"The cure for anything is salt water; sweat, tears or the sea."
We often talk about the healing power of the ocean – and yet as a race, we're not really holding up our side of the bargain when it comes to protecting this precious resource.
Plastic pollution is having a devastating effect on the sea and the wildlife that lives within it. At current rates, plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the ocean by 2050.
As responsible retailers, we cannot avoid the fact that ecommerce is a contributing factor to oceanic pollution. This article will explore the issue, and some of the ways we can start to try to turn things around.
Plastic & The Oceans: A Wave Of Destruction
Right, we're going to start with the sobering stuff... (Source)
In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000.
Studies estimate there are now 15–51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans - and every year, billions more pounds are added.
Not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution.
Terrifying. So where's all this plastic coming from?
Largely, as you'd suspect, the plastic directly entering our seas is coming from single-use items. Food and beverage wrappers are the worst culprits, followed by bottle and container caps, plastic bags and straws.
A Huge (Tiny) Problem
However, the issue runs deeper than these "poster boys" of pollution. In addition to the "throwaway' pieces of plastic that we're accustomed to associating with pollution, there's the huge issue of micro-plastics - the tiny pieces of degraded plastic invisible to the naked eye and less than 5mm in size. Levels are constantly increasing as larger pieces of plastic breaks down, and they are incredibly problematic when it comes to removal from the water, entering the food chain and sediment.
Headed For The Sea
Additionally, it's important to consider the issue of "ocean bound plastics."
31.9 million metric tons per year of waste generated within coastal regions (this is defined as within 50 km of the coastline) is categorized as mismanaged. This means that it's at high risk of ending in the ocean.
Ocean bound plastics include things like packaging that ends up in coastal or island-based landfill, which can easily leak to the sea as it degrades and breaks down.
How Can The Circular Economy Help?
So far, so depressing. What can ecommerce retailers do to help ensure they're not adding to the issue? The secret really lies in closing up resource loops as much as possible - as ever, reduce, reuse, recycle needs to remain our core mantra.
Keeping waste to an absolute minimum, by making informed choices about the materials we use for packaging and getting creative (and crucially, proactive) about the way that we (or our customers) can reuse them is key to success here.
Some Inspiration For You...
Although they came under some greenwashing flack for using the slightly misleading moniker of "ocean plastic" (suggesting it had actively been removed from the sea) SC Johnson launched a bottle making use of ocean-bound plastic.
Replacing the traditional plastic with paper, Who Gives A Crap are a great example of a brand that has ensured all of their packaging is recyclable and they've put a heap of thought into the finer details!
Here's a section from their FAQs -
"We've done a lot of thinking about our packaging. We need to wrap rolls to keep them moisture free and hygienic - unfortunately we can’t just put them in a cardboard box unwrapped. We looked at wrapping in paper six packs and worked out that this is not easy to do, and our total paper-saving would be less than 0.95%. Thinking about other ways to reduce our overall paper usage, we realised that we could make around about a 0.95% saving by reducing the length of each sheet of our regular rolls by 1mm, and our double length rolls by just 0.5mm! So we chose to reduce our sheet length slightly and package rolls individually instead.
We also love the idea of using the wrapping on every roll to help spread the word about the bottoms-up revolution we’re trying to achieve. Plus, we think we’ve managed to craft some damn sexy toilet paper!"
The transparency and honesty here is amazing - and we love that they're using their packaging as a medium to spread their message of positive impact and sustainability! You can read more about utilising your packaging as a way of communicating your message in our Sustainable Packaging & Shipping MindfulGuide, in a great chapter from the guys at noissue.
Beyond doing all this, WGAC also use their social media accounts to share the creative ways that their customers reuse the colourful, joyful paper their loo roll comes wrapped up in - from ball gowns to dinosaurs! Some of their limited edition packaging runs are even designed to be reused from the outset - like this toy theatre! So cute.
We also love the approach taken by innovative brewery SaltWater, who removed plastic from their six packs and created a new plant-based packaging element that would actually feed sea creatures, instead of harming them! This fills our hearts with happiness.
As these brands show, the key to keeping plastic out of our seas is:
A. Not using plastic in the first place - wherever possible!
B. Keeping the plastic we do use in useful circulation, avoiding degradation and it entering our oceans.
Sensing A Sea Change...
At MindfulCommerce, we have a close connection to the sea (our founders are hardly ever out of it!) Krissie and Rich are keen surfers and being in the water is a huge part of both of their lives.
"The sea is everything to me, my time in the ocean has seen me through many milestones in my life. Going to university just so I could join the surf team and write my dissertation on outdoor sports - in particular, surfing as a therapy after recognising it changed my outlook on life so much, I knew it had the power to help others.
The sea helps me through tough times, gives me self confidence, it gives me "the fear", happiness, friends, perspective, time and laughter. When I think about it, many things in my life wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the sea (including meeting Rich).
The waves just seem to wash everything away and bring the good times. When you're in the sea, there's no time to think about anything else but the there and now. Not forgetting ocean life - the magical moments when a seal pops up in front of you to say hello or dolphins surf the waves with you, nothing else matters <3
Thank you, sea. I will forever protect you, just like you protect us."
As a result of our love of the ocean, we wanted to give back in a way that had a direct impact. Because of this, we support a great local group called Wave Rangers, who help empower young people to get out into nature and help the environment at the same time through various schemes and projects.
"The Wave Rangers Project is not only close to my heart because a dear friend of mine runs the project, but it's beneficial to the environment, the children AND the volunteers involved! The individuals benefit from being immersed in nature, learning about the environment and feel good about helping to fight climate change. It's something they can feel proud to be part of, meet new friends and get a huge boost in self worth and fulfilment, all whilst getting some exercise in, too! Plus, Sarah's dog Tango is great company on their adventures!"
How You Can Help As An Ecommerce Retailer
The issue of ocean plastic isn't going away, and although it is the food and beverage sector that's creating the biggest negative impact, there's still a real need for the rest of the ecommerce businesses to take responsibility for the part they play in the problem.
Rethink your packaging options, with the goal of:
plastic elements (or switching to bio-plastics that will harmlessly compost)
packaging after use
customers to reuse packaging
Reclaiming and recycling
any plastic elements to keep them within useful circulation
The circular economy encourages us to respect and preserve resources - closing resource loops and keeping the materials that we do require in productive, active use.
Beyond addressing your own packaging, by supporting MindfulCommerce (for example, with a directory listing! Or joining the community) we'll be able to keep up our own support of amazing ocean-friendly organisations like Wave Rangers!