Plastic is an incredible material that makes modern life possible. However, recent months have seen the impact plastic waste is having on our oceans brought to the fore. From Sky’s Ocean Rescue Campaign to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, media attention has been intense and public interest has exploded. With China refusing to process any more plastic waste we need to act fast, an extra 100,000 tonnes will accumulate around the UK each month if we don’t. On World Oceans Day, Gudrun Cartwright, Environment Director at Business in the Community suggests eight steps every business can take to make a difference.
- Make a commitment, set goals and create an action plan
The first step is to understand what you want to achieve, set some goals and plan your approach. Whether it’s Sky’s bold ambition to eliminate single use plastics across the value chain by 2020, or Engie’s policy to work with stakeholders to influence behaviour by working from the bottom up. They are both great approaches and both can complement each other.
- Take simple steps every day
It’s easy to feel like it’s complicated to make an impact, but plenty of businesses are making simple changes make a difference KPMG switched from plastic to metal cutlery in 10 regional offices, eliminating 250,000 items a year. Alstom, the rail transport company, saved hundreds of plastic bottles by installing water fountains and giving crews reusable ones. Burger King will save 29 tonnes of plastic a year by moving to smaller, compostable straws and CalMac Ferries are serving drinks in crockery and switching milk sachets to insulated jugs.
- Reduce usage and find alternatives
One of the major issues is packaging. The UK Plastics Pact, hosted by Wrap, brings together more than 40 businesses to transform the plastic packaging lifecycle by 2025. Morrisons, one of the signatories to the Pact, is replacing black plastic and polystyrene and offers people the opportunity to bring their own reusable containers for meat and fish. Siemens is switching to 100% recycled paper and card packaging in their Building and Technologies division. Innovative materials and products are developing all the time, so it’s worth exploring the potential with customers and suppliers.
Visit Smart Growth, Business in the Community's Environment knowledge hub site to find new ways to create commercial, economic and social value by tackling some of our most pressing environmental challenges.
Innovate your products and services
Sometimes you can see that change is in the air and legislation is round the corner. Boots phased out microbeads in own brand and proprietary products well in advance of legislative requirements. It is also possible to innovate and bring plastic waste back into the system. Interface developed a way to turn fishing nets into nylon. They have collected 167 tonnes of nets so far and turned them into carpet, reducing plastic pollution and creating sustainable jobs for fishing communities. Veolia has taken this a step further and is piloting a way to turn poo into plastic by using industrial and wastewater sludge to create an important bioplastic component! Where could you experiment and try something unusual?
- Get support from your waste management company
Working with your waste management company can be a great way to achieve progress. Viridor teamed up with Polymer Industries to develop the first hard hat recycling scheme. Working on a pilot with Babcock International Group, they have recycled 1,200 hats already, which will be turned into other plastic products.
- Collaborate with your sector
The water industry is collaborating with a wide range of partners to increase the amount of places people can refill water bottles for free. Thames Water, Yorkshire Water and Northumbrian Water are all doing innovative things across their areas to drive change. The Paper Cup Recovery and Recycling Group, facilitated by Antheses, brings together 35 companies to improve supply chain sustainability, develop consistent messaging and find solutions to collect and recover cups. Costa Coffee has now launched cup recycling in all 2,000 stores and will accept any brand’s cups, showing the power of collaboration to tackle shared challenges. Talk to your trade body to find out what collaborative opportunities they can provide. If there aren’t any, get them to help you start one!
- Engage your employees
Bringing people together to find new ways to tackle problems can be a valuable way to engage and motivate staff. PwC have long offered environmental volunteering opportunities, such as plastic fishing and beach cleans. They also offer opportunities to be part of experiments. Most recently this involved a pilot to see if reusable metal water bottles could help reduce single use plastic bottle consumption. The result was a 50% reduction in the amount of plastic bottles purchased, with hugely positive feedback, including almost two thirds of people drinking more water. The cost reduction resulting from less compostable cups being used also generated a strong financial return. Linklaters reduced the use of disposable plastic food packaging by 50% amongst employees by giving new trainees a reusable food container and incentivising people to bring their own.
- Get young people involved
Providing opportunities for young people to get involved is a powerful way to bring new ideas to your business and show the next generation that you are tackling issues important to them. Scottish Water and Mid Counties Co-op are just two companies who have teamed up with local schools to tackle plastic waste and improve the health of local environments. BITC is supporting Speakers for Schools in bringing together business leaders and young people in a series of school talks to inspire young people to take action on plastic. The feedback we get from those talks will help to inform our ‘Waste to Wealth’ Summit in November, making sure that young people are heard as we work with businesses to develop new solutions. If you don’t have the resources to organise youth initiatives, BITC can help, or you could contact one of our partners such as Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy or the Marine Conversation Society.
This eight step guide should help you to get started on your journey to tackle plastic waste, no matter how big your business is. If you want more support, please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org.