Published on October 24th 2019 by Dare Ilori, Group Head of Sustainability
Has the plastic greenwashing gone too far?
I could not remember anything that happened to me before I was 5 years old, however, I remember that at age 6, I was ill and had injection which was given to me using a plastic syringe. A plastic syringe and a needle delivered the medication that helped my recovery.
Today as an adult in the field of sustainability, I am fully aware of the anti-plastic campaign especially after a fantastic documentary The Blue Planet by Sir David Attenborough. Then I said to myself, how could a product that helped my recovery decades ago becomes the evil of our generation? I will leave you to come up with your own answer, however, in my opinion, it is not the evil of our generation, it has made our lives better but we have failed to plan for its sustainable end of life and/or circularity.
This week I was speaking to a colleague at work and I asked how many people watched The Blue Planet series, felt bad about how we are damaging our oceans and are still not recycling plastics even where facilities are available? My colleague agreed it is a big possibility. As humans we need to turn our emotions into practical solutions as opposed to practical noise and/or playing to the gallery.
Rightly, companies have replaced plastic products where there are suitable alternatives, however, companies should not jump on the wrong wagon. Companies should avoid a “dieselgate” trap. The trap of buying a diesel vehicle because it has a “lower carbon emission” than petrol vehicles. However, it comes at a price of air pollution. We need to assess the environmental impact of any alternative to plastics.
In 2018, a UK company announced an initiative to change their plastic straws to biodegradable ones. This is a good example of greenwashing, biodegradable plastics are as bad if not worse for our oceans. I honestly believe that the company wanted to do the right thing for the environment, however, the decision was wrong. It is not a secret that replacing plastics with most common alternatives like glass and aluminium increases the carbon emission that has a devastating impact on our planet. Some marketing spin doctors are advertising alternatives to plastics, be careful not to jump from “frying pan to fire”.
Conclusively, it is important the we avoid the use of plastic where holistic alternatives are available, however, I am not convinced that the world has discovered a holistic alternatives to most plastic applications. Hence, it is importantly that we invest in education to support behavioural change, waste recycling and circularity programmes. Remember, a plastic is not a single use if collected, recycled and reused again and again.