Amid a flood of plastic, big companies try to clean up image
Once a month, accountant Michael Byrne pulls on his rubber boots and makes his way to a spot on the banks of the River Thames.
He carefully marks out a one-square metre (11-square foot) patch and, with gloved hands, catalogues each bit of plastic he finds, meticulously reporting the data to the environmental group Thames21. On August 20, for example, he and other volunteers found an average of 31 food wrappers, the sticks from 29 cotton swabs, 12 bottle tops and about 100 pieces of small chewed up plastic in each patch.
"We are the data gatherers" who provide evidence of the plastic that's clogging the world's rivers and oceans, he said. "We are building up a picture all along the river of what is washing up."
Public awareness of the problem of plastic waste is swelling after alarming forecasts that there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. Plus the shocking images are rolling in: Britain's Sky News' campaign against ocean plastic featuring whales bloated by plastic bags; National Geographic's chilling picture of a seahorse curled around a pink cotton swab, and filmmaker David Attenborough's documentary Blue Planet II footage of sea turtles shrouded in plastic.
And where consumers' attention goes, so does that of companies.
In the last few months, Amcor, Ecover, Evian, L'Oreal, Mars, M&S, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Walmart and Werner & Mertz - which together use more than six million metric tons of plastic packaging per year - have committed to using only reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an innovation think tank.
Adidas, meanwhile, is making a line of clothing from recycled plastic bottles and promoting the products with an online video underscoring the health threat to humans of ingesting plastic particles found in fish. Negozio Leggero, a high-end food store in Italy and Switzerland, features 1,500 package-free products. British supermarket chain Iceland is planning to remove all plastic packaging from its own-brand products by 2023.