Resources for Companies

Measuring your company's plastic footprint

April 26, 2023
Oli Kade
x min read

It is a fair assumption that you - yes, you - don’t know how much plastic you or your organisation is using or the true impact of your overconsumption. Do not worry; you are not the only one. The fact of the matter is that most people have no idea how to even measure a plastic footprint. Despite the fact that plastic - the most successful and versatile supermaterial in the world - has been a know problematic waste steam for the last decade, the solutions and tools available to measure this waste stream has been quite simply… lacking. A plastic footprint is a term used to describe the total amount of plastic used for a given activity, product, service, event or even supply chain. We all use, generate and/or are dependent on plastic for our day-to-day lives. 

12 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans every year. With plastic production expected to double in the next 20 years, plastic leakage is estimated to reach 29 million by 2040

The challenge is that this super material takes a super long time to degrade, and when it does it fragments into micro and nano plastics, which persist in the environment. Concentrations of microplastics pollute our marine and terrestrial ecosystems and make their way through the food chain, ultimately ending up in the human gut. Research shows through this process, adverse effects on biodiversity and human health are occurring, but the magnitude and consequence of these effects are still unknown. As leakage increases over time, so too does the concentration of plastic in the food chain. We know we must ask now. There have been far too many late lessons from early warnings. But why do we need to understand our plastic footprint? Well, we don’t, actually. We need to find solutions to reduce the amount of plastic we are using and the negative side effects this has on our environment. How do we do that? Well, we first need to understand how much plastic we consume and what hotspots we need to target. Measuring your footprint is thus the most vital step, building the foundation to which we can further construct our circular roadmap. 

So how do we measure our plastic footprint? This is where Seven Clean Seas and our supporting partners and peers in the Plastic Footprint Network are pioneering plastic footprint methodologies.

At Seven Clean Seas, we define three scopes for the plastic footprint:

1. Organisational Plastic Footprint: Often referred to as the operational footprint, this focus on the plastic used within an organisation's operations. This can cover offices, vessels, stadiums, warehouses, production facilities etc. You name it. Any plastic waste disposed of as a result of organisational operations. 

2. Product Plastic Footprint: The product footprint is often referred to as the plastic used in products as part of your business model. These plastics aren’t directly disposed of in your operations but downstream to consumer groups. Despite causing downstream impact, these plastics are still in the scope of influence and are inherently still the responsibility of the organisation that designs and manufactures the product. 

3. Supply Chain Plastic Footprint: The supply chain footprint largely focuses on plastic packaging. The basic scope focuses on the plastic tied to the product leaving a company's operations. However, the supply chain footprint can be further expanded to include suppliers and contractors. 

Along with the quantification of the plastic footprint Seven Clean Seas helps clients identify waste hotspots, determine waste and footprint metrics and indicators, and material end-of-life and plastic leakage analysis. Depending on the industry, service or product offering, the scope of plastic footprint analysis will vary; however, the importance of managing your plastic impact is constant across all organisations.

Organisations are under increasing pressure from consumers, investors and the government to further sustainability commitments as we transition towards a green economy.

This often culminates in corporate sustainability reporting and national extended producer responsibility regulations. However, here lies an opportunity for organisations to market themselves as market leaders, attracting new business and being considered an employer of choice amongst potential future hires. 

If you have got this far, it is fair to say that you have a greater understanding of the plastic footprint analysis and the context of the services we offer. Understanding how your organisation generates or uses plastic is the necessary first step required to manage your impact. Yet doing so opens the door to an array of opportunities that positively impact your business, profits, people and most importantly your planet.

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