Can we truly turn the tide?



The same week we hear that the UK Government is seeking views on proposals to ban plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds we also hear that for the first time micro plastics, that are so prolific in the environment, have been found in humans.


It’s hardly a surprise. These miniscule particles of plastic are everywhere and will continue to be indefinitely. That’s the nature of plastic. Longevity is one of its main selling points.


But it is the spotlight that has been shone upon the plastics situation, the graphic images of entangled sea life, of tropical island paradises awash with bottles and packets, of huge rafts of plastic covering giant swathes of the ocean, that has finally woken us up.


It has been interesting to observe this awakening. It’s not like the problem has only just arrived. It’s that the message has been communicated in a different way. In a way that speaks to far more people than the usual suspects. The plastic problem has gone mainstream.


My day to day life is full of small, often growing companies doing amazing things, creating brilliant products and putting the environment first as they do so. These small businesses, often run from a kitchen table, with a team of 2 or 3 are the innovators. They are looking for new, environmentally friendly ways to package their products, for ingredients that will replace damaging ones, for alternatives to non-recyclables and disposables. The vast majority do so on the tiniest budget, lucky to make any profit at all in the first few years. Their drive to do it the right way making the sacrifices worth it.


Meanwhile the big guys keep on going. The ones with the budget to innovate and research, to source alternatives, they keep churning out the quantity, business as usual. Spending thousands and thousands on clever marketing campaigns to demonstrate how they are playing their part in the latest environmental issue, rarely changing what they actually do at all. Pushed only to make changes when legislation dictates.


It is absurd that big or small, we all live on the same planet, our children, their children, their grandchildren will all share the same future. Yet despite making money enough to play an incredibly significant part in creating a positive version of the future for planet earth, the effort to stretch their minds, change practices, seems to be too much for the majority of the major players to do. It is shameful.


For us as consumers, the plastics campaign, which still has many, many more twists and turns ahead of it, is proof that raising awareness on a magnificent scale can bring about change in the mainstream. It is a lesson to all of us working in the sustainability and environment field that we need to tell the story in a way that speaks to all demographics. It is also a lesson to all of us that our power as consumers carries significant weight. But that we need to be aware of the problem before we can have any real impact. Living with our ears and eyes truly open to the world around us, asking questions even when sometimes its easier to turn a blind eye, is a big first step.