How Innovations In Sustainable Living Are Hitting The High Street

Now more than ever, people are putting sustainable shopping very high on their lists. Yes, price, brand reputation and quality matter - they always will - but increasingly the public want to know how their favourite high street brands live up to their environmental responsibilities.

Over recent decades, there has been massive scope for company innovation in this area, with R&D Tax Credits offered by the government to help with the costs. Here we take a look at the innovative steps in sustainability that have already taken place in Ireland, and what R&D opportunities may be yet to come.

Charging for plastic carrier bags

Ireland became the first country to introduce a plastic bag levy back in 2002. It led to an almost immediate drop of 90% in plastic bag use, with one billion fewer being used, generating $9.6 million for a green fund set up to support environmental innovative projects. Additionally, there has since been a dramatic decrease in roadside litter from plastic bags.

The levy now exists in Northern Ireland as well, referred to as the “carrier levy” and is applicable to all single-use carrier bags regardless of what materials they are made from. The levy was only introduced in England in 2015.

The charge essentially acts as a tax on plastic bags that are used for carrying shopping. The thinking is that if the government taxes the use of plastic bags, requiring people to pay for the ones they use at a shop when they were previously free, then shoppers will be encouraged to reuse them or bring along their own. The levy can vary from place to place, with some shops simply banning the use of plastic bags altogether.

So what exactly is the problem with plastic bags? The big thing is that they require fossil fuels to manufacture them, and tend to get thrown away after one use. They then will eventually end up in landfill or languishing on the hard shoulder of main roads. Plastic bags also don’t decompose and will remain in the environment for a very long time. This is leading to opportunities for R&D, where the average “bag for life” will be made out of stronger, more easily recyclable materials so they last longer, perform better and biodegrade more quickly. Innovation may also mean they are designed more cheaply, or in bigger sizes so they can hold more items of shopping without breaking.

Clothes shops offering more sustainable alternatives

People care about the environment but they still want clothes that are stylish and look great. Shoppers still look to express themselves through the clothes they wear, which is why they expect retailers to offer sustainable alternatives to the materials they already enjoy. Hemp instead of cotton, kapok instead of petroleum-based fabrics, pineapple fibre instead of leather - companies using more environmentally-friendly textile innovations are likely to do well; and this offers all sorts of opportunities for R&D.

Right to repair

Many people now have had enough of products that feel cheap and not built to last. Not only are many happy to pay more for guaranteed better quality, they are also keen to find ways of extending a product’s life. This means that brands prepared to offer more durable products, as well as help and encourage customers to repair them instead of discarding, are likely to see a boost in their popularity.

Refilling bottles with drinking water

Three litres of water are needed to produce a one-litre bottle of the stuff - and it takes over 1,000 years for water bottles to biodegrade. Every year across the world, humans dump more than three million tonnes of plastic bottles into landfill.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Manufacturing just one litre of bottled water releases hundreds of times more greenhouse gas than the same amount of tap water. Creating enough plastic bottles to satisfy the US water alone requires 17 million barrels of oil - enough to keep half of the two million cars in Ireland on the road for a year.

With tap water costing just £0.0015 pence per bottle, and shop-bought bottled water costing between £0.45 and £1.50 a bottle, re-filling your own water bottle when you’re out and about makes sense. Not only are people becoming more aware of the pricey nature of bottled water, but many consumers are deeply worried by the sheer quantity of plastic waste generated.

Annually, bottling water produces around 2.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide which goes into the atmosphere. Much of the plastic waste will eventually wash into the oceans, killing about 1.1 million marine creatures a year. Ireland has vowed to increase its recycling of plastics by as much as 80% by 2030 which in itself is a massive challenge. Several Irish companies are now looking at innovative ways of introducing water stations on the high street so that passing members of the public can visit these water fountains and refill a plastic bottle they've already used. Innovation will come in planning and designing such water stations, and improving the designs of ones that already exist.

Zero waste

Whilst still unfamiliar to many, the zero waste movement is set to grow. More and more people are making a concerted effort to reduce waste as far as they possibly can, with many even aiming to not produce any waste at all. Going forward, Irish high street retailers should expect more customers to refuse all bags or packaging in general. Many will prefer to bring their own containers to stores and begin turning to second-hand shops and clothing rental services for fashion instead.

How can Tax Cloud help?

Does your Irish company plan to innovate? Perhaps it has made innovative steps recently requiring an element of research and development?

With dedicated sections for both businesses and accountants in the Irish Republic, Tax Cloud is an online portal designed to provide low-cost, high-quality guidance about R&D tax relief. Not only it is easy and straight-forward to use, it offers your company the very best chance of being accepted - leaving you thousands of euros better off.

Call us today on 0207 118 6045 or use our contact page and we’ll be pleased to assist you.

Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA
Author Barrie Dowsett, ACMA, GCMA CEO, Tax Cloud
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Barrie Dowsett Barrie Dowsett ACMA CGMA Chief Executive Officer
David Farbey David Farbey MA, FISTC, FRSA Technical Consultancy Director
Lisa Waller Lisa Waller CTA, ACCA R&D Tax Manager
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