Everywhere you turn, corporations, cities, and even whole countries are joining the war against the single use plastic filling our oceans and landfills. According to a report from the United Nations, by July of 2018, 127 countries had implemented some type of policy regulating plastic bags. 27 countries had also restricted or banned other single-use plastics, which the U.N. defines as “items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.”
The issue has even surpassed climate change in public awareness. According to a March 2019 survey by Shelton Group, 65% of US consumers surveyed expressed feeling “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about plastics in the ocean. Only 58% felt the same level of concern about climate change.
Consumer pressure has become a powerful driver of positive change, and experts are encouraging companies to act both swiftly and thoughtfully by moving away from the ‘single-use’ of plastic to models which ensure the complete recovery of plastic for reuse and recycling. The problem is not the material, but rather its disposal, and the alarms for change should not accidentally confuse the two. Eric Solheim, Head of United Nations Environment said it best in his foreword in the U.N.’s Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability, “Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it. And that means the onus is on us to be far smarter in how we use this miracle material.”
The circular economy experts at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation draw a similar conclusion in their 2019 publication Reuse: Rethinking Packaging, stating “Reusable packaging is a critical part of the solution to eliminate plastic pollution.” The Foundation encourages companies to do their part by replacing single-use plastics with reusable options through their New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, through which “…over 350 organisations have recognised that, wherever relevant, reuse business models should be explored.”
From grocery store checkout lanes to distribution centers, from shopping bags to boxes, companies across the world are heeding the call from consumers, regulators, and sustainability experts to switch from single-use to reusable. This change reflects an important shift, not only in consumer expectations, but also in the way companies view their supply chain: no longer as a linear line from supplier to retailer to consumer to landfill or recycling bin, but as a circular system designed to reduce waste and do more with less.