The War on Plastic: How have companies adapted globally?

By now most people are aware of the climate crisis our planet is facing. With sea levels rising, plastics mounting, fossil fuels depleting, and our water pollution increasing, it is no wonder there is a demand for sustainable and green services and products. From electric cars, plastic-free food packaging and sustainable fashion, the want for sustainable and green products or services spans across most markets and audiences. 

A vast amount of companies are making changes to accommodate new social views and awareness on plastics such as McDonald's changing their McFlurry packaging to eliminate plastic in the UK. However, it is laws and regulations on plastics, like the 2018 microbead ban in cosmetics products, that will inevitably see more companies become green and sustainable. 



Knowing the laws: 

There are new laws and regulations being passed each month as countries try to reduce their plastic waste. It sounds obvious but knowing the sustainable laws within a country is important as products and services, marketing and designs may have to be changed or altered to fit within these laws.

 For countries such as India, there are state-specific bans on the manufacture, supply, storage and use of plastics already in place in at least 25 of the country’s 29 states, with Mumbai becoming the country’s largest city to implement a complete ban on single-use plastics. This ban has not only impacted on small businesses within Mumbai but large companies such as McDonalds and Starbucks who are not exempt from the large £52 fine for using, buying and selling plastic bags. To adapt to these changes McDonald's has changed their plastic cutlery to wooden and now use paper cups and corn starch straws. 

There are also tight bans on single-use plastic in Africa. Thirty-four African nations are fighting against single-use plastics and fourteen countries have banned plastic bags altogether, including Kenya that has a four-year prison sentence for anyone selling buying or even carrying a plastic bag. 

Other countries including Chile, China and Morocco all have large fines for businesses that are caught using, buying or selling plastic bags outside of the country's laws. 

These laws will impact differently on different industries. For example, plastic bans will affect how e-commerce sites package their products. Hotel companies and airlines have started to reduce their single-use plastic consumption too. While many hotels and airlines have already reduced, or completely stopped, their plastic straw usage, hotel chain Marriott International has started to introduce shower-product dispersers in their bathrooms to cut down on plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles.  


Anticipating change:

On top of knowing the current laws on plastics within countries, companies should be aware of the potential laws or bans in their current and potential markets, so they can anticipate change and adapt quickly.

For example, countries such as Sweden, one of the most sustainable countries in the world, already has strict rules and views on plastics. In July 2018 they banned microplastics/ microbeads which were found in products such as toothpaste and exfoliant. This ban allowed the cosmetic industry until January 2019, five months, to sell off their existing microplastic based products. Although bans like this have forced companies to redesign their products, business strategy and shape, they have also opened gaps in markets allowing new companies to grow and be innovative. 

Companies such as Boots banned microplastics in their products and any products they sold back in 2017, meaning they weren't impacted by the ban to the extent of companies who weren’t prepared for the. Boots have also recently gained a lot of positive media attention by aiming to swap plastic carrier bags for brown paper bags by early 2020. This will stop over forty million Boots plastic bags going to landfill per year, reducing over 900 tonnes of single-use plastic.

Knowing an audience:

Even if there are no laws or bans regarding plastics in a country, companies should know their audiences’ views on plastic. Are plastic-free products important to the audience? Is it something they look for in a product? Are other companies offering plastic-free products or is there absence in the market? Understanding an audience's environment will also help understand their views on plastics. For example, India’s ban on plastics was not only implemented to help the environment but also to prevent the spread of diseases. In places of heavy waste, there are usually more mosquitoes, flies and other animals that spread diseases which increases the levels of illness. 

Goats in a pile of waste in India

Goats in a pile of waste in India

To understand a country’s view on sustainability, a company should look beyond their laws and regulations because these don’t always represent the views of the general public. Companies should know their audience well enough to understand their consumption of plastic. How expensive are the plastic alternatives? Are plastic alternatives as good quality? Are there overriding problems the country is facing which may put aside the problems of plastic consumption? An audience's values, social and political, will influence how they consume plastic and what their views are, or will be, on plastic alternatives.

Every country and culture has different views on plastics and sustainability. For example, in the US it is young people and children who are more invested in ‘buying green’ and are the ones who are influencing the older generation. This is because there is more information about sustainability in the US targeted in schools and online, places where children and young people are influenced. As these children and young people grow up and are able to make their own purchases, the demand for sustainable and green products/ services will only increase. In the US, the older generation is more indifferent when it comes to buying or using sustainable products.  

However, in Canada, it is both the young and older generation who are demanding green products/services. This increases the age range of the audience who are consuming sustainable products and therefore increases the overall demand. This means non-sustainable companies entering the market could be faced with competitors that are sustainable and therefore are more preferable to the Canadian market. 

Knowing competitors:

As well as knowing all of the above, companies should also be aware of what the competition in other countries are doing regarding sustainability and plastics. If lots of other competitors are moving to plastic alternatives, then there may be a pressure or expectation for other companies entering the market to do the same. For example, the UK coffee shop chain, Boston Tea Party has stopped giving their take-away coffees in single-use cups. Instead, customers are prompted to bring their own cup, buy one or use the company’s cup deposit scheme. This has put pressure on other international coffee shop chains such as Starbucks and Costa to do the same. 

What does this mean? 

Overall, the need and want for plastic-free products is only going to increase as more people become educated on the problems plastics cause. The want for accessible and affordable alternatives will also increase, as at the moment plastic alternatives are more expensive than plastics, making plastic-free products pricey in comparison.

 Every company will pursue plastic alternatives in different ways based on their industry, size, mission,  markets and countries of growth. They will have varying levels of resources available to them allowing them to become more sustainable, for example, the money to make the changes, sustainable suppliers or the research available to find plastic alternatives. Therefore, not all companies will be able to improve their sustainability at the same pace or at the same level. A company's rate of progressions may not be the same in every country.  

The new views on plastics shouldn't just be seen as restrictions, but also global opportunities. New markets have emerged with new and exciting needs and wants from customers. Businesses worldwide have the opportunity to be innovative when entering new markets and when growing in their existing ones. 

The new views on plastics shouldn't just be seen as restrictions, but also global opportunities. New zero-waste/ zero-plastic markets are emerging worldwide with new and exciting needs and wants from customers. Global and expanding businesses have the opportunity to be innovative when entering new markets and when growing in their existing ones. Businesses worldwide have the opportunity to be innovative when entering new markets and when growing in their existing ones. 

Being a sustainable company is not always about being perfect straight away, it is about going towards making the necessary changes in order to successfully target a market within their laws, views, restrictions and bans. As well as making and developing changes to target audiences and pursue growth, companies should also be making these changes to create a better brand image and overall for the benefit of the planet.