Sky, the UK television, telecoms and broadband group, is to eliminate all single-use plastics from its operations, products and supply chain by 2020.
The company has announced the target as part of its Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, a project that it began in January 2017 to combat plastic pollution in the oceans.
More than eight million tonnes of plastic are said to be dumped and washed out to sea every year. Some of it is ingested by fish and other marine creatures. It enters the food chain and ends up imperceptibly on the meal table.
The problem was illustrated vividly early this year when a whale was found dying off the Norwegian coast with 30 plastic bags in its stomach.
Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down, so if Christopher Columbus had tossed any overboard on his way to America in 1492 fragments of it would still be in the Atlantic today.
A scientific estimate is that without action the plastic in the oceans will weigh more than all the fish by 2050.
In response to the scary facts and figures, Sky has already removed plastic water bottles, straws, cups and cutlery at its European sites, thus slashing its plastic bottle usage by more than 300,000 since January.
Sky’s first action after its latest decision has been to exclude single-use plastic from all packaging. The second is to ensure that all new products will be free of single-use plastic by the end of 2017.
The company will widen the effort to help its business partners, its suppliers and other businesses and start-ups to adopt similar policies to eradicate single-use plastic and keep it out of the oceans.
It is earmarking £25m ($33m, €28m) to fund these programmes during the next five years.
WWF is to partner Sky in another campaign, soon to be started, aimed at protecting and enhancing the coastlines of the UK, the Irish Republic, Germany and Italy.
Independently of the campaigns, environmentalists are suggesting a deposit return programme for the 36 million plastic bottles bought in Britain every day, of which fewer than half are recycled.
Altogether 35 schemes are operated worldwide. A scheme in Norway hoisted recycling rates to 96 per cent.
Tanya Steele, WWF-UK’s chief executive, said: “Businesses, governments and individuals all have a role in reversing the shocking decline in the health of our oceans – for our own wellbeing, as well as for future generations.”
Besides its ocean effort, Sky is concentrating on a broad range of ethical concerns.
It calculates its carbon footprint at the end of every financial year, assessing how it has minimised greenhouse gas emissions from industrial activity, electricity use and business travel.
Sky is committed to reducing its environmental impact by limiting its paper use as well as ensuring that the paper comes from responsible companies and is made with timber from legally harvested and sustainably managed forests. It insists that all internal office paper is made from recycled fibre.
Recycling applies too to old Sky equipment. Customers are told they can return it free to the company for recycling.
On the wider social canvas Sky has promised to do what it can to promote health and education services, equality, prosperity, food security and sustainable water and sanitation management.
The ethical principles Sky has adopted for its own conduct are applied to its suppliers, including labour, health, safety and human rights conditions.
The company says proudly: “At Sky we are building sustainable business because we believe this is the best way to achieve lasting success and create value for shareholders.
“This is what we call seeing the bigger picture and it is part and parcel of everything we do.
“We strive to be the best for our customers, our 18,000 Sky people, our suppliers, as well as the local communities in which we live and work.”
Jeremy Darroch, the Sky Group chief executive, said: “We need to tackle one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters facing our planet – plastics in the ocean. The statistics are shocking.
“At Sky we care about the environment and believe we have a responsibility to act on issues that matter to our customers.
“Ten years ago we were the first media company to become carbon-neutral, and looking to the next ten years, we want to use our voice and our reach to have a positive effect on ocean health.”