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!