For many it started with Blue Planet II. The BBC series, fronted by natural-history presenter David Attenborough, was watched by 14m viewers. Its stark message: plastic waste is destroying our oceans, from discarded packaging that suffocates marine life to the invisible microbeads that are swallowed by fish and enter our food chain. The programme threw down a gauntlet, challenging governments, businesses and consumers.
Suddenly the topic was everywhere. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation publicised its report into the circular textile economy, with designer Stella McCartney. Environment secretary Michael Gove announced he wanted the U.K. “to become a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans.” The government’s 25-year environment plan published a month later leaves no business uncertain about the need to act. It sets out to: eliminate unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging; make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable; increase the collection and recycling of plastic packaging; increase recycled content in plastic packaging to drive demand for recycled material; and impassion and enable citizens to play their part in reducing plastic packaging waste and litter.
It’s not just big news in the U.K. A circular economy forum was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos to stimulate public- and private-sector engagement. And China recently enforced a ban on imports of millions of tonnes of plastic waste — leaving Europe with a growing pile of rubbish.
Businesses have been looking at greener packaging measures for some time, but there is nothing like a bit of public awareness to prompt action. Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace U.K., describes the current rate of movement as “rapid — both in commerce and government.” “The question,” she adds, “is whether this momentum will be sustained for long enough to significantly reduce the threat. There needs to be a major shift in materials use and investment in waste processing.”
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