If we're to tackle the plastic crisis, it's important for us all to better understand our own plastic footprint. South Pole's plastic stewardship journey allows companies to measure their plastic emissions and take steps to reduce the volume and types of plastics they are using, before mitigating the unavoidable waste.
Here's what the plastic stewardship journey looks like and the concrete actions you can take to stay on top of your plastics mission today.
For most companies, it's not yet possible to eliminate plastics altogether. Even companies that do not sell plastic products directly usually use plastics in their operations, logistics and offices. This makes sense: plastic is a lightweight, hygienic and low-CO2 material.
Whatever kind or volume of plastic waste, it can and should still be mitigated. A first step here is to measure your plastic footprint: this allows you to understand which types of plastic packaging you and your suppliers are using, and their end-of-life scenarios in the countries where these plastics become waste. This means a plastic footprint will give you an insight into the volumes of plastic that are recycled, landfilled, incinerated, exported, dumped or not collected in countries where the lack of infrastructure makes this plastic waste a danger to the environment.
Using these insights, South Pole can provide recommendations on how to mitigate the plastic inside your company's value chain: setting out what actions your company can take to reduce leakage-prone plastics, phase out toxic or non-recyclable types, or engage your suppliers to address plastic hotspots globally. It is important that your company first looks inwards and corrects the types and volumes of plastics that are within your sphere of influence: whether through direct control or through collaboration with partners in your value chain.
The portion of plastics that is still unavoidable can be mitigated through the purchase of plastic credits – transferable units that enable companies to finance credible plastic action transparently and help build collection and recycling infrastructure where it's needed most. With each plastic credit purchased, a company can fund the collection or recycling of 1 tonne of plastic waste that would otherwise have been left in the environment. Bentley, for example, the UK-based luxury car manufacturer, is financing plastic waste collection activities in India and Thailand after measuring its global plastic footprint.
Baselining your company's plastic footprint is important so you can make decisions on re-design and understand where to invest in plastic collection and/or recycling infrastructure
Plastic credits are crucial because they keep important plastic waste collection and recycling projects running; they expand their infrastructure and pay their workers fair salaries as well as other social benefits. This contributes directly to protecting the environment from damaging plastic waste.
South Pole is developing a global portfolio of collection and recycling projects certified under the future-proof and transparent Verra Plastic Waste Reduction standard. Under this standard, projects undergo a thorough certification process including public consultation, proof of additional impact, continuous monitoring and cyclical third-party audits to make sure the impact is real and additional to the business-as-usual scenario.
By buying the equivalent volume of credits to compensate for the non-processed plastic waste from its operations and for its microplastic emissions in 2021, Bentley achieved the 2021 'Net Zero Plastic to Nature' label, a first step on its plastic stewardship journey.
Example pathway for a company to attain the 'Net Zero Plastic to Nature' label.
Disclosure of material, and especially of plastic usage, is becoming more and more important, irrespective of industry. With the signing of the global treaty to end plastic pollution in early 2022, governments around the world agreed to make action to combat plastic pollution mandatory. Being transparent about the types and volumes of plastics your company is using is expected to become part and parcel of everyday business – especially given the growing public pressure to offer sustainable packaging.
Undergoing a plastic stewardship journey is therefore highly recommended for all industries: measure your footprint, understand how to mitigate this footprint and support the establishment and maintenance of collection and recycling infrastructure. A South Pole action label can then help you to communicate your progress and ambitions effectively to your consumers.