Single-use plastics: Saving sea life by scaling back
From food and drink establishments to large corporations, businesses across the North West are promising to help save sea life by scaling back on plastics. Move Commercial explores the changes being made, and how businesses can truly make a difference.
Words by Natasha Young
An estimated eight million metric tonnes of plastic is put into the ocean each year, according to the BBC’s hit ‘Blue Planet II’ series.
The show brought the issue into sharp focus at the turn of the year, as Sir David Attenborough raised awareness with dramatic scenes of waste drifting amongst the water and its marine life.
Whilst some environmentally conscious companies had already been pro-active in cutting back on their uses of the material, which is even said to be found in arctic ice, the urgency of plastics’ threat appears to now be rippling through government and corporate policies.
“Single use plastics that have been used for only a few seconds can last centuries in the natural environment,” warned Chancellor Philip Hammond earlier this year in the government’s ‘Tackling the plastic problem: Using the tax system or charges to address single-use plastic waste’ report.
“We are all too familiar with the eyesore of litter across our landscapes and we are starting to learn more about the damage it can do to wildlife and delicate ecosystems,” he added.
The government has launched a pledge to eradicate plastic waste by the end of 2042, and called on industry as well as local authorities and environmental experts to help inform policy changes as part of a recent consultation prior to publishing a Resources and Waste Strategy later this year.
The plans for drastic action follow previous gradual progress such as 2015’s introduction of a 5p charge for carrier bags in large shops – a move which the government suggests has reduced their use by 80% in England – and a UK ban on microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries.
Meanwhile businesses of all sizes have been setting the wheels of change in motion, with drinks bottles, disposable coffee cups and plastic straws among the first products to be targeted in a battle against single-use plastics.
“Single use plastics that have been used for only a few seconds can last centuries in the natural environment”.
Department store Selfridges, which has North West branches in Manchester’s Exchange Square as well as the Trafford Centre, has been leading by example for a number of years through its ‘Project Ocean’ partnership with The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Marine Reserves Coalition.
The retailer, which first committed to no longer stocking water in single-use plastic bottles in 2015, has since turned its attention to removing carbonated drinks in plastic from its shelves in recent months as it reportedly strives to “encourage environmentally conscious behaviour from individuals, to manufacturers and retailers”.
The BBC has also followed up its screening of ‘Blue Planet II’ with its own three-step plan to remove single-use plastic from its operations by 2020, with plastic cups and cutlery scrapped by the end of 2018, plastic containers removed from canteens by 2019 and a complete end to the use of single-use plastics across the corporation by 2020.
Here in the region the BBC’s MediaCityUK base in Salford is playing a key part in the pledge, as a pilot to stop plastic containers in canteens began there in February and a trial coffee cup recycling scheme was also lined up for the site.
On a broader scale Greater Manchester is also striving to be the first city region to ditch single-use plastics, starting with the hospitality sector.
Back in March, Mayor Andy Burnham brought high-profile names from the industry, including Hotel Football owner and ex Manchester United player Gary Neville, together to kick off the ‘Plastic-Free Greater Manchester’ campaign.
More than 40 businesses have signed up to the initiative and committed to going plastic-free by 2020, including the Lowry Hotel, hospitality and events at The University of Manchester, and the prominent event space Manchester Central.
“As an iconic venue in Manchester we feel a responsibility to lead the way when it comes to meeting the Mayor’s challenge of making Greater Manchester one of the greenest city regions in Europe,” Shaun Hinds, CEO at Manchester Central, tells Move Commercial.
“In addition to having our own recycling centre on site, we’re proud to be ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) accredited for environmental management and will continue to look for ways to help reduce our impact on the environment.
“We’ve recently moved away from plastic straws at the venue and have pledged to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic by 2020 by introducing compostable and biodegradable alternatives to items such as cutlery, plastic cups and lids. In addition, we’re also working with our supply chain on reducing plastic at source before any goods arrive at the venue.”
“We feel a responsibility to lead the way when it comes to meeting the Mayor’s challenge of making Greater Manchester one of the greenest city regions in Europe”.
Café chain Ziferblat, which has Manchester branches in the Northern Quarter and MediaCityUK, has also signed up to the Mayor’s pledge, with marketing manager Ben Davies saying the “movement has really started a conversation about the changes we can make as businesses to be more eco-friendly”.
Extending plastic reductions to its other North West branch in Liverpool’s St Paul’s Square, Ziferblat is among a number of food and drink establishments in the area to remove plastic straws as a starting point.
“All of our waste gets recycled anyway but we’re now looking further into how we could make ourselves more eco-friendly,” adds Davies.
So with businesses across the North West and the UK ambitiously proposing to cut back plastic usage for the sake of the environment, what is the potential for all kinds of companies to achieve their aims and progress beyond this initial focus on food and drink related disposals?
“Plastic often gets talked about as if it were one material, but plastics are a complex family of materials and so the choices that can be made to develop a more sustainable approach will depend very much on each product and application,” explains Pat Jennings, head of policy and communications at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).
“However, by looking at the different plastics that are part of your business, you can map out where making a different decision could reduce your plastic use or increase the potential for quality recycling that will ensure the material can be placed back into the market rather than sent for disposal.”