Single-use plastic reduction is complex, but it must be confronted.

By Simone Hindmarch

Every week it seems there’s a new wave of headlines about major brands taking action to reduce single-use plastic. In January, Starbucks introduced a 5p levy on disposable cups. This was quickly followed by an announcement in February that it was investing £7m to develop a fully recyclable and compostable cup, to be available in the next three years. Waitrose has pledged to remove all disposable cups from its stores by the autumn. And just a few days ago, McDonalds said it would phase out plastic straws in UK restaurants from September.

Some of these measures have been met with cynicism from environmental campaigners. They argue that action needs to be taken sooner, or that recycling isn’t the answer. Of course these considerations should be taken on board. But it’s important to be realistic about how quickly large brands with hundreds or thousands of outlets and multiple product lines can rollout change. And all of us need to start looking closer to home, thinking about how we can improve our own consumption habits.

Champions of change

The plastic reduction issue is hugely complex, not least because there is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes ‘single-use’. Does it refer to any disposable plastic item, or only those that are used for fewer than 24 hours? Does it include all plastic packaging and wrappers, or only items like disposable plastic cups, straws and cutlery?

But defining the problem won’t help solve it. There is no time, or excuse, for analysis-paralysis. And I’m proud to say that Commercial’s staff are proactively addressing their personal use of disposable plastic at home and work via an employee-instigated Change Champions programme.

Here’s what they’re doing:

  1. Learning what happens to plastic waste

The six-strong Change Champions team visited one of our recycling partners to see first-hand what happens to plastic waste. They learnt that recycling technology evolves all the time, which is great. But also that various factors impact what can be recycled and how easy it is for well-meant disposal of certain items to contaminate a whole batch. This spurred the team to look at our internal processes and see if there are new factors we should consider when segregating waste.

  1. Plastic waste pinboard

To spotlight the amount of single-use plastic associated with day-to-day living, the Change Champions rinsed and saved all their plastic waste for two weeks. They brought it to the office and created a wall display to demonstrate the scale of the problem to colleagues and visitors in a tangible way.

  1. Plastic reduction hacks

Once they’d identified their individual single-use plastic weak-spots, the Change Champions tried to live without it for two weeks, at home, at work and in leisure time. They documented their progress with Vlogs, sharing plastic reduction hacks and frustrations as they did their best to complete the challenge successfully.

So, what happened?

The results of the Change Champions’ endeavours will be shared with delegates at our ‘Challenge, Champion, Change’ CSR event next week. We’ll be inviting the audience to pick up the mantle and start scrutinising where and why single-use plastic is endemic in their own lives and workplaces.

Please join us if you can, and let’s take an active stance to eradicate single-use plastic.

It’s not going to be easy, and we don’t have all the answers yet. But we have to start somewhere.