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5 ways Australian businesses can shrink their plastic footprint

A waste calculator that counts single-use plastic reductions and a free tool to remove excess packaging are part of a guide to urge businesses to use less plastic.

As part of its campaign to protect the oceans, Australia’s Taronga Conservation Society has introduced a new programme to help businesses to reduce their plastic footprint. 

The non-profit organisation supporting wildlife conservation says it is seeing a growing trend with Australian consumers—they want less plastic, and businesses have been responding.

The Litter Free Oceans campaign gives businesses a practical guide to removing plastic from their supply chains. If businesses take action, they are given recognition by way of a certificate that allows them to show their customers that they are making positive changes for the environment.

“Businesses are time poor, they don’t have the time to research and hunt around for alternatives. This is where Litter Free Oceans comes in. Making your business environmentally friendly not only benefits the environment but can also save you money with avoiding, reducing, reusing and recycling all lowering costs,” Kate Nairn, community engagement project officer of Taronga Conservation Society, tells Eco-Business.

An estimated 8 billion tonnes of plastic enters the ocean each year, in addition to the 5 trillion pieces of plastic thought to be already in our seas. The group says plastic pollution impacts over 700 species, including marine turtles, whales, dolphins and sea lions. At Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital, it has seen over 350 marine turtles brought in since 1984, many with illnesses related to ingesting plastic.

Here are some of Taronga’s suggestions for how businesses can reduce plastic use to protect the oceans and marine life.

1. Impact calculator

The Litter Free Oceans website has an “impact calculator” which allows businesses to estimate how much plastic they could save every year by simply replacing the main four plastic items in their supply chain—disposable coffee cups, water bottles, straws and takeaway containers.

By entering how many items they might use in one week into the calculator, a company can work out how many pieces of single-use plastic can be saved every year by swapping them for reusable alternatives.

“Plastic is so integrated into our daily routines, it’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to reducing it. That’s why we’ve developed an impact calculator, to help you visualise the incredible difference you can make simply by changing a few habits,” says Nairn.

Impact Calculator. Image: Taronga Conservation Society

2. Return and earn

Through the website, business owners can download a toolkit that provides a step by step process for managers to follow to reduce plastic.

One of these steps encourages businesses to ask customers to recycle their beverage containers through the government’s Return and Earn system.

Businesses are asked to collect their used bottles, cans and cartons and deposit them in centres where they can return their items in reverse vending machines, over the counter and or in automated depots.

Every item returned is worth AUS$0.10 (US$0.07). Reverse vending machines offer cash vouchers, electronic payment or an option to donate. Over the counter sites offer a cash refund and some offer the opportunity to donate. Automated depots offer cash refunds and some offer electronic transfers.

A reverse vending machine. Image: Return and Earn 

3. Excess packaging

The toolkit urges businesses to talk to their suppliers and manufacturers about more efficient ways to package their products.

The government offers a programme called BinTrim that helps businesses cut down on plastic film and styrofoam in their packaging. A BinTrim assessor can conduct a free waste and recycling assessment for eligible businesses and produce a tailored action plan.

Australian-based paint manufacturer Derivan was advised to work with its suppliers to increase cardboard recycling to weekly collections using sturdy boxes that can be picked up for reuse. This resulted in the collection of 16,000 tonnes of cardboard previously going to waste now being recycled, saving Derivan US$36,000 a year.

Visy Boston water bottles made of recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Image: Visy

The toolkit also recommends a packaging and resource recovery company called Visy, which recycles more than it produces. It manufactures eye-catching packaging with recycled materials like cardboard, paper, plastic, steel, aluminium and glass, which otherwise would go to a landfill.

4. The last straw

Australians use 2.7 billion single-use plastic straws every year. Used on average for 20 minutes, they can take anywhere from 450 years to never to break down. According to the toolkit, many customers do not need a straw to drink so businesses are asked to stop displaying or offering straws.

Nairn says simple changes like only providing straws on request instantly reduces usage by 80 per cent, which more than offsets the cost of switching to paper straws. These savings can allow companies to purchase paper straws or even invest in a small supply of metal or glass straws that can be washed and reused instead.

The toolkit provides a list of suppliers with alternatives to reusable straws, from silicone to bamboo straws.

It even encourages businesses to join The Last Straw, a campaign to reduce the use of the plastic straws in venues around Australia, by asking firms to train their staff to give out less straws and information about the impact of plastic over-use.

5. Bring your own coffee cups

The Taronga Conservation Society wants to incentivise customers to bring their own as the best way to cut down on disposable coffee cups. It recommends offering double reward stamps if they bring their own mug or cup, or offer a 50 cents discount.

One business that has been helping in this promotion is Tonic Lane, a Sydney-based coffeeshop. They have given 50 bamboo Taronga toothbrushes to the restaurant staff to be distributed to their customers for free when they bring a reusable cup when ordering a coffee.

There is also a programme by Responsible Cafes where coffee shops that have signed up through the website will be included on a searchable, mobile-responsible map of participating cafes. They are also promoted for free on the website, while saving costs by using less disposable cups.

Taronga says it will set up a free phone call with businesses if they want to discuss how best to implement their less-plastic strategies. The team is also helping to create peer networks among the Sydney business community, with an event on 7 November for businesses to learn and engage with the issue of marine debris, and harness business opportunities to switch to more sustainable supply chains.

Taronga says 192 businesses have signed up for its campaign so far, including Tonic Lane, a Sydney-based coffee shop that has given out bamboo toothbrushes, as incentive to customers who bring their own cups. Image: Taronga Conservation Society

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