Green Shoots Exchange delivers ‘Hope’ in war against plastic pollution

By Luke Barras-hill |

Through the Hope initiative, global travel retail has the ability to use its substantial reach among millions of travelling consumers to help turn the tide on ocean-bound plastic pollution.

ACI Europe, Vienna Airport (VIE) and Cyprus Duty Free are among stakeholders in travel retail to have thrown their support behind a potentially game-changing new initiative aimed at turning the tide on single-use plastic pollution and ocean-bound plastic waste.

Project Hope (Helping Ocean Plastic Elimination) was unveiled during the inaugural ‘Green Shoots Exchange’ session last week (21 June) at the TR Consumer Forum (21-23 June).

The initiative, which is being spearheaded by TRBusiness’ Events and CSR head Michael Barrett and Aer Rianta International Middle East’s (ARI ME) Sustainability Champion and Projects & Design Manager Tracy Ross, aims to platform diverse solutions for reducing the industry’s single-use plastic (SUP) footprint while accelerating the drive to eliminate ocean plastic pollution.

The cornerstone of ‘Project Hope’ involves the roll-out of a voluntary contribution mechanism at point-of-sale where consumers are given the option to round-up the total of their purchases at POS to the nearest dollar/euro/pound etc.

The proceeds from the activity can then be donated to one of several ocean pollution cleanup organisations, including several recommended ocean plastic partners –  Common Seas, Ocean Bottle, Oceanworks, CleanHub, Ocean Material, The Ocean Cleanup and Plastic Bank – several of which were spotlighted during Green Shoots Exchange, or an alternative preferred partner.

Another potential stream is a fixed annual offset amount made by companies based on the volume of annual plastic bottles sold.

‘If you can measure it, you can manage it’

Positioned as a collective and collaborative industry movement, Hope aims to prevent one billion plastic bottles, equivalent to 25,000 tonnes, from reaching waste streams by the end of 2024.

Delegates to the Green Shoots Exchange session heard more on the complexity of such a challenge, which requires the involvement of multiple actors to make a profound difference in different areas: from improved waste management infrastructure, changes to legislation, shifts in individual consumption behaviours, research and development into alternative solutions and the move towards circular business models.

The phasing out of SUP shopping bags, SUP supplier packaging, SUP cutlery, cups and plates and research and development into alternative bio-materials is ongoing across travel retail.

However, Ross insists there remains still much to do. “It’s very complex problem. We’re not perfect yet – there is a lot of work in progress and a lot of work still to be done. Despite all of these efforts, there still remains eight million tonnes of legacy plastic that is reaching our rivers and oceans. The saying goes, ‘if you can measure it, you can manage it’ and this is what this initiative is all about.”

There are various options available via Hope. A company can choose to quantify its annual plastic footprint by teaming up with a Hope partner that aligns with the company’s ESG strategy.

Thereafter, companies can choose a mechanism through which they can manage, monitor and track consumption, or recycling and impact investing, at a local, national or regional level.

The findings can then be fed into a GTR plastic monitor tracker to assess progress and the positive impact contributed by the industry.

“Importantly, when we’re communicating – it is to the consumer, so the consumer knows the impact that we’re having in reducing our SUP footprint and helping the ocean clean up,” commented Barrett, who also pointed to the importance of communicating the industry’s achievements to airports, governments, legislators and others.

“We’ve been talking to a number of organisations in the last few months […] but you can go beyond that. Do your due diligence.”

As mentioned above, a wave of organisations have been proposed as potential partners in the trailblazing initiative, including The Ocean Cleanup, Ocean Material and Ocean Bottle.

Based on research in the US from TR Consumer Forum partner m1nd-set, three quarters of consumers would say ‘yes’ to paying more at tillpoint should the transaction roundup be less than 50%.

During the first Green Shoots Exchange session, the audience was challenged to quantify its plastic footprint, select a plastic partner of choice and choose an appropriate action mechanism.

Aside Hope, a raft of other potential local solutions are being considered, include reverse-vending machines for the recycling of plastic water bottles, sourcing rPET from sustainable sources for merchandise, procuring alternative solutions to the sale of single-use plastic water bottles without impacting the bottom line, and the sale of refillable ocean bottles that support hydration stations.

Tracy Ross, Sustainability Champion and Projects & Design Manager, Aer Rianta International Middle East.

One of the retailers backing the solution will be ARI, as Tracy Ross explained: “We are delighted to announce that Cyprus [Duty Free] will be supporting the Ocean Bottle option.

“We are currently assessing the various IT processes that are involved in implementing the solution, to the consumer messaging with marketing and the due diligence of the organisations, which would benefit from the donations.

“We hope that consumers will respond positively to the programme and that ARI will be able to have a significant impact on eliminating ocean and ocean-bound plastic in partnership with one of the ocean pollution NGOs or social enterprises.”

Addressing the consumer response, Michael Barrett said: “Consumers are increasingly discerning about the products they buy and the companies they buy from. An industry-wide initiative like Project Hope will send a strong message not only to consumers, but also to legislators and not least of all the media, about how GTR is making a significant impact on cleaning up the world’s oceans.

“We recently commissioned a study from m1nd-set to assess the potential buy-in from travelling consumers. The results were far better than expected, with 93% of shoppers saying they were sensitive to the issue and 94% saying they would contribute via the optional round-up at point-of-sale.”

Ross added: “With a very conservative analysis, taking a consumer adoption rate of only 20% and a round-up of only a few cents, we know that only a handful of airports can help prevent thousands of tonnes of plastic waste from the ocean, the equivalent of millions of plastic bottles.

“We are delighted to be among one of the first global retailers to consider the mechanism and we hope many others will join us, in the collaborative global initiative to support the cleanup of legacy plastic and prevent further ocean bound plastic, from reaching our waste streams.”

Michael Barrett, Head of Events and CSR, TRBusiness.

The regional airport association ACI Europe embraced the initiative when it was presented to the association’s senior management earlier this year.

Ross and Barrett presented the Hope initiative at the ACI Europe Commercial Forum in Vilnius, Lithuania on 17 May, where airports and commercial partners present also shared some of their respective single-use plastic reduction initiatives during an interactive session.

The TR Consumer Forum, co-organised by TRBusiness and industry research experts m1nd-set, and hosted by Vienna Airport, took place at the airport’s the AirportCity Space, from 21-23 June.

For comprehensive coverage from this year’s TR Consumer Forum, including Green Shoots Exchange, see the below links:

Decision maker apathy ‘biggest challenge’ to sustainability action

Enviro-Point agrees deal with Gatwick to supply bio-transformative STEBs

TRCF State of the Industry: Be prepared to ‘fully exceed expectations’

TRCF Keynote 2: ‘Spend is moderating, penetration is moderating’, says DDF

UK tax free policy ‘an act of economic vandalism’

TRCF Day 2 Keynote: Groupe ADP, Dufry Group and London Heathrow Airport

TRCF: Chinese consumers need to be proactively welcomed in travel retail

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