Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II confirmed what we should have already known, that we’re flooding our oceans and killing marine life with our cast-off plastic. The numbers are horrifying:
“At least 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken the ocean is expected to contain more plastics than fish by 2050.”- Ellen Macarthur Foundation
So, now what?
Brands recognise that consumers vote with their feet and, if they don’t believe enough is being done, soon enough, their spend goes elsewhere. Government, businesses, retailers and household names all made a stand and a public commitment to take action during the course of this year. Here are some of the key milestones:
The UK government proposed a “latte levy” in a bid to curb the use of single-use take-away coffee cups and, while some environmental groups gave it less than a warm reception believing it to lack the necessary urgency, it also committed to eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Iceland became the first major UK retailer to commit to eliminating plastic packaging for all its own-brand products, pledging to go plastic-free within five years.
Asda joined the wave of supermarkets pledging to cut plastic waste with a series of measures which included reducing plastic in its own-brand packaging by 10%. Meanwhile the Church of England backed a “plastic-less Lent” campaign to reduce environmental waste.
Scientists from the State University of New York announced they had “found roughly twice as many plastic particles within bottled water” compared with their previous study of tap water, leading the World Health Organisation (WHO) to launch a health review.
The Department of Environment considered implementing a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles similar to those in other countries and Lego announced it would start making its bricks from plants.
42 Plastic Pact companies, between them responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold through UK supermarkets, promised to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic packaging by 2025.
It was confirmed that the 5p bag levy introduced in 2015 had reduced single-use bags given out by large retailers by a whopping 85%.
The European Commission proposed new EU-wide rules targeting the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear which, together, constitute 70% of all marine litter items.
McDonald's began a phased roll-out of its move away from using plastic straws across UK and Ireland, due to be completed by 2019. Meanwhile, a dead whale in Thailand was found to have 80 plastic bags weighing over 70 pounds in its stomach.
Starbucks introduced its own 'latte levy' of 5p on single-use paper cups.
Having announced that it had sold one million shoes made from plastic collected and recycled from the oceans, Adidas stepped up with a vow to use only recycled plastics in all its products by 2024.
In a bid to end what it calls “Britain's throwaway culture" the government debates doubling the cost of plastic bags to 10p.
Consumer goods giant Kraft Heinz made a stated aim to ensuring all its packaging is either recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 as it strives to become what it called “more circular.”
Carlsberg scrapped the use of plastic rings on its multipacks of beer cans opting instead use to recyclable glue and so reducing its plastic waste by more than 1,200 tonnes a year.
The Ocean Clean-up project, comprising a massive net designed to trap plastic debris, was deployed in the Pacific, having raised more than $30 million in donations and crowdfunding.
Amidst news that people in the UK throw away around 295 billion pieces of plastic every year, EU member states voted unanimously to ban single-use plastics by 2021.
Burberry, H&M, Stella McCartney, L'Oréal, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever were among those that signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, pledging to eliminate single-use and unnecessary plastic packaging, recycle and reuse any in circulation and innovate new reduction methods.
One of the country’s largest tour operators, Thomas Cook, promised to remove 70 million single-use plastics – equivalent to 3,500 suitcases full - from its resorts within the next 12 months.
Becoming part of the lexicon, “Single-use” was named 2018 Word of the Year by Collins Dictionary.
In response to a campaign by crisp-lovers who posted their empty packets back to Walkers, the company launched a packet recycling scheme and its owner PepsiCo promised to make all packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025.
2018 was definitely a year for raising consciousness and pricking consciences. There is clearly so much more that needs to be done but, with a collective will and spending wisely, we can all make a difference.