We need to talk about plastics

It seems like we can’t go a day at the moment without reading or hearing  about the devastating impact of plastics in our aquatic environment. Blue Planet 2 has shocked us all with powerful images of plastics in our oceans, Chancellor Hammond has set out plans to explore new taxing of single-use plastic, Defra is using 1,400 plastic lined disposable coffee cups a day despite Michael Gove promising to urgently tackle plastic pollution when he took over. 83% of global tap water supplies contain plastic fibre, in the UK this is 72%. These fibres are found in honey, sugar, beer, rock salt, fish and are even found falling from the air. We produce 300m tonnes of plastic a year and only 20% of it gets recycled. 8m tonnes enters the oceans each year, and currently, over 5 trillion (yes, trillion) pieces of plastic are floating on the surface of our seas and oceans.

This is an environmental and health disaster happening in front of our eyes. Every day each of us uses, consumes and throws away large quantities of plastics, each of us is contributing to this massive problem. In the UK, 38.5m plastic bottles are used every day – that’s one each, every day, for the entire working age population of the country. Whilst swigging from our drinks bottles, we also get through 2.5bn disposal coffee cups a year.

So what can UK businesses do? Well, I think three things are within reach of most UK businesses:

  1. Get out the bins and work out just how much plastic waste is being produced, how well it is being segregated and recycled – make it easy for your staff to do the right thing with their waste. I have lost count of the number of times we see all sorts of different bins, poorly labelled, in the wrong place, confusing everyone
  2. Look hard at all the plastics used in food/catering/kitchenette operations and for packaging – much of this can be replaced by reusable, bio, recycled options – get rid of the plastic cups, give people re-usable ones, work with food suppliers to change their packaging, get other suppliers to take their plastic packaging back. There are many strategies that will work in any organisation
  3. Make plastic use and waste part of the environmental disclosure and reporting that your organisation undertakes – making this a shared challenge, sharing what you learn is vital – we’re all part of the problem

And… if you’re ambitious, like a growing number of the organisations we work with – set a goal to eliminate single-use plastic from your organisation – it sounds huge but done carefully, this is doable, affordable and an extraordinarily powerful message to staff, customers and suppliers. People instinctively get why it’s important and what they can do to help – it’s a strong, clear, simple environmental message.

At Carbon Smart, we are on this journey ourselves, we’ve got some good waste segregation going on  in the office and the plastic waste we produce is recycled or turned to energy. Our next challenge (and for me personally, a biggy) is to wean ourselves off the disposable plastics that come with buying lunch from local shops.

Make sustaianbility work!

Wonky vegetables: should you buy them?

Every year, approximately one third of the food produced is wasted, this is equal to 1.3 billion tonnes. Food waste is a problem not only because this food can be used to feed people, but also due to the large carbon footprint associated with food production. Food waste occurs throughout the supply chain, starting from the farm it is grown on, to the household it ends up at. But what about the food that never even reaches our supermarkets?

The term ‘Wonky vegetable’ is used to describe a vegetable that is aesthetically imperfect. In 2008, an EU law which stated that all vegetables that were sold had to be of a certain colour, shape and size was abolished. Any product that did not fit this description was disposed of, despite the fact that these vegetables were perfectly fit for consumption. From 2008 to 2015, supermarkets in the UK continued to uphold their own stringent conditions on the appearance of the vegetables that they sold, convinced that the consumer would not buy a Wonky vegetable.

In 2015, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall began a ‘War on Waste’ campaign. The War on Waste exposed that up to 40% of vegetables never reach the supermarket shelves because of their appearance. By acting in this way, the supermarkets, were not only affecting the farmers by putting them out of business as they are not making enough money on their crop produce, but also adding to the large amount of food waste that the UK produces each year. This is all because of the way a vegetable looks!

The War on Waste made an impact, and in 2016, most major supermarket chains enrolled schemes in which they sell these wonky vegetables to consumers at a lower price, making it beneficial to customers to buy food that may look different, but tastes the same. ASDA has created a wonky vegetable box, which they are selling in 497 of their stores. Tesco has also rolled out various schemes throughout the year – one under the headline of ‘Scary vegetables’ – which came out in Halloween 2016, and allowed you to fill a bag of aesthetically imperfect vegetables for 30p. Tesco’s now also has a ‘perfectly imperfect’ range of fruit and vegetables. Waitrose has a ‘little less than perfect range’, which you can buy on their online store. Morrisons also sells wonky vegetables in their stores.

Now, in 2017, wonky vegetables have entered many stores, however, the War on Waste has not been won. Even though supermarkets are now putting these vegetables on the shelves, it is still in small proportions. It is important, as a consumer, that we continue to buy these imperfect looking vegetables so that we show supermarkets that we don’t care if a vegetable is wonky or straight. Ultimately, driving down the amount of food waste that is produced due to its appearance and reducing our carbon footprint.


More plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050

Recent aerial surveys of the great Pacific garbage patch by the Ocean Cleanup have revealed just how extensive plastic pollution is in our oceans, with large islands of debris now visible from space. The environmental implications of plastic use on a global scale have, for the most part, not been considered until recently, which has led to the situation whereby The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

Plastic waste is not only an environmental concern, it is an economic one. A recent report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that after just a single use, 95% of the material value of plastic packaging ($80-120 billion) is lost to the economy. This represents a disconnect between the ambitious internal recycling targets of organisations and low capture rates seen on a global scale. It is thought that 32% of all plastic packaging escapes collection, and of the material that is captured by waste infrastructure, only 14% is recycled.


While the high functionality and low cost of plastic has made us dependent on it for some of our most basic needs, designing better products that enable society to move beyond plastics is a necessary step along the path of responsible consumption. Over the past few years, entrepreneurs around the world have designed new materials with strong environmental credentials to replace plastics. Award-winning Agar Plasticity is one such example of this, derived from seaweed and offering a snapshot of what sustainable packaging could look like.

Collaboration with industry is vital if such innovations are to succeed as often these new technologies fail to reach scale due to high capex or processing costs. Many leading organisations are doing just this; IKEA recently announced exciting plans to use Ecovative’s mushroom packaging grown from mycelium as a substitute to conventional polystyrene. Similarly, compostable plastic containers are becoming increasingly popular in offices around the world as sustainability and procurement teams work together to reduce plastic in their supply chains.

The widespread use of this material is just another manifestation of our addiction to oil which, in light of the Paris Agreement, must be addressed by industry, governments and consumers alike. Whilst positive steps are being taken at both a local and governmental level, plastic will remain, at least in the short term, one of the most widely used packaging materials. As responsible consumers, we should all strive to put down the plastic bags and say no to the existing take-make-dispose linear economy. Demanding change at a consumer level can have greater impacts than one might initially think.

Illustration: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Are you aware of the UK Waste Regulations update?

The UK Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 have been amended and the changes will enter into force on 1st January 2015. Here are more details to ensure you are up to date.

What has changed?

All businesses must ensure paper, metal, plastic and glass are collected separately. The amended regulations state that this new responsibility only applies where the act of separating these materials is necessary to ‘ensure, facilitate or improve recovery’, and where it is ‘Technically, Environmentally and Economically Practicable (TEEP)’ to do so.

What does this mean for you?

You will have to work with your waste service provider to ensure that they can separate those different strands of waste where reasonable and appropriate. Carbon Smart can work with you to determine the best way for you to do this.

The basics

  • You need to ensure glass is kept out of your mixed recycling stream.
  • If you produce lots of paper waste, you could add that as one of your separate waste streams.
  • Cans, tins and plastic packaging are fine to collect in one sack or bin, because this does not affect their ability to be recycled, further down the line.
  • Food and food contaminated waste will need to be kept separate.

Call Carbon Smart for advice on complying with this new regulation

Government commits to buying locally-sourced food to help cut waste

In an attempt to reduce food waste, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that from 2017 all of central Government will commit to buying fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food: promising that “all food that can be bought locally will be bought locally”.

This will be done through a new, simplified food and drink buying standard: ‘The Plan for Public Procurement’. Public sector buyers will judge suppliers based on their environmental credentials and will look closely at the resource efficiency of food production, such as water and energy use and waste production and recycling. This makes it an exciting prospect for businesses that are focussed on minimising their environmental impact.

Not only will it directly benefit environmentally responsible businesses, according to Defra, it will further benefit rural economies and the British public. Defra has estimated that the standard will equate to around £200m of potential new business for British farmers.

Liz Truss, the recently appointed Environment Secretary stated that; “This move will mean that food served in canteens across the public sector can be more local, seasonal and tastier… it will help drive Britain’s first class food and drink industry and benefit the environment through reduced waste, higher take-up of meals and less unappetising food left on plates”.

In addition, the wider public sector will be encouraged and supported in using the new framework with the expectation that all schools and hospitals will, in future, serve more locally reared meats and freshly picked fruit and vegetables.

Less is more – international perspectives on office recycling

Over the summer Carbon Smart has been working with a multi-national technology company, conducting waste audits at both their London and Zurich offices. Having analysed the waste management systems at these two different locations within the same company, it has been particularly interesting to observe the impact of national recycling policy and practices on office recycling rates.

Switzerland’s recycling policy focuses on the collection of aluminium cans and PET plastic bottles.  These materials are all collected as separate streams, and within the office each material has its own designated bin. All other materials are collected as general waste and sent for incineration. In the UK on the other hand recyclables include, on top of those listed above, tetra packs and cardboard packaging, and up to 7 types of plastics, from yogurt pots to film wrapping. In the London offices these are all collected together as mixed recycling in one single bin and separated at a recycling plant.

Initially it seemed surprising that Switzerland – a country with such a good reputation for environmental management – only recycled a comparatively limited set of materials. However, once we dug deeper into the make-up of the waste, it became apparent that the Swiss strategy is actually very effective. While you might assume that being able to recycle a wider range of materials, and the convenience of just one bin for placing all recycling, would result in higher recycling rates and less contamination, in practice the opposite was true. In London the recycling and general waste were at times almost indistinguishable with considerable amounts of recyclable material going to incineration and considerable amounts of non-recyclable material contaminating the recycling. In Zurich, however, there was hardly any plastic or aluminium in the general waste, and virtually no contamination of the recycling streams at all.

While providing one bin for all recycling makes life easy, it can also be confusing with users of the scheme unclear about what is actually recyclable and what is not. Having a mixed recycling approach may also promote an attitude of indifference. Providing separate bins for each material as they do in Zurich, communicates the message that separation is important and places the responsibility for good recycling with the person doing the throwing away.  Whereas with mixed recycling, because people know it will be sorted at a waste centre anyway, their part in the process is felt to be less significant and they may be more care less about what and where they throw their waste. In terms of designing both recycling policy and internal waste management systems it is great to be able to get these international perspectives and test our assumptions, as in practice with waste things are not always as you might expect.

Manchester Metropolitan University save £40,000 in procurement and disposal costs

manchestermetThe Carbon Smart Manchester team has been working with WRAP to support Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in their shift towards more efficient resource use.

Carbon Smart have been working closely with the university’s facilities management department to identify the key opportunities for resource efficiency and the key barriers.

Office furniture was highlighted due to the high annual spend on new furniture. It was found that there was significant potential to improve resource efficiency through redeployment of furniture that is no longer needed in a particular area.

Since the completion of the resource optimisation review, in March 2013, MMU have implemented the main recommendation from the report – to develop an internal furniture reuse programme. It is anticipated that this project will divert a significant amount of the 30 tonnes per year of office furniture currently disposed offsite for internal reuse, with the programme predicted to save the University over £40,000 in procurement and disposal costs and around 90 tonnes of CO2e.

For further details please contact simon.chiva@carbonsmart.co.uk

Rise up from the rubbish

wasteThis year marked the 10th anniversary of national recycling week and there’s more attention than ever on capturing the valuable materials being lost to landfill. According to Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP), a staggering £2.4 billion-worth of materials has been collected by local authority recycling schemes in the last 10 years.

With improvements in technology and reprocessing infrastructure, greater value can be recaptured from waste materials. As landfill costs increase, tightening legal environment requirements and increased public and corporate expectation, there hasn’t been a better time to recycle more! We’ll be the first to admit that rummaging through waste isn’t glamorous, but there are multiple benefits of conducting a waste audit. Carbon Smart believes that there are three main reasons why organisations should carry out a waste audit;

1.       Cost savings

There are considerable savings to be made from diverting recyclable material away from general waste. On average it costs 60% less for every bag of recycling compared to landfill. A waste audit highlights the potential for simple cost reductions.

2.       Do you really know what’s in your waste?

Facilities, catering and cleaning teams are often unaware of what their general waste consists of and unintentionally claim to be performing better than the reality. There are numerous quick wins that can improve waste infrastructure and result in greater recycling uptake by staff. Getting an expert review can offer support and guidance that perhaps your teams had overlooked.

3.       Waste data and reporting

Data collected during a waste audit can help your organisation to identify ways to reduce waste and enhance its recycling efforts. It also provides baseline performance data to monitor and compare improvements and set targets going forward.

What to expect from a waste audit

Carbon Smart’s team of waste management consultants have delivered waste audits and assessments for over 100 organisations across the UK. We are able to tailor our approach for single or multiple tenants, internal facilities management and building owners across multiple sites. We deliver our waste audits using a three phase approach;

–          Waste assessment

–          Waste audit

–          Evaluation, report and feedback

We believe that this approach provides full transparency to clients about their waste performance.

One of the principal intentions of our waste audits is to offer simple solutions to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill and passing on the cost savings to you. Our costs are competitive and our approach employs measures to address the fundamental issues of effective waste management.

 ‘We were pleased with all aspects of the audit, and were impressed with the pre planning process, the way in which the audit itself was conducted and especially pleased with the format of the audit reporting and advice provided. I would have little hesitation in recommending Carbon Smart to other potential clients who are considering implementing a similar process.’

Chris Fincham
Purchasing Manager
British Medical Association

Rummage through to savings!
By providing real data, we can support you to monitor progress and set targets for improvements. We have conducted follow up audits for several clients to quantify progress as a result of our recommendations. Alternatively we can provide the resources for clients to conduct internal mini audits to ensure they are keeping on track.

As part of the package we can provide additional services to deliver training to staff on correct waste management procedures. The feedback from these sessions has been positive and the savings as a result have been substantial.

‘As a result of the waste audit we were able to issue both an individual report to those occupiers that participated and a collective report to all the occupiers highlighting our recommendations that would help improve the efficiency of our recycling systems and reduce levels of waste contamination, the engagement and participation from our occupiers as a result of this process has greatly increased as have our recycling initiatives.’

Eddie Prado
Cleaning Services Manager
Broadgate Estates