[Editor's Note: This article follows earlier coverage on how chemicals and the toxicity of products have become strategic issues for businesses. Posts by Joel Makower and Richard Liroff are available at GreenBiz.com.]

The FDA's reversal of its decision on BPA is one more sign that the way we use plastics today may be on the verge of a significant shift.

More and more studies are implicating plastics in health problems ranging from reproductive disruption to obesity to ADHD to cancer. The FDA has vowed to be more responsive to health concerns about plastic. And consumers have shown that they will respond quickly and dramatically to perceived health threats from products, especially when risks are higher for children, as they seem to be with plastic.

It seems clear that the more we learn about how plastics affect human health, the more urgently we may try to usher in a "low-plastic" future. Businesses that see this future coming can minimize their risk and even gain a competitive advantage by acting now.

There are four specific things companies can start doing now to prepare:

1. Map Out Your Plastic Footprint


Given that one of plastic's main charms is it cheapness, it follows that companies who rely heavily on plastics in their products or processes will face significant cost exposure if forced to substitute other materials, whether because substances are banned or because their use becomes a hot button for consumers (or because the price of plastic increases significantly).

An assessment of the usage of plastics and plastic derivatives in your company and throughout your supply chain will identify the areas of greatest usage (and potentially exposure) and is further likely to highlight opportunities for no-regrets actions to optimize material flows.

2. Identify Good Substitutes and Start Using Them Now

Exploring alternatives to the plastics you currently use is another no-regrets option. The investment required is typically quite low and the benefits can be huge: Having a clear understanding of the options and the pros and cons of each helps identify where further investigation and investment may be warranted and will set you up to make decisions around materials substitution quickly in the future.