It’s hard to deny, modern businesses are all wrapped up in plastic. From the keyboards we use to type emails and invoices, to the promotional materials we create and distribute, to the furniture and supplies we purchase for our offices, plastics are ubiquitous.
It’s easy to say, “My business is too small to make a difference,” or “Change is too costly and burdensome,” but systemic change starts with just one decision, and customers increasingly reward responsible brands with their dollars and loyalty. It might be worth taking a closer look at how your business is using plastic.
Here are a few reasons to reconsider your professional relationship with plastic:
- Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It can take up to 1,000 years for a piece of plastic to break down. Most plastic products are made to last a lifetime, yet the majority of plastic items are used only once and then discarded. All told, Americans throw away enough plastic each year to encircle the Earth four times over.
- It’s a health hazard. Many plastics leach toxins which have been shown to cause birth defects, cancer and other serious ailments in humans. Not to mention the hazards plastics pose to marine and terrestrial wildlife.
- Plastic contributes to climate change. Hundreds of millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the production, use and incineration of plastic products each year. Plastics are largely petroleum or natural gas based, so any effort to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels should include a focus on eliminating plastics.
There’s more to the story, but these three reasons illustrate the impact of plastics on both an individual and global scale. So, what is a business to do?
- Conduct an audit. No matter what type of business you are running, you can take a good look at where plastics feature in your operations. Where are your employees using plastic products to get their work done? Are you distributing plastic items as part of your marketing efforts, or relying on vendors that make heavy use of plastics in their processes? Go through your operations and business functions systematically and take note of the presence of plastic.
- Reduce single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are everywhere. In the restaurant world they turn up in the form of straws and tableware. In the hospitality sector we find toiletries and complimentary water bottles that are designed to be used and tossed. In retail stores signage, gift cards and packaging are often used for a very limited time and then discarded. Identify where single-use plastics are playing a role in your business and consider alternative products made of rapidly renewable resources wherever possible.
- Bag it. Plastic bags are a major culprit when it comes to environmental degradation and don’t necessarily give you the biggest bang for your buck. A plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes before it is thrown away and tens of thousands of plastic bags find their way into our oceans every day, wreaking havoc on marine life and contaminating the water with chemical components. Offer your customers bags made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper or, better yet, invest in responsibly made fabric bags with your logo that can be used over and over again.
- Promote your choices. Regardless of how you address plastics in your business, be sure to talk about what you’re doing with your vendors, employees, customers, investors and peers. Spreading the word can improve your public image and may inspire others to think differently about how they use plastics as well.