6HR005 Case Study – Single Use Plastic



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Assignment Details

Module name Social Responsibility Module Code 6HR005


    Module Leader Nicky Adams
Due date See Canvas for date and time of submission  
Assignment title Social Responsibility Case Studies


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6HR005 Case Study – Single Use Plastic

As well as this case study it is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that you read up to p25 and from pp64-73 of the following report which is the source for much of the information below.

UNEP (2018). SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability Available at https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf

Case Study

Plastic is an incredibly versatile and useful material, used in many different ways.  However much of the plastic we use these days is used only once and thrown away.  Flexible packaging of this type, particularly for foodstuffs is used to protect food from damage and extend its shelf life.  One argument for the continued use of this type of plastic is that it can have a lower environmental impact because of its protection of its contents.  For example, it could be argued that it takes less energy, water, land use and carbon dioxide to grow a cucumber which is wrapped in a plastic film and has a shelf life of 14 days than it does to grow a cucumber which is not wrapped and has a shelf life of just 3 days, meaning more cucumbers have to be grown and transported to meet the same demand.  There are however compelling arguments for better management of single use plastics.

“The most common single-use plastics found in the environment are, in order of magnitude, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam take-away containers. These are the waste products of a throwaway culture that treats plastic as a disposable material rather than a valuable resource to be harnessed.” (UNEP, 2018, p. vi).

Much of this plastic is not recycled, often because the type of plastic is difficult to recycle or because it is difficult to find a use for recycled plastic, but also because recycling levels globally are very low.

Plastic is usually made from petroleum oil and although it degrades i.e. breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, it does not BIODEGRADE which means that it does not break down or decompose into a natural product like soil.  As the plastic degrades, it releases many of the toxic chemicals which were added to it during its manufacture, and these are released into the environment.

The UN states that only about 9% of the nine billion tonnes of plastic ever produced, has been recycled.  They estimate that by 2050 the volume of plastic litter will exceed 12 billion tonnes if we don’t address the issue and that the plastics industry could use 20% of the world’s oil consumption.

The environmental problems caused by plastic waste are manifold: in water they can block waterways and sewers, causing flooding, breeding grounds for mosquitoes and being eaten by animals on land and in the sea; it can get into the food chain and ingesting it can cause damage to the nervous systems; burning plastic waste in poor countries causes pollution and releases toxic chemicals to be breathed in; it costs shipping, fishing and tourism industries worldwide around $2 billion.  Total economic damage to the marine ecosystem is estimated to be at least $13 billion every year

Much single use plastic packaging has replaced other more traditional types of packaging for example glass bottles for milk; paper wrappings for foodstuffs.  A significant proportion of plastic waste is this single use plastic, and there are a number of factors which affect the ability of the material to be recycled.  These include how the plastic is made, what type of plastic it is made from and whether it has been combined with other materials e.g. crisp packets.  Consequently, it is estimated that about 79% of plastic waste ever produced is in landfill; 12% has been incinerated and 9% recycled.  Different countries and regions are approaching the management of this in different ways.  For example in 2017 a European agreement was reached to aim to increase plastic packaging recycling to 55% by 2030.

There are a range of issues related to the effective management of single use plastic waste.

Reduction of single use plastic is one approach.  This is being driven by a range of activities including research into alternatives to non-biodegradable, petroleum based plastics.  Additionally in many countries public pressure is informing government strategies and in others voluntary agreements in reduction of single use plastic are increasing.  All of these are supporting the achievement of local, national and global targets on the reduction of single use plastic.

To improve waste management it is necessary to sort waste more effectively at source, collect and store it safely and then recycle more products more cost effectively and send less to landfill.  This will help reduce issues such as the impact on biodiversity.

However, recycling itself brings its own challenges.  Plastic waste needs to be clean and sorted for it to be suitable for recycling and this process can be hindered by things like putting unwashed plastic packaging out for recycling or putting plastics which cannot be recycled in with waste for recycling.

For many years developed countries have sent their plastic recycling to other, often developing, countries to be recycled.  In recent years this practice has stopped, primarily because countries which have been taking this waste such as China and Malaysia have changed what waste they will take and process.  This has been due to a growing understanding of the impact of this waste on their own local environments.  This has meant that many countries are now having to reconsider how they manage their plastic waste.

Companies like Terracycle are involved in programmes to collect and recycle packaging like crisp packets which are difficult to recycle, they are also involved in collections for specific suppliers of toiletries and cleaning product packaging and used coffee capsules.  However, many of their collection points are run by volunteers rather than companies.

What about alternatives to single use plastic?  There are a number of organisations looking at alternatives.  Cellulose based containers which are fully compostable are being designed in Sweden; Harvard University has created a compostable clear plastic from shrimp shells and silk protein.  Compostable packaging usually requires industrial composting facilities with high temperatures and specific conditions; where it ends up in ordinary landfill it can release environmentally damaging greenhouse gases.  Other options being researched are compostable cups from seaweed, edible membranes (to mimic things like grape skins) and water soluble plastic membranes (used on laundry and dishwasher tablets).

Additional Sources:

·         https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/future-of-food/food-packaging-plastics-recycle-solutions/

·         http://www.plasticfreechallenge.org/what-is-single-use-plastic/

·         https://www.bpf.co.uk/Sustainability/Plastics_Recycling.aspx

·         www.terracycle.com

·         https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49827945





1.       Research is being undertaken into finding alternatives to non-biodegradable, oil-based single use plastic items.  One alternative being developed is the use of fish waste and algae to make a biodegradable film which can be used in applications such as sandwich packaging (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-50419047).  Some groups of people might find this an unacceptable alternative since it uses animal waste as part of its manufacturing process (vegans, vegetarians, certain religions).


Using one ethical theory taught in the module, justify why this product should be used instead of a standard plastic film, regardless of the objections to its use of animal products.


Using a different ethical theory, justify why non-biodegradable single use plastics should continue to be used instead of this fish-based alternative.



2.       Briefly compare the similarities and differences between the stated levels of the following models: Good Ethics means Good Business level in the Chryssides and Kaler model and Emergent Ethical level in the Reidenbach & Robin model.  What actions could organisations providing single use plastic products take to help them meet these levels more regularly?


You should ensure that you use a range of relevant academic sources to support your work and link these to the case study information provided.



3.       Single use plastics are often used in applications (windows in sandwich boxes, straws, sachets) which make them hard to collect and additionally are made from types of plastics which are almost impossible to recycle.


Who are the key stakeholders involved with or affected by the challenges involved in the collection and recycling/disposal of single use plastics? Complete a stakeholder map using this information and explain the purpose of the stakeholder map using relevant theory.


Analyse how these challenges would affect any two key stakeholders of your choice.  You should include the completed stakeholder map in your answer (NOT in an appendix).  You should ensure that you use a range of relevant academic sources to support your work and link this to the case study information provided.



4.       Identify one type of single use plastic.  What future CSR trends might affect management decisions made in relation to the continuing use of this single use plastic product?  You should ensure that you use a range of relevant academic sources to support your work and link these to the case study information provided.






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