Caught up in the cost of cheap plastic

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With the need for additional medical protection this year, levels of plastics in our oceans and waterways are set to rise exponentially. How are businesses adapting to current needs while fulfilling their sustainability mandates; and how are they looking to address the federal single-use plastics ban approaching in 2021? (CNW Group/Refresh Marketing)

CALGARY, Canada – After decades of litter pickup and recycling, a growing awareness of the global pollution crisis has concerned citizens & advocates calling for big businesses and retailers to do their part in ridding the world of single-use plastics.

From redesigned packaging to eliminating plastic bags, environmental advocates are looking to end the runaway use of disposable plastic. To that end, it’s time to have an honest conversation about our garbage problem, & ask the nation’s retailers: “What is the price you are willing to pay for pollution?”

Single-Use Plastic: An epidemic

Natural Resources Defense Council, an activist group fighting environmental threats, points out that our throwaway culture produces over 300 million tons of plastic annually, with half devoted to single-use plastics, and only nine percent recycled. These plastics typically fall through the recycling cracks or are lost to the environment as litter.

The bulk of the remaining 91 percent ends up in landfills, much of which migrates to our groundwater, waterways and tributaries, eventually reaching oceans. This vicious cycle leads to the chore of cleaning the oceans, which is both difficult & incredibly expensive. When reaching groundwater, these plastics pollute drinking water with microplastics and are impossible to remove. Plastic waste must instead be managed at the source.

COVID-19: A world pandemic

2020 promises to dramatically increase discarded plastics due to the use of personal protection equipment, or PPEs. By how much? One well known Canadian foodservice chain alone has forecasted 93 million pairs of gloves to be used just this year. Clearly, the amount of plastic destined for the nation’s waterways and landfills will see a staggering increase.

Valuable healthcare workers need appropriate protection; thus disposable products, but this flexibility cannot be afforded big-box retailers, grocery stores, and fast food businesses using plastic as a cost-cutting measure.

A new alternative

A viable alternative exists, but businesses are reluctant to make the switch. According to data released by the plastic industry, it costs approximately three cents for a plastic grocery bag, while a compostable bag typically costs between eight cents and a dime. As the public decries the devastation wrought by plastic pollution, compounded by the addition of PPEs, it’s troubling that retailers seem unwilling to alleviate the environmental damage caused by rampant disposable plastics.

Why? According to many, the desire to maintain corporate profits stands at the heart of this inaction.

The profit perspective

The owner of compostable bags supplier, Refresh Packaging, notes that retailers are slow to switch due to cost concerns. Specifically, businesses choose their short-term profits over the long-term cost of environmental damage, while missing valuable advantages to this socially-conscious switch. If they instead fulfill their sustainability policies with front-of-store changes, patrons will recognize the positive impact. Happy customers are loyal customers, and the more positive your brand perception, the more potential revenue for the business.

“The crazy part is that consumers care and appreciate healthier options even if they pay a few cents more on their end. We’ve had individuals approach us directly wanting cases of our bags for their own personal use because they like them so much. And we see time & time again the excitement a category manager has when they find out how great our products are but then refuse to make the switch because it costs a few cents more.”

Consumers, although willing to chip in, only have the option to choose from what they are offered, despite calling for better alternatives. Increasingly, the question being asked by a frustrated buying public is “What is the price you are willing to pay for pollution?”

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