As Sky launches their Ocean Rescue campaign, Liam Dowd, managing director of Ethical Corporation, reflects on how we can help take action

It’s encouraging to see Sky launch this campaign. Coupled with the announcements from P&G and Unilever regarding their efforts to tackle plastic waste, hopefully the public will become more aware of this increasing environmental risk that we face.

The focus of the evening was the airing of Sky’s A Plastic Tide documentary. And, as to be expected, it’s an engaging and well produced piece that will surely get the attention of the general public. But, encouragingly, they also provided some easy-to-follow statistics that help hammer home the message of why it’s an important cause to all of us:

  •     Between 4.8 - 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year. And plastic accounts for 95% of the rubbish in our oceans

  •     90% of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs

  •     By the end of this century, a human could expect a build-up of up to 4,000 pieces of micro-plastic in their body per year

  •     It’s estimated that Britain could double the number of plastic bottles it recycles by adding a small deposit charge – similar to that in Norway and Germany

These are just some of the headline figures used in the documentary program and on the Ocean Rescue website.

So what can we do? An expert panel discussed this question at the launch night and, at times, it was the usual merry-go-round of pointing to another group. But, to have a real impact, we all have a part to play.

1.     Education – Sky has taken a bold step to campaign on this issue across its TV and online channels. This can only increase the public’s awareness. The key is to sustain this messaging and also offer ideas on how we, as consumers, can change our behaviour. For all our good intentions we know that to have the best chance of success we need to make it easy for consumers to know how and where to change their habits. At Ethical Corporation we will be looking to educate our community through sharing the latest best practice and initiatives by corporates. We’ll be doing this through our magazine and website analysis and also issue-based sessions at our events.

2.     Innovation – As already highlighted, some leading brands are looking to create a world we can recycle and find a replacement for plastic. P&G is looking to work with TerraCycle and Suez to develop packaging that is made from up to 25% recycled beach plastic. We have been long-time admirers of Interface’s work with ZSL in their development of carpet tiles made from recycled fishing nets. And Unilever has recently committed to using plastic packaging that will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. One would hope this is just the beginning of many more innovative announcements and developments.

3.     Regulation – There needs to be clear government incentives and legislation that encourages a long-term view of packaging. There was a significant back and forth debate about the benefits of introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). What’s strikingly obvious is that if such schemes work in Norway, California and Germany then other governments should at least run trial programs. Another measure governments should make is to offer subsidies on products made from recycled plastics. This would bring the costs down of repurposing waste plastic to a level that’s more competitive. At the same time companies would be helping remove plastic from our oceans as part of their sourcing operations.

4.     Collaboration – As indicated throughout this piece, there is a requirement for different stakeholders to collaborate to help achieve an impactful change. However, many schemes in silo will have limited impact. Increasingly, as part of our work on The Responsible Business Summit Europe, we’re seeing more and more organisations create larger scale alliances that have cross-industry scope and impact. Such alliances are required for us to have a real impact on this global risk

Although plastic waste is out of sight for many, it is a big threat to our environment and health. We all need to increase our efforts to help tackle this problem and I commend Sky for their announcement this week. I look forward to watching this campaign evolve.