Melbourne Business School News #BeatPlasticPollution: How to tackle the plastic waste crisis

#BeatPlasticPollution: How to tackle the plastic waste crisis

Find out how our Sustainable Business Club students are fighting plastic pollution to mark World Environment Day 2023.


Plastic pollution is a global threat. Statistics from the United Nations show the scale of the problem: more than 90% of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomachs; by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean; and less than 10% of plastic ever produced is recycled.

Tackling the plastic waste crisis is the theme of this year's World Environment Day, held on 5 June each year to draw attention to pressing environmental challenges.

To mark World Environment Day 2023, students from Melbourne Business School's Sustainable Business Club discuss how individuals, leaders and industry can fight the problem of plastic waste together.

Consider new ways to use plastic waste

Dr Filip Stojcevski, a materials scientist, aerospace engineer and a Part-time MBA student at Melbourne Business School, suggests combating plastic pollution by carefully looking at the materials that products are made from, as well as supporting new uses for recycled plastic.

"Some plastics are easily recyclable while others aren't," he says.

"When in everyday circumstances plastic items must be used, a quick Google search will help you identify the ability of an item to be properly recycled so it can remain in use for future applications.

"Similarly, we can look at emerging ways to use plastic waste, such as 3D printing, which can be an engaging way to teach young individuals about the possibilities of recycling and upcycling of products."

Filip is applying these ideas at his own company, JUC Surf, which he founded in 2020 to create the world’s first recycled carbon fibre, high-performance surfboards.

"Through JUC Surf we are combatting waste pollution by ensuring that any board broken will be fully recycled by being returned back to us," he says.

"The foam cores with the board are separated from the carbon fibre material and recycled locally.

"Similarly, we are combatting waste pollution by using resins that are as high in bio-derived content as available on the market, and ensuring all materials that we use during manufacturing are reusable and not one-use items."

Viable, fit-for-purpose alternatives are key

Part-time MBA student Eliza Hobba, a Supplier Sustainability Relations Manager for a large Australian retailer, says going plastic-free ultimately boils down to finding viable alternatives, especially for single-use plastic.

"Successful plastic alternatives need to be fit-for-purpose while having the same or less environmental impact throughout their life cycle – from extraction, manufacturing and processing, transport, usage and waste disposal," she says.

"Otherwise, alternatives could result in worse environmental outcomes while failing to fulfil the purpose of the plastic they replaced." 

According to Eliza, minimising single-use plastic is further complicated by the fact that they're often used to minimise food waste, which has a bigger environmental impact than plastic production. For instance, cucumbers wrapped with plastic last three times longer than unpackaged ones.

"One wasted cucumber is worse for the environment than the one piece of plastic it would have taken to prolong its life – and ultimately be eaten," she says.

"Like most complex scientific conundrums, these issues are interconnected and propose further hurdles as they trip up one another in the journey 'for better'."

"If we don’t address these issues, we’re set up to fail."

Create a circular plastic economy

Part-time MBA student Victor Nguyen, a former procurement category manager at waste management firm Cleanaway, says it's important for individual consumers to hold brands and products accountable if they don't participate in the circular economy – one where plastics stay in use for as long as possible.

"The best way we can do that is by choosing products that do use responsibly sourced and recycled materials," he says.

"Beverage companies, plastics producers and the recycling industry are influenced by market forces, which can determine whether firms use recycled or virgin materials."

This can be done through government action such as container deposit schemes or joint ventures that lead to greater integration across supply chains, Victor says.

"This results in mutual interdependence that promote a circular economy and sustainability in the recycling value chain."

How we're cutting plastic pollution

Melbourne Business School The Hub

Melbourne Business School is also minimising plastic pollution in several ways in its daily operations. These include:

  • Reducing the number of bins in office spaces and removing plastic bin liners where possible, saving thousands of bags per year.
  • Introducing a dedicated bin for recycling polystyrene and another for recycling plastic wrap or clear plastic.
  • Removing plastic water bottles from accommodation rooms.
  • Using water jugs and glass bottles for programs and events instead of plastic water bottles.
  • Providing reusable cutlery or crockery and offering paper or bio products for takeaway.
  • Investing in new café appliances that use reusable heating mats rather than plastic wrap or baking paper.
  • Engaging a new coffee supplier who is a leader in sustainable farming and delivers beans in large tubs, which reduces the amount of coffee packets thrown out each day.

Business leaders, investors and governments can play an important role in fighting plastic pollution. Learn how to be part of the solution through this Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme for businesses, governments and communities, or learn more about UNEP proposals for a circular plastic economy.

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