The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Strategic CSR - Plastic

Plastic is a problem. For all its utility, it is based on oil that is a pollutant. Equally importantly, it doesn't break down easily. That leaves us a limited range of options when we are finished with any particular piece of plastic – we can either bury it, we can recycle it, or we can throw it away. Unfortunately, we seem to do more of the first option than the second option. Worst of all, we seem to do huge amounts of the third option. As a result, discarded plastic is everywhere. The article in the url below reports on a recent study that tells us how much is in our oceans:
"There is an awful lot of it: at least 268,940 tonnes, a new report estimates. And there may well be even more, mostly invisible to the eye, because the patches of rubbish appear to work like giant shredders, breaking plastic items down into tiny pieces which are then widely dispersed through the world's oceans with potentially devastating consequences for wildlife."
Large items make up a sizeable proportion of that weight ("just over 75% of the 268,940 tonnes of plastic is accounted for by items measuring more than 200mm"), but sheer numbers are also an issue:
"As for the number of items in the sea, the researchers calculated this to be 5.25 trillion bits of plastic of all sizes. The vast majority, some 4.8 trillion, are microplastics and these were spread across the world."
This is important because the study shows that the vast majority of the waste is extremely small in size:
"Some schemes have been proposed to try to clean up the plastic waste floating in the sea. But it is hardly practical when more than 90% of that rubbish is smaller than a grain of rice and is distributed globally, says Dr Eriksen [of the Five Gyres Institute in Los Angeles]. Much better, he believes, to prevent plastic getting into the oceans in the first place."
The planet is in our hands. We can either destroy it or preserve it. Either way, we have no-one to blame but ourselves.
Have a good weekend.
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Charting the plastic waters
December 13, 2014
The Economist
Late Edition – Final