By Matt Ellis
Last June, the United Nations launched an environmental campaign called Beat Plastic Pollution. Shortly after, EcoWatch branded it as “one of the coolest social media campaigns since the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.” The push to reduce the use of plastic may not be as popular as the ALS campaign, but it has attracted a number of celebrities who are promoting the cause, among them: actress Alice Eve, the Terminator (and former Governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady.
In a video posted online with the hashtag #beatplasticpollution, Brady looked directly into the camera and said, “It’s time to team up and commit to beating plastic pollution. There is a simple step everyone can take to tackle this big issue right away,” and he continued, holding up blue and green plastic straws, “No more single use plastic straws. The effect of these little guys is posing a huge health risk to our planet. The next time you see a plastic straw like this, just say no.”
The ubiquitous beverage straw has become a powerful symbol of a grave problem, largely because of another viral video, this one showing an oceanographer removing a straw from a sea turtle’s nose. It’s estimated more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans and 26 million pounds of plastic is put into US landfills each year. The UN campaign and others are prompting people to reconsider how they use plastic. Businesses and institutions are following suit.
On July 1, 2018, the city of Seattle imposed a ban on the use of plastic straws and utensils in bars and restaurants, following the lead of San Francisco and London, among others. New York City is currently considering a ban. In an opinion article he wrote for USA Today, City Councilman Rafael Espinal, who introduced the legislation, pointed out, “We know that current recycling methods will not suffice: Only 9 percent of all plastics are recycled. Leaving it up to individual corporations is far too risky; we must take action now to compel a large-scale change in behavior.”
Still, the business community is stepping up. Samantha DeMagistris, an Account Director for AffinEco – and a certified Sustainability Facility Professional – has noticed many companies implementing food waste recycling programs to reduce the amount of material going into their waste stream. In Massachusetts, the Department of Environmental Protection has instituted regulations that ban businesses and institutions from disposing of food and other organic wastes if their output is more than one ton of these materials per week.
“This has helped clients save money by cutting back on landfill fees. Companies that have composting programs tend to buy less plastic cutlery and dishes that tend to go into the waste. Instead, they focus on buying items that are compostable,” DeMagistris said. “Having a compost program in place can also reduce the amount of time a cleaner spends emptying and disposing of waste, which allows them to focus on other areas of cleaning, such as vacuuming floors and sanitizing surface areas.”
Reducing plastic and increasing composting is gaining popularity among large and small companies. The Big Four accounting firm KPMG has banned plastic cups in all of its offices in the UK, in response to a call from its staff to be more environmentally friendly. The global firm’s first step was to remove all plastic cups from its Manchester, England office. Staff members were provided with reusable water bottles instead of using and disposing of 150,000 plastic cups each year. This month, the firm expanded the effort across all its UK offices. It’s estimated the effort will not only reduce plastic waste, but will also save KPMG $78,000 annually.
Recently, the New York fashion designer Nicole Miller sent a memo to her staff to tell them the company had a plan to eliminate plastic waste: by using refillable cups instead of throwaways.
Miller told Women’s Wear Daily, “I was very frustrated by the huge pile of plastic cups in the recycle bin every night. I got on everyone’s case about bringing their own coffee cups and cold drink cups.”
According to DeMagistris, AffinEco offers yearly recycling audits, LEED-compliant waste audits, and assistance with LEED credit reporting “to help clients achieve their sustainable goals.” It’s a sign of a changing corporate culture, fueled by employees who want to make a difference, and companies that are realizing green alternatives can reduce costs while fulfilling a corporate responsibility.
image courtesy of medwet