Removing plastic from the workplace
This month is Plastic Free July. The campaign began in 2011 and is all about promoting the eradication of single-use plastics and getting to a world free of plastic waste.
275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK, which is equivalent to 15 million bottles a day, and a staggering 11 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans each year.
There is a strong and growing consumer demand for brands and businesses to make changes. A survey by Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse showed that 60% of shoppers are looking for ethical, eco-friendly brands that put people and the planet ahead of profits.
Which plastics cannot be recycled?
There are many different types of plastic, some of which can be recycled, but others that either cannot or are difficult to recycle. If not recycled, plastic takes 500 years to decompose.
Here are three types of plastic that are rarely recycled, but are commonly used:
- PVC, also called vinyl (as in records) is seldom recycled
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), used for grocery bags, food packaging, cling film and cardboard cup coating, is notoriously difficult to recycle, particularly when it’s been mixed with other materials
- Polystyrene, used for takeaway packaging, is very rarely recycled
Microbeads, or microplastics, are just about as prevalent in pollution as regular plastic waste is, but almost ten times harder to remove from oceans.
They come from a variety of sources, including tiny bits of plastic from larger pieces of plastic that have broken down and eroded, as well as health and beauty products containing microbeads, which go down the drain and into the water system.
What can you do to remove single-use plastic?
It is going to be a combination of what the business does and what each employee does in the personal areas of their life. Small, easy lifestyle shifts can have dramatic impacts.
No matter what industry, there is always scope to reduce plastic consumption in the workplace and simple measures can be taken which are centred around the 5Rs - refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and raise awareness.
Big business changes
Here are some changes the business can make on a macro level:
- Where possible, use recycled materials in a building refurbishment, furniture etc
- Stop using plastic in your packaging and use an alternative, or use recycled plastic
- If possible encourage customers to bring back plastic packaging for reuse – this is becoming common in the beauty industry
- Look into turning plastic waste into green energy, as plastic has a higher energy content than most other rubbish because it is made from refined crude oil
- Drive for plastic neutrality (see below for details)
Day-to-day business changes
At a micro level, there is also much the business can do, including:
- Provide recycling bins
- Run bin audits to check recycling is being done correctly
- Provide bins to collect and properly dispose of cigarette butts – these are the top plastic polluters. Maybe even run support programmes to support staff who want to quit smoking
- Ban single use plates and cutlery for a team lunch, or choose bio-degradable ones
- Reduce plastic use in workplace kitchens and use non-plastic storage containers
On a personal level, there is much we can do in our homes to minimise overall plastic consumption and avoid products that contain microbeads and fibres. When we go to work, we can also:
- Replace takeaway coffee cups and disposable water bottles with your own reusable ones. Plastic bottles also shed microplastics, so another good reason to avoid them
- Buy lunch that has not used plastic packaging
- Bring your own reusable container for your lunch
- Buy clothes made from natural materials – synthetic fabrics shed microplastic fibres
- Air dry clothes made from synthetic fabric, as it prevents more microplastic fibres from being shed
- Choose beauty products and cosmetics that don’t contain microplastics
The final area that your business might want to consider is plastic neutrality, which means that for every amount of plastic you create, you retrieve an equal amount of plastic waste from the environment and dispose of it, either by recycling or repurposing.
You can also use plastic credits, where you finance the collection and proper management of plastic waste. It is a very similar concept to tree planting and carbon offsetting.