Twenty-two locations, all five gyres, 10 years of sweat and passion to bring it over the finish line: It’s November 2016 and we’re helping with the screening of the first self-funded, big, powerful documentary A Plastic Ocean in London with a wingspan to match the magnificent albatrosses that grace its cameras.
David Attenborough is in the front row. But to be honest, it’s not a hot-cake seller. A film about plastic pollution? Already bored? Hmmm. Frede and I are watching the flyers stack up from the copier. Reuse, Refuse, Recycle. You can’t show a film like that without giving people a solution, a call to action. But the 3Rs suddenly looked totally inadequate to us. Worse, they looked like BS. You see this incredible film. You walk out the door, into your supermarket, you return with your bags full of plastic packaging. Every single item is wrapped in it. At home, you strip it off, and suddenly, it’s become your responsibility! We believe people are hungry for solutions, they don’t want to be part of the problem anymore!
We never used those flyers. Instead we started a rollercoaster journey that is now 1 year old. We decided to create a new kind of social impact business; not another charity but something that used all our entrepreneurial experience, our communications and brand building skills to empower the public to be part of the solution. A Plastic Planet (APP) has just one goal – to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap. To stop using plastic for food and drink packaging because it is fundamentally the wrong use of this miraculous material and environmentally responsible alternatives already exist.
But what about recycling plastic? Isn’t that the answer? A single number convinced us that a dramatically more radical and urgent response is critical. 9%. Of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste produced since the 1950s, only 9% has ever been recycled. Recycling simply delays plastic’s journey to the bin and from there, to landfill or our oceans. Not only that, but food-contaminated plastic packaging is valueless so that it is only ever down-cycled or incinerated. We are also producing so much plastic that recycling simply cannot keep up. In 1950, we produced 2 million tonnes. In 1955, a LIFE magazine shows a family surrounded by a constellation of plastic items with the strapline ‘Throwaway living! Disposable items cut down on household chores!’ For the intervening 60-odd years, our plastic addiction has not let up. We now produce 330 million tonnes per year, which is set to triple by 2030. And the astounding part is that plastic’s incredible durability means that every piece of plastic ever produced, unless burned, still exists somewhere in our environment.
APP’s first campaign was a simple ask to the supermarkets to give us, their shoppers, the choice to buy our groceries plastic free in a Plastic Free Aisle.
Fast forward to February 2018. And how times have changed! Blue Planet II was a magical tipping point in a collective awakening from our unconscious sleep-walk into our addiction to plastic. And after months of work and on a snowy morning in Amsterdam, APP in partnership with Ekoplaza opened the doors to the world’s first Plastic Free Aisle, unequivocally demonstrating that plastic-free retail is viable, scalable, and convenient. Not in 5, 10 or 25 years, but today.
We’d hoped for a media splash, but the coverage of Ekoplaza’s good news story was an international news sensation confirming for us that people want change: 2.25 million articles were read and 17 million radio listeners heard about it through the world’s most respected news teams including the BBC, CNN, Sky, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post and the New York Times. Visit APP’s website Media Room for more.
Since opening, the Plastic Free Aisle has been visited by royalty, supermarket CEOs, multinationals including Unilever, and the Vice President of Europe, Frans Timmermans, responsible for the EU Plastics Strategy.
Always restless and cognisant that these perfect and rare moments in history when sweeping social change is within grasp, APP started working on a second campaign: To launch a consumer trust mark that tells shoppers what they want to hear – this packaging is plastic free: Ergo guilt free. Simple and unambiguous. The opposite of the multitude of recycling symbols on the back of our packaging. No-one understands them and we only recycle 10% anyway. So again, let’s just encourage and empower shoppers to buy less plastic in the first place.
Next up; the World’s first day dedicated to stopping us all for a moment to think twice before reaching for that bottle, that sandwich box, that straw on June 5th – One Plastic Free Day. In collaboration with Sky Ocean Rescue, using their infamous hashtag #passonplastic; with international partners such as Spotify, One Young World, Mediacom, United Nations, TimeOut, Live Nation helping us spread the word across the globe.
Our work driving change with food manufacturers, retailers, governments and legislators continues apace. Interest from Asia; the Far East, Africa and the Americas takes our influence beyond Europe. Speaking at valuable influential events becomes part of our daily lives – from the House of Lords to the United Nations, New York in a week. What started as a passion to eradicate plastic in our oceans has grown into an obsession with not just what we consume and throw away; but how each society disposes of its waste and why it should be waste at all. Somehow the immorality of decades of nations (UK included) shipping their plastic rubbish to other continents – wiping our hands of the detritus of our own over-consumption strikes deep in all of us. We just didn’t know. But now we know, we cannot unknow.
A Plastic Planet started with two unreasonable women who were frustrated by the lack of choice; the impossibility to easily buy Plastic Free. But now it has become a symbol of change; an example of what two people, using different skills, joined by an army of amazing experts who share their vision, can achieve.
We have way more power than we think. Trump! Brexit! Democracy and the power of the public is all around us. As is plastic. Let’s use both wisely.