Written by Anca Enache
We are still under the stay at home order. We are still in lockdown, at least parts of the country. As the restrictions ease off and more businesses open, social distancing and health protection guidelines are still in place. As each establishment is looking for ways to be in compliance and at the same time earn their customers’ trust, they are taking measures that are just wasteful.
Let’s look at Starbucks. The reusable cup is no longer accepted in their stores. In order to enjoy your favorite drink, you have to buy the drink in the one-time-use cup. And, as we all know, that cup is not recyclable in most places, except for the lid and sleeve. The cup itself is not, as it is lined up with a type of plastic. This combination of materials makes it unfit for recycling.
And how about the pizza kits? This cool idea is very popular in my area. The kids and adults alike love making their own pizza at home. And it’s so easy. All the ingredients/toppings are individually packed in little containers so all you have to do is just mix the ingredients and add the toppings. In the end, all the empty containers are put in the trash and from there – to the landfill. The plastic containers have traces of food so they cannot be recycled.
The same goes for the ice cream/frozen yogurt places where you no longer enjoy the self-serving functionality. You now fill out a form (more waste, though recyclable) with what flavors/toppings you want in your cup and a staff member prepares your cup ‘to go’, placing everything in a plastic bag (more waste). You open the bag and… Surprise! The ice cream/frozen yogurt is in one container and each topping is packed in its own little container. Some containers can be recycled, but most will be contaminated and so not in a state to be recycled. These ones will go to the landfill.
One last example I have is Trader Joe’s, the well-known grocery store. Here you can no longer bring your reusable bags in your store to bag your groceries. The store offers paper bags at no cost for the customers. True, you have the option to advise the staff to not bag your groceries in the paper bags, just put them back in the cart after scanning, but how many customers actually do this? The majority will choose to have their groceries bagged by the staff. As long as the paper bags are clean, free of food residue, they can be recycled. If they are not… they go to landfill.
I cannot speak of all this COVID-19 induced waste without mentioning the plastic dividers imposed by the state and federal regulations. They are installed for our protection, but I can’t stop thinking of all this plastic used and the impact it will have on the landfills once they are no longer needed.
All these companies that had to change their business model to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, creating more waste, directly or indirectly, have a tool to measure their impact by using the GRI 301: Materials 2016 Standard and the newly revised GRI 306: Waste 2020 Standard (the previous standard was GRI 306: Effluents and Waste 2016).
Furthermore, all these companies should operate with a circularity mindset. The packaging they use should be, as much as possible coming from a reusable source. The companies should also have solutions in place to account for what happens to that packaging once the customer is done with its content. Ensure it gets recycled and comes back to the company via the supply chain to be used again and again.
We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there.
Anca Enache is the founder and CEO of 3P Impact Consulting (3pimpactconsulting.com), an organization that helps companies understand what are the material factors that impact their triple bottom line and how to manage them towards creating a sustainable business model.
Anca is passionate about corporate social responsibility, social impact, and circular economy. She specializes in assessing the ESG risks and opportunities by leveraging the non-financial reporting frameworks GRI, SASB, and CDP