Recycling’s dirty little secret




Earlier this week Greenpeace reported that plastic waste collected for recycling from British households had been found dumped in Turkey. How is it possible for us to still be getting it so wrong when it comes to waste? 


The Greenpeace report went on to describe Turkey as Europe’s ‘largest plastic waste dump’. It’s clear there is little or no collaboration across borders when it comes to solving responsible waste disposal. Every party washes their hands of responsibility once the problem passes from one owner to the next. How should waste initiatives be monitored and who is responsible for ensuring they are successfully delivered? 


In 2009 the palm oil industry was facing a crisis. Production of palm oil was a major contributor of deforestation and huge biodiversity destruction. Palm oil represent $3.5 trillion in revenue, the financial incentive to act was clear. If consumers start turning away from palm oil the worlds’ biggest food producers would be hugely impacted – Unilever, Nestle, Coca Cola, Tesco, Carrefour and others would have significant challenges in finding a replacement. This is where The Consumer Good Forum stepped in to co-ordinate the effort towards a more sustainable palm oil industry. 


Today over 75% of palm oil used in the UK is sustainable. More sustainable palm oil is possible but it took The Consumer Goods Forum to pull together the big players within the industry to make it a reality. They managed to get all stakeholders working together, following universal best practice as set out by the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil. Without The Consumer Goods Forum, it would have been virtually impossible aligning all those competing companies and the various stakeholder groups, across borders, behind one mutually agreed standard.


This case study proves that scale collaboration across borders is possible.  Solutions are out there but for successful execution three conditions need to be met: 


  1. The problem needs to be framed as a financial impact for all those involved. 
  2. There needs to be an arbiter who can sit at the centre of the problem and span geographies in a way governments can’t.
  3. Standards need to be co-created for all parties to agree. 


Challenges are never one-dimensional and neither are solutions. Creative problem-solving can come from a coalition of partners, the government, or even a single brand that is challenging the status quo. As we look at a challenge through different agendas, from shareholders to stakeholders, it’s the aggregation of agendas that steer us towards a common path. 

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Crispin Beale
May 20, 2021 at 3:48 pm

Fantastic summary of how we can have leadership that makes change happen – so, so necessary.