainable development are some of the environmental aspects of its goals, such as the planting of trees to replace those that have been cut down for wood and timber production. Often companies now look to replace and plant new trees to compensate for the trees that they cut down. A switch to more sustainable wood types – that are fast growing – and that are in plentiful supply has become preferred. Unfortunately, problems remain such as deforestation of virgin rain forests.

There are two huge factors that affect rainforests and that is that of timber production and the removal or burning of rainforests to create pastureland for cattle and meet production. Dealing with these issues is difficult and plenty still needs to be done to combat these problems. For governments this could be the policy of providing subsidies to developing nations to tackle deforestation, or for companies, it is ensuring that the wood they use complies with sustainable supply chains and does not make use of timber that has been produced through illegal logging.

Another big topic that most people associate with sustainable development is green energy production and the shift from using fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Challenges of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is something that can help the entire world’s population and it helps supply security for future generations, but it is not without its challenges. There are a large number of challenges that need to be met if we are to achieve a better future.

Some of these key challenges include the following issues:

War and Instability

When there is turmoil, instability and war between nations it stands to reasons that sustainable development cannot occur. For instance the war in Ukraine has had an impact on sustainable development. In fact, one of the biggest issues that has affected countries outside of Ukraine are issues surrounding food sustainability since Ukraine and Russia are big producers of wheat and barley.

In fact, Russia and Ukraine account for around 30% of all exports around the world, which is a big figure and ultimately has a significant impact on food production and availability. This is one of the effects of globalization is that nations have become dependent on each other to support their own standards of living.

It is difficult to maintain a civil society and the well-being of people when there is war or the threat of conflict over a country. In these cases, sustainable development goals cannot be easily met.

Suitability and Availability

Another issue is the ability of a nation to implement sustainable development programmes in their country. It is common for developed nations to suggest to developing nations that the process they use in their own countries should be future proofed and sustainable, but this raises the question whether this is firstly possible and secondarily pragmatic. This is why developing countries need subsidies and support from the developed world to help them reduce their liabilities towards non-sustainable enterprises.

Take for example forestry. In some countries their vast forests are resources that they can use to improve the lives of their citizens. However, this might come at a cost to biodiversity and of the natural resources that are being consumed.

It can be easy for a western developed nation to suggest that these forms of economic development should be reduced. Greenhouse gas emissions and environmental issues are important but without incentives and buy-in from governments, policy makers and the private sector, it is unlikely that sustainable development initiatives surrounding will be a priority.

Sustainable development programmes need to be tailored to fit the local context. They need to take into consideration the current level of developmental stage each country is currently at, and support them accordingly, to implement competitive and useful sustainable development programmes that do not hinder their development. There is no point in addressing global sustainable developmental issues at a cost of the progress and improvement of other developing nations.

In many cases where there are issues surrounding environmental degradation it is important to introduce modern technologies that can help provide better synergies between the use of a country’s resources and its sustainability of that resource.

Governmental Issues

Other issues relate to what initiatives Governments may want to sign-up to, and how keen they are on sustainable development. Most governments sign up to issues surrounding global warming and other climate issues, but not always. In some cases, there is a political initiative to reject environmental issues and sustainable development goals to instead address the immediate needs of their country or populous. For example – promoting and supporting legacy fossil fuel industries because they play a big part in supporting deprived local communities and areas. Closing certain industries without replacing them can lead to certain communities suffering job losses and poverty. In these locations many governments are resistant to change related to sustainable development programmes.

Often political parties can get into power based around supporting certain stakeholders and groups that are opposed to and have incompatible view with sustainable developmental goals. For instances, gaining support from the fossil fuel companies and lobbyists. Once in power it is difficult for a government to then reverse those policies with more sustainable decision-making since their support base have incompatible agendas.

Ultimately, sustainable development needs to take place within the right political climate for it to be successful and often sustainable development only works if it offers positive results for the government in question.

Poverty & Unemployment

One of the goals of sustainable development is to end poverty but this is no easy task and cannot be done without addressing a number of other issues that contribute to poverty.

Some of the issues relate to inequalities and economic opportunities that people face. This can be inequalities between different countries. It’s well known that people in developed nations tends to be (as a whole group) better off financially than those individuals who live in developing nations.

However, inequalities can occur within a country itself. For example, the difference in wealth that may be found in urban areas when compared to some rural locations where employment can be difficult to obtain or is less well paid. Or, rural opportunities are only available in certain industries, such as the agricultural sector. Take for instance the difference to access to employment between someone living in New York compared to an individual located in the American Rust Belt.

Inequalities also occur between men and women. In many countries women lack access to well-paid employment or any employment at all. Often, sustainable development programmes in term of employment initiatives have goals related to equality of opportunity.

Without addressing the issues surrounding the causes of poverty within any given community, then it can be difficult to reduce poverty, and in turn also difficult to address some of the wider goals and challenges of sustainable development.

The social sciences look at how individuals interact with each other. The case studies and socio scientific research that academics carry out can help us understand what the challenges are in a particular community and help us address those issues.

A lot of work has been done to reduce poverty but there still is a massive amount to do. Take for example that it is estimated that 650 million people still go hungry and do not have enough food. Food security is a problem and may get worse due to population growth.

One of the key inputs for sustainable development which is linked to increased poverty and a lack of progress in terms of development is the access that citizens have to electricity. Energy poverty is a major issue that affects the poverty of an individual. This has been one of the key goals of sustainable development and significant improvements have been made in this area. As recently as 2020 it is estimated by the World Bank that just over 90% of the world population now has access to electricity. However, there are big gaps in some of the poorest nations where a large percentage of their populations do not have access to electricity.

Unfortunately, addressing poverty and global development has become more difficult after 2020 with additional global challenges such as the global downturn, recession and a slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a massive impact on global economic and caused an increase in poverty around the world. Take for example just one statistic – where the pandemic pushed just under 5 million people into poverty in South East Asia alone.

The Global Economy

The financial crisis that occurred post-coronavirus has also had a negative impact on sustainable development goals. At any point when there are global financial issues – the poorest people are at risk of being affected. Some countries can be shielded from these downturns – while others that rely on trade with western nations that are experiencing a downturn may suffer as a consequence of globalization. Take for example the downturn in the United States and its impact on one of their biggest supplier, Mexico.

Due to the interconnectedness of world trade, there are many synergies between nations around the world, and what affects one country can also impact another indirectly.

Population Growth

Another potential challenge for sustainable development is population growth. As the United Nations say themselves in their reports – population growth in developing countries can be seen as both a success and a challenge for the future. The larger the world’s population the more resources are needed to ensure that people remain out of poverty and have utilities such as fresh water and electricity.

The Future of Sustainable Development

While the current climate in 2022 is tricky for a number of reasons, there is still a lot of support for the initiatives that surround the goals for sustainable development.

The Plastic Collective is an organization that also supports sustainable development enterprises in developing nations through the reuse of waste plastic. In these communities where The Plastic Collective is based, waste plastics are viewed as a valuable recyclable resource. This resource can be used as the base material in sustainable plastic recycling micro-enterprises, which are designed to help support local communities and reduce both poverty and plastic waste.

Image: geralt | pixabay

How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

How to Become a Net Zero or Zero Carbon Business

Today more than ever there is a lot of reasons why it is a good idea for a business to become a zero carbon. However, this does raise the question on how this is to be achieved and what are the steps that need to be taken.

Here we will discuss the reasons why it is a good idea to go net zero or to reduce carbon emission totals within a business and how this can be typically executed.

What is Net Zero and Zero Carbon?

In simple terms “net zero” is a phrase that is used to describe the balancing of carbon emissions produced by a company, person or organization. The amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced are balanced with incentives, schemes and processes that remove an equal amount (or more) of carbon from the atmosphere. This is also often referred to as being carbon neutral.

This is different from becoming a zero carbon business – where the goal here is to not generate any carbon in the first place. This can be a hugely difficult proposition to achieve depending on the individual business.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a main cause of global warming and therefore governments around the world have put in place targets for carbon reduction. Decarbonization is a complex process but the climate crisis needs to be addressed before it is too late. This is why emissions reductions targets are put in place to help reduce the billions of metric tonnes of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere every year.

Businesses that are looking to move towards zero carbon can turn to organizations such as the SBTi who have Net-Zero Standards that use a science-based approach to setting net zero goals and providing a roadmap as to how this can be measured and achieved.

Reasons & Benefits of Becoming a Zero Carbon Business

Becoming a zero carbon business is not only about doing the right thing for the environment, it can also help support your business now and into the future.

Of course – as mentioned – this is a complex proposition and often the first step is to move towards becoming a net zero organization. In many cases this is the best case scenario for many organizations, it is simply not possible or within their business model to be able to become a zero carbon business in the short to medium term.

Regardless of the classification between becoming a zero carbon business and being a net zero business, there are range of benefits in becoming a sustainable business. Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.

Sustainability Attracts Investment

For companies that are listed on stock exchanges, sustainability can be an important factor since one of key indicators that many investment companies use is something called the ESG Rating Score. What is this score? In simple terms this is a score given to a company based on its management of a broad range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance indicators.

Some of the factors that are covered by the ESG rating include carbon emissions, climate change vulnerability, water use, biodiversity, the use of renewable energy, and waste management, to name but a few of the many aspects.

Ensuring that your business has a good ESG rating means that investors knows that a business is future proofed in terms of its environmental and social impact. It is becoming obvious that companies that do not minimise their negative impact on the world are seen in a less favourable light by both investors and customers alike.

This is why a company that manufacturers electric vehicles will score better than one that still produces cars that only rely on fossil fuels, with no option to to ultimately use renewable energy. At least in theory – since the ESG rating also covers social factors such as supply chain labor standards and product safety.

The ESG score itself isn’t perfect and does come under some criticism since many believe it tries to cover too many factors within its remit, but ultimately it is still something that both businesses and investors take seriously.

Customers Want Sustainable Goods

With a 71% increase in searches for sustainable goods globally there is a demand for businesses to meet the demand from green consumers. This makes for an attractive proposition for companies that are looking to meet these needs.

However, it is important companies do not get carried away in terms of marketing and advertising their green credentials since tokensim is common in this field. Consumers and the press regularly highlight companies that boast about their green credentials while still polluting and carrying out bad environmental practices. These companies often get accused of greenwashing – which is the process of putting a ‘green’ positive spin on their business practices.

Whether a business is a large multinational enterprise or an SME that operates in a local market – more and more customers are looking for providers that are environmentally friendly. Ensuring your company can meet those expectations from an ever increasing market share is more important than ever. It short it is good for business to be environmentally conscious.


Future Proof Your Business

Environmental impact is an issue that affects us all and when it comes to business models, those organizations that proactively embrace positive change in their business practices are more likely to be successful in the future. There are many reasons for this, some of which we have already touched on, from attracting investment to gaining new customers looking for greener products and services.

Another important consideration is government intervention – where companies must comply with rules, regulations and laws.

Organization such as the IPCC report on the issues relating to climate change and governments use the knowledge gained to guide climate change policy. The Paris Agreement also was formed to tackle global warming – and with this in mind – corporates need to understand that climate action needs to be high up on their list of issues to address in terms of moving forward with their business in the future.

In many cases if a company waits for a government to intervene through climate policy legislature then they are already behind much of the competition. Waiting until something becomes a law or a regulation can cause a lot of problems within an organization, as it scrambles to hit targets and comply with the new rules and regulations. Often, it is better to move towards these goals in good time, with proper planning and strategy.

How to Become a Net Zero Business

A business that is looking to become zero carbon will need to examine their business in detail with a goal to remove all fossil fuel use from their business practices. For a number of reasons this can be complex and difficult for some businesses to achieve.

With this in mind – many companies work towards carbon neutrality, and instead work to become a net zero business where the amount of carbon they produce is balanced out and offset to help reduce its own climate impact. For many companies – once this is achieved a secondary goal is to move towards becoming a carbon negative business where their carbon impact is offset beyond what they produce.

For a business that is looking more towards becoming a net zero business there is a wide range of incentives and processes that can be put in place to help achieve this goal. Ultimately, it can be problematic for business to meet these targets in the short to medium term, depending on what industry they operate in.

However, even for companies that may struggle to change all their business practices in the short to medium term to meet sustainability goals there are still many things that can be done and achieved to help improve their standing over the longer run.

Ultimately moving towards net zero carbon emissions means that a business needs to do a wide range of things within the business to meet these goals.

Carbon Offsetting

When starting out a business might imagine that all they need to do is to use carbon offsetting schemes to hit their net zero emissions goals. Historically, this might have been the way companies may have tackled the problem but today – carbon offsetting only plays a small part in the process.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t play an active roll in moving towards becoming zero carbon. Companies are increasingly likely to sign-up to carbon offsetting and carbon credit schemes on a voluntary basis.

In fact carbon offsetting schemes have become big business themselves and there are a lot of options for a business to find synergies with their own organization. Most companies will look to work with gold standard or accredited schemes.

Beyond carbon, there are other offsetting schemes that are available to business. For example – for a business that deal with plastic in their products or supply chain you can look at schemes that can support you to become plastic neutral.

Ultimately, the first step of hitting net zero targets is to calculate the current carbon footprint of the business to understand what needs to be achieved. Then through process review, efficiency measures and consultation with stakeholders within the business, a plan and a set of projects need to be put in place.

Once this footprint has been ascertained a business can work out how much resource they want to allocate to improving their own business practices and how much will be allocated to external carbon offsetting initiatives.

Reduce Exposure to Fossil Fuels

Another big area for companies to address in their business operations is to try to reduce their exposure to fossil fuels.

How can a business do this? Here’s some typical ways that a business can tackle this.

Reduce energy use and consumption. Have you noticed that some offices leave their lights on all night burning electricity. Switching off the lights and machinery when not in use can save energy. Carrying out an audit on energy use and where it can be saved can be beneficial and it can raise issues such as heating or air-conditioning use and whether that is properly planned instead of being left on without consideration.

Switching to a eco-energy provider that uses renewable energy sources is another method a company can employ to help reduce their exposure to fossil fuels.

Examining the supply chain and reducing product and supply exposure to processes that use fossil fuels is another way to reduce fossil fuel use. Also think recyclables and sustainable materials instead of single-use.

Switch to suppliers who are also committed to net zero or sustainability. Again, supplier choice can have a knock-on effect on your carbon neutrality performance. Picking more sustainable suppliers is another way to reduce a businesses exposure to fossil fuels.

Review Corporate Expenditure

Not all net zero incentives need incur a cost to the business. In fact – in many situations there are cost savings to be made. Take for example a business that may previously have carried out a lot of business travel, either for internal meetings or to meet external customers.

Today, not only can cost savings be made in the reduction of expensive flights and accommodation, which also has a negative impact on the carbon footprint, but often it is more efficient to remain on-site and use modern technology such as Zoom or Microsoft teams to hold virtual meetings.

Reducing business travel is only the start when it comes to making savings while improving your sustainability. Another example – in this case relating to retailers – is in the reduction and light-weighting of packaging that is used in the products that are sold. How often have you received a package from a company that has used a box is much bigger than was needed? Not only does this increase packaging costs unnecessarily but often it can increase shipping costs that are often included in the prices of the product.

Switching to more efficient packaging – and also ensuring that any packaging that is used can be recycled easily, can improve a company’s profitability, has a positive impact on the customer’s perception of the company itself, and helps the environment.

These are just two examples – there are many more initiatives that a business can take though business process changes that can improve the efficiency of the business, reduce expenditure, while also improving environmental outcomes.

Businesses can also take cost savings from implementing changes to their business practices and invest them in new zero carbon initiatives within the business, further accelerating positive change.

How the Plastic Collective Can Help

Find out more about Plastic Collective and get latest news and info about circularity, plastic recovery and recycling, and the effects of climate change, by subscribing to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

Plastic Collective can also help your business learn more about product stewardship and how you can become plastic neutral.

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Guide to the Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

It is hard to miss the news reports on television and in the press showing the effects of plastic waste and the amount of plastic debris in the ocean. From single-use plastic bags to fishing nets there is a vast quantity of plastics that end up in the sea. Most people understand that introducing plastic waste into the oceanic ecosystem is harmful. However, not everyone is aware of the devastating impact the plastic problem has already had and is still currently having on both the marine environment and for human health.

There are many issues relating to plastic waste in the ocean and why it is a problem that needs to be tackled globally. In this article we will explore the issues and look at the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean and marine environment.

Effects of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

When plastic enters the ocean, gyres (a system of rotating ocean currents, tides, and winds) can transport that piece of plastic all over the globe. For example, plastic waste that enters the ocean in Europe can end up on a beach in Asia which is why all countries need to be tackling this issue together since it goes beyond just a local problem.

Fish, sea mammals and sea reptiles such as turtles are also impacted by plastic waste in the ocean. Again, for marine life, entanglement and ingestion are serious issues that can lead to death. The knock-on effect is that longer-term this can impact the overall viability and health of the entire marine ecosystem.

One of the major problems with ocean plastic is that it breaks down slowly. Some pieces of plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose. As plastic breaks down it often turns into smaller particles of plastic, called microplastics, that are even harder to clean up and deal with.

The Effects of Microplastics in the Ocean

What happens to the plastic items when they become marine pollution?

As mentioned, one of the key issues with plastic marine debris is that over time it can degrade into smaller pieces called microplastics. Microplastics are defined as being pieces of plastic under 5mm in size.

These microplastics and microfibers can enter the food chain and also wash up on our beaches and are extremely hard to clean up. Although organizations have been working on ways to filter out this kind of plastic, it is challenging and costly to do so.

Another form of microplastic are microbeads which are small plastic pieces that are often designed for cleaning or cleansing in beauty products. These small plastic beads are made from plastic types such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. Many corporates have removed these from their products having understood the problem that they cause (and due to legislations by governments).

In a number of countries including the UK, US, Canada, NZ and Australia, microbeads have been banned from sale, but as highlighted, plastic contamination in the ocean is a global problem which requires a combined, global effort to address. Sadly, the damage has already been done and these plastic particles have already been introduced into the oceans.

The Problem with Plastic Pollution on Beaches

Anyone who has walked along a beach that has not been litter picked will often notice the quantity of rubbish and waste that is washed up on the shore. Often this waste will consist of flotsam and jetsam from commercial enterprises out at sea such as fisheries, but often you will also find bottles and packaging from household waste.

Unsightly debris on the shore visibly highlights the problem with poor waste management, but it is also only one of the many issues that rubbish has on the overall environment.

Seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other animals that occupy beaches and coastal areas can be harmed by plastic rubbish. From animals being entangled in fishing gear and nets, to ingesting plastic after mistaking it for food, are only two of the issues that plastic pollution in the ocean causes.

The Problem with Plastic on the Ocean Surface

Just as with plastic found on beaches, plastic that is floating on the sea surface can also be problematic. Marine mammals can get tangled in fishing nets and other marine species mistake plastic pieces for food and ingest it. Plastic ingestion can lead to suffocation, starvation, drowning and death.

Plastic on the ocean surface can also contribute to climate change. The reason for this is that with concentrations of plastic on the sea surface, bacteria that live in the oceans can attach themselves to the microplastics. The more plastic, the more bacteria. Since the bacteria consume more oxygen, they also in turn generate more carbon dioxide, which directly contributes to climate change since it upsets the biogeochemical carbon cycle.

The issue of garbage on the ocean surface can be visually dramatic. For example, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California in the North Pacific Ocean is estimated to be as large as 1.6 million square kilometres in size. While the ocean clean-up has begun in this area, the size and location pose a difficult challenge. However, merely cleaning up the ocean surface won’t solve the issue of plastic in the ocean. This is because surface plastic is only the beginning when it comes to the plastic problem.

The Impacts of Plastic in the Ocean

A less obvious and visual issue with plastic in the ocean is the plastic waste that either floats within the layers of the sea itself or rests on the seabed.

It is estimated that there is 14 million tonnes of small plastic under 5mm in size sitting on the sea bed. It is also estimated that the amount of plastic under the ocean’s surface is thirty times greater than what is found floating on the top of the sea.

While marine mammals may die from the effects of ingesting plastic, smaller creatures such as fish and crustaceans can also eat plastic (often microplastics). This is also the case for plankton, a key food source for animals, which resides in the sunlit zone of the ocean.

When mammals and fish predate on smaller animals, if that animal has ingested plastic waste, the plastic is introduced into the larger animal’s digestive organs. Plastic can have long term health issues for animals. In Molluscs there has been evidence of hormonal changes when exposed to plastic.

The wider implication is that since humans also consume fish, crustaceans and shellfish, it means that plastic, chemicals and microplastics are also in the human food chain.

Often these plastics are so small they go undetected and potentially can end even end up in the bloodstream. In a study carried out by a team at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, polymer particles have been found in 80% of the humans tested.

While the long-term effects of these plastic contaminants are unknown, it is theorized that these plastics could potentially cause cancer and other serious illnesses in humans. The bottom line is that plastic pollution is not only a significant problem for marine life, but it also has the potential to have a negative impact on human health.

Plastic can also have a negative impact on coral reefs, atolls, and biodiversity. It has been found that plastic contamination in coral reefs increases disease 20 fold.

What Causes Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

One question is where does all the plastic and rubbish in the ocean come from in the first place?

The majority of the plastic waste found in the ocean is from land-based household and corporate waste sources. This waste often enters the ocean from the runoff of rivers and waterways.

Often plastic rubbish from single-use plastics such as plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, and other food packaging that has not been disposed of properly through recycling or in landfills can eventually find themselves in the waterways.

A smaller proportion of the marine plastic waste (but still a significant quantity) is from the fishing industry. Fishing nets and other fishing equipment can end up as ocean pollution and can cause damage to marine animals and habitats.

Of all marine pollution, plastic makes up around 80% of it and this equates to eight to sixteen million metrics tonnes of rubbish that enter the ocean each year. To put that in perspective it is estimated that there are between fifty and seventy-five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. This figure is set to increase, without significant intervention by consumers, businesses, and governments around the world to address the issue.

Long term future

Without significant changes in the way we use and dispose of plastic the long-term future for the environment and oceans is bleak. It is predicted that plastic production will double by 2040 and increase by 2.5 times by 2050.

We are already seeing the effects on biodiversity, ocean habitats and the effects of plastic in the food chain for humans. Without significant intervention in our use and how we deal with the problem of plastic, the situation will only become worse. Without a fundamental shift, plastic waste in the ocean could nearly triple in quantity.

Currently only 20% of the plastic used is estimated to be recycled, leaving 80% of all plastic to have the potential for become a pollutant.

Back in 2017 The United Nations Environment Programme launched the Clean Seas Campaign to reduce problematic and avoidable plastics. Sixty-three countries pledged to support this improvement in plastics management, and while inroads have been made, much more needs to be done.

For the individual concerned about plastic waste and the environment there are a number of minor changes that they can make to support the reduction in plastic pollution in the environment. It may feel like the impact at an individual level is miniscule but if everyone made the same changes it would have a substantial impact.

Individuals can support the reduction in plastic waste by firstly avoiding buying products that use single use plastics, such as plastic water bottles. Another important thing is to ensure that the plastic waste you do produce is properly recycled. Helping to stop plastic from entering the environment is a key aspect of improving the problem with plastic pollution.

For corporates looking to improve their green credentials there are a number of things that can be implemented, and they are not always expensive or incur extra costs. Initiatives include the following:

–   Waste Reduction – Businesses should explore the waste they produce and look at ways that recycling and reducing the materials that they need to operate their business. Even small improvements to waste reduction totals can have an enormous impact over a year.

–   Use Sustainable Materials – If you are a business that either manufacturers or ships products then switching to sustainable materials in your packaging and products can have a massive impact on how much extra plastic product waste is generated.

How Plastic Collective helps

Plastic Collective work with communities to tackle plastic waste. We supply education programs and provide machinery and training to create sustainable plastic recycling micro-enterprises. We also provide a marketplace for communities to sell the recycled plastic they produce.

To find out more about the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean as well as latest news and info about plastic recycling, clean energy, and the effects of climate change, subscribe to the Plastic Collective newsletter.

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