Single-use plastic - industry must take action now

14th of January 2020
Single-use plastic - industry must take action now
Single-use plastic - industry must take action now

Following teen-activist Greta Thunberg’s campaign ‘Friday’s for Future’ and her recent Global Climate Strikes supported by over seven million young people, Mark Jankovich, philanthropist and activist writes for ECJ about the launch of a new Recycled Plastic Rating (RPR), mark that he hopes will increasingly be seen on plastic packaging, and how the cleaning industry can help take a stand against single-use plastics.

It’s staggering, and sobering, to realise the damage plastic is doing to our planet.  Three hundred million tons of plastic are produced annually  and eight million tons of plastic (a dump truck a minute) ends up in our oceans each year. Of those, 236,000 tons are micro plastics  – tiny pieces of broken-down plastic smaller than a little fingernail. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 12 billion tons of plastic polluting the natural environment and more plastic in oceans than there are fish (by weight) .

In February 2019 the UK government joined forces with major global brands and a number of European countries to agree a National Pact on plastic packaging.  The National Pact not only sets a target that seeks to deliver 30 per cent recycled content in all plastic packaging by 2022, but also looks to ban the use of EPS by 2022 (otherwise known as expanded polystyrene) which takes thousands of years to break down in food containers and single use cups.

Both France and the UK have pledged to do more to ensure plastic is recycled and are looking to achieve 60 per cent of plastic packaging effectively recycled by 2022.  That’s ambitious target when we consider it is estimated that only nine per cent of the world’s single use plastic is currently recycled – the rest going into landfill or overseas where it ends up in the world’s oceans or is incinerated.

There is still confusion among consumers as ‘what’ and ‘how to’ recycle. The conversation around the use of plastics has been becoming louder over the past years – and it’s one the cleaning industry is listening to. For many of those in the industry – and for general consumers too - it was firmly bought to the fore when the BBC aired Blue Planet II, showing the catastrophic effect plastic waste is having on our oceans and marine life.

More recently, the ‘Greta effect’ is creating awareness with children and students who will become the decision makers of tomorrow. Greta Thunberg has single-handedly raised awareness to a whole new level of the urgency of taking action.  And needless to say, the use of plastics has a material impact on climate change through waste processes. Meanwhile, packaging manufacturers are wasting energy and resources creating more virgin plastic when there are already billions of reusable tonnes available.

Make a difference

The cleaning industry has the potential to make a big difference. Nearly all cleaning products come in some form of plastic packaging – bottles of bleach, detergents, antibacterial sprays and many more.
In research we conducted earlier this year, 60 per centof people said they are confused about which types of plastic packaging are the most harmful to the environment and a further eight of out 10 said they would support clearer labelling of plastic packaging to help them determine its impact on the environment.

It would certainly make it much easier if there was one definitive mark that clearly stated a product’s plastic credential, enabling operators to choose packaging that is diverting plastic from landfill - not adding to it.

This is why the RPR (Recycled Plastic Rating) mark came about; to have a rating which instantly shows the amount of recycled plastic content in packaging. That might be 30 per cent, it might be 40 per cent, 70 per cent or 90 per cent.  But whatever the content, it will immediately show the purchaser exactly what they are buying and enable them to vote with their pocket.

Look out for the RPR mark

Currently, there 28 ‘marks’ in existence which are confusing. The RPR mark negates all of these – it means just one industry standard which is visible, recognisable and instantly comprehensive.
The RPR will enable all who work in the cleaning industry to see, at a glance, the exact plastic credentials of products they are using – and make necessary changes to other, more eco-friendly brands, if needs be.

Launched in September at the House of Commons, the Government is being lobbied to get behind the RPR mark with growing calls to make it a mandatory requirement on all plastic packaging. From the early responses, it looks set to be adopted far and wide across many sectors and industries.

The real power is in the cleaning industry uniting as a whole. The weight we carry as a combined industry is huge. The UK’s cleaning industry alone is worth almost €13 billion (around £12 billion); let alone the rest of Europe.

In order to turn this ‘plastic crisis’ on its head we need to all align our choices. We need to align on only using products with packaging that has been recycled. We need to consciously specify we will only work with suppliers who package products responsibly – that way the suppliers who don’t have no option but to bring to market products that are made from recycled plastic or risk going out of business. If we don’t buy their plastic products, they can’t sell them – it’s simple.

We also need to align on not accepting excuses. Excuses that claim using 100 per cent recycled plastic in packaging isn’t possible right now. It is completely possible. I know this because we have done it at our cleaning products business. It wasn’t easy to achieve – it took six years to perfect and there were many difficulties along the way – but if a small business like us can do it, there is no reason why the ‘big boys’ within the cleaning sector can’t do the same.

It’s largely about collaboration. If each professional reading this decided that today they would take action and make today the day they committed to using products with above 30 per cent recycled packaging, bit by bit change would happen.

The task is a mammoth one – it’s about each and every person in the industry making changes. It’s about cleaning companies changing suppliers. It’s about suppliers changing manufacturers. I come back to the old saying ‘together many raindrops make an ocean...’

This action will divert single-use plastic from going into the environment and circle it back as a totally new product. It will help to eliminate tens of thousands, if not millions, of tons of plastic ending up in our oceans and in our natural world each year. The effects of plastic on the environment will start to slow down. It’s action that we take together, as a united cleaning industry, that will have the real power behind it. We urge everyone in the industry to stand together, with one voice, and one vision, and work together to make this happen.


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