How Small Business Can Change Their Relationship with Plastic

by Edgar R. Olivo

There is no doubt plastics have changed the course of history and that they impact the environment. Since 1950, humans have produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics. That is a lot of plastic! Geologists say this amount of plastic will create a geological indicator on the surface of the Earth the same way we see markings on the surface of exposed mountains that tell us about different eras over the history of the planet. And it is set to quadruple by 2050! Let that sink in for a minute.

This year, five trillion plastic bags will be consumed around the world. That is 160,000 plastic bags a second. Plastic has been a popular material because it is flexible, lightweight and strong. That makes it ideal for packaging, which is its largest use.

We all need to drink water and here is a staggering fact about our containers: There are a million plastic bottles purchased every single minute around the country. And 500 billion disposable cups are used every year. Remember the discussions in the media about straws? Think about this: Every day, more than a billion plastic straws are used for 20 minutes or less and then tossed in the trash bin. Luckily, a lot of research and innovation is happening every day.

And finally, sometimes we do not even think about our everyday products because we take them for granted. But here is one final fact to share with you: Roughly 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold worldwide each year, most of which end up in a landfill or as plastic pollution in the natural environment.

So, what can small businesses do to change their relationship with plastic? It seems like a big problem to solve, and small businesses can do something about it. Here are six tips to help you start.

  1. Remove personal trash bins. Remove individual trash bins from desks, offices and conference rooms. This sounds inconvenient; however, it can lead to better disposal habits. Even well-meaning intentions are not always fulfilled; so, by removing personal bins, you can focus disposal behavior to a more central, or several, clearly defined recycling points that everyone can share. This will also give you a realistic idea of what your company’s plastic consumption is actually like.
  2. Request zero plastic options. When ordering office supplies, or even other business-critical items like food containers, try to always ask for zero-plastic and polystyrene-free options for packaging. In today’s market, there are many options to choose from, like biodegradables and compostable solutions. It may cost a little more, but you will find that it is possible to work with suppliers to meet your plastic-free goals.
  3. Ditch those disposable food and drink items. We all like convenience but, as we learned earlier, convenience is costing us more than just a few cents here and there. When reasonable, implement a reusable policy by replacing utensils, mugs or cups with glass or metals as part of your work culture. Just make sure everyone takes turns doing the dishes, too.
  4. Be selective about plastic. It might feel inevitable to avoid plastic all together, but plastic does have some benefits over other materials. Try to be selective about what plastic you will need based on how long you will need it and what your options are. Glass, wood, fabric and metal can all have limited uses, too.
  5. Consider pre-owned equipment. Buying new comes with a significant amount of plastic waste, and sometimes this is not always necessary. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tons of reusable furniture is sent to landfills, but we can send less by purchasing pre-owned equipment like furniture, electronics and more. If you are planning to upgrade equipment, also consider donating. You never know who you can help along the way.

Bonus Tip: Audit regularly. We are all guilty of getting into consumerist habits. Sometimes, we buy things for the sake of buying rather than considering whether or not there are ecologically superior or more cost-efficient options available.

Openly talk with your team about how to develop a better relationship with the materials we use daily, like plastic. Developing good habits early will go a long way and get you closer to your going green goals. Take a moment to explore the Going Green and Going Smart Program to learn how you can transform your small business by joining the #GreenBizAZ movement. This initiative aims to educate small-business owners in sustainable business practices for a cleaner, greener future in Arizona.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.

Para la versión en español de este artículo, haga clic aquí.

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