Tides of change: The global shift from single-use plastics

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Working together to eliminate plastics.

This article is sponsored by Belantara Foundation. 

Despite the sound of its name, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not the setting to a mysterious mythical tale, but instead the very alarming and tangible result of our world’s plastic practices. The patch is an island of floating trash, more than twice the size of Texas, which lies between Hawaii and California. It contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and weighs over 88,000 tons. Its existence is one reason that there has been an increased focus on reducing single-use plastics across the globe.

Government-driven initiatives

Fortunately for us and the environment, many national governments have sparked positive change by developing legislation aimed at reducing plastic use. This includes reducing the amount of single-use plastic products in the market by shifting to more sustainable alternatives for plastic products, such as for bags, food packaging and delivery packaging. These alternatives can come in the form of biodegradable paper materials that decompose naturally, as well as reusable options with lifespans beyond a single use. 

According to a report from the U.N. Environment Program and the World Resources Institute, as many as 127 countries have effectively reduced the use of plastic bags through policy efforts and measures. About 27 nations have active legislation to either ban or significantly restrict single-use plastics, namely straws and dishware. This proactive approach can help limit the amount of waste that finds its way into our oceans, but substantial change will rely on government’s ability to coordinate with business on related policies to further limit the mass production and use of unsustainable products. 

The role of companies in identifying alternatives

Businesses have the power and responsibility to reassess traditional practices to further sustainable growth, and to meet the expectations of governments and consumers alike. They are critical to creating a viable long-term solution to this issue.

Greater emphasis on the development of eco-friendly products will result in easier access for consumers and therefore have a greater impact on consumer behavior. Businesses also have the responsibility to closely review the practices of the companies from which they source materials. Reexamination of a company’s supply chain establishes a system of checks and balances that keep private organizations transparent to one another, and subsequently to consumers, to ensure all parties meet the same sustainability standards.

Sustainability begins from the roots — the sources of the raw, natural materials we use to create everything from cardboard boxes to coffee cups.

Biodegradable solutions in paper packaging, for example, have developed in response to global demand for eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. In our commitment to forge sustainable progress in the paper manufacturing industry, Asia Pulp & Paper has focused research and development resources to advance our offerings to companies around the world so that they too can meet these goals. Our Foopak suite of food packaging products offers a biodegradable solution to traditional plastic materials for packaging hot and cold takeaway food products, beverages and more.

These products not only meet consumer demand for high quality and strength, but are produced with raw materials that decompose naturally in the environment, often taking as little as several weeks, instead of hundreds of years.

Transparency for consumers

The "green" sweep for businesses is further established with developments such as Yelp’s recent implementation of an environmental rating system on the popular review company’s app. It is not enough for businesses to simply establish a more sustainable supply chain; they must find the proper means to communicate this commitment to consumers. Efforts such as this hold businesses accountable for their carbon footprint and increase transparency for environmentally conscious consumers.

The value proposition for sustainability

As more consumers cite sustainability as a top concern in brand awareness, it will be increasingly important for businesses to implement measures to ensure consumers are not asked to sacrifice quality for sustainability. Meeting these high expectations has potential to ultimately benefit the bottom line. APP’s 2018 Consumer Trends Report found that more than half of respondents in the United States are willing to pay more for food products packaged in sustainable materials. In a similar survey conducted worldwide, Nielsen found that 66 percent of respondents indicated a similar willingness to spend more for the guarantee of a more sustainable product spanning all industries.

While it will take time to clean up our oceans, we all must do our part now. For businesses, this means truly understanding the role companies play in creating a more sustainable future. Through taking advantage of the increasing availability of alternatives to single-use plastics, we can strengthen the corporate-level commitment to a healthier Earth.