Some experts believe that by 2050 our oceans will contain more plastic than fish.
With an estimated eight million tonnes of land-based plastics ending up in the world’s oceans each year, the prediction of a catastrophic environmental impact could well become reality.
Plastic doesn’t go away – items just break into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, which eventually make their way into our food, drinking water and even the air we breathe.
A study by the University of Newcastle found we are inhaling about 2000 tiny pieces of plastic each week – an amount equivalent to the weight of a credit card.
Plastic rubbish, particularly of a single-use variety, is everywhere we work and forms a significant part of the throwaway culture that pervades many of our workplaces.
Watch one colleague drink from a single-use plastic water bottle, another sip a skinny latte from a disposable plastic cup complete with plastic lid and plastic drink stirrer.
Two team members walk in each with a plastic tray holding not just their plastic lunch box, but also a plastic soft drink bottle and plastic straw protruding from the top.
It all adds up.
Visit the office kitchen and you will find cling wrap, bin liners, plastic bowls and single-use cups.
Our overuse of plastics is not because of a lack or availability of more environmentally friendly options.
New alternatives appear on the market every day. Think bamboo straws, steel water bottles and wooden stirrers.
An increasing number of workplaces are attuned to environmental concerns associated with single-use plastics and taking steps towards using only 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable plastics.
Bosses who fail to act on reducing the wastage associated with single-use plastic will not just risk alienating customers but also fall out with employees and struggle to attract new talent.
The process of elimination
Our bosses can kick-start the process by conducting an inventory of single-use plastic items, alongside raising awareness at work of single-use plastics and the damage they cause to the environment.
Follow up by encouraging workers to talk about office wastage. Provide staff with unlimited filtered tap water, make re-usable items available in office kitchens and canteens and favour procurement from suppliers who use less plastic wrapping and packaging.
Some bosses will even encourage workers to participate in plastic detoxes, which require them to completely abstain from single-use plastic items for a period of time.
Collective workplace efforts will help to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the production of single-use plastic items and prevent many of them from making their way into landfills and oceans.
Those efforts will in turn create a ripple effect of positive change among peers and competitors, within industry and in the broader community, and help to end the age of throwaway plastic – which needs to take place today, not tomorrow.