Plastic waste has become one of the most talked about environmental issues we are facing. Since the Blue Planet documentaries highlighted problems with “ocean plastic” there has been increasing scrutiny about what happens to the waste plastic we send for recycling. It can take decades to degrade in landfill and is made from oil (a finite fossil fuel). We don’t have enough recycling facilities in the UK to deal with all of it, so waste management companies often export our waste to other countries but they might not always have the capacity to recycle it either. UK plastic waste has been found stockpiled in abandoned waste facilities in Malaysia; and China has stopped receiving our plastic waste altogether.
It is estimated that, globally, 8m tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year, a result of products containing plastic going down the drain (more on that tomorrow) or litter being carried by wind and rainwater. Storing and moving our waste around the country, and the world, means there is a risk some will escape our control. It’s also becoming clear that microplastics, whether from manufacturing processes or from waste plastic degrading into tiny pieces, can be found in our river and sea beds, and even in bottled water. While a recent study found this not to be harmful to human health, it is a stark reminder that everything we produce, use and throw away has an impact that we don’t always see. The best way to tackle this problem is to have a “Zero waste” approach, and not produce plastic waste in the first place.
As part of a government initiative to remove Consumer Single Use Plastic (CSUP) from its estate, Interserve is working with Compass, our catering provider on the DWP contract, to replace some plastic items used in coffee outlets and canteens, and eliminate others altogether. So far we have:-
switched from plastic to wooden cutlery and hot drinks stirrers
stopped providing sauce in single use sachets and dispense it in bottles instead
switched from plastic to cardboard takeaway containers and straws
hot drinks cups in all Peak Street outlets are made from plant-based materials
we’ve even introduced a plastic-free teabag (yes, plastic really is everywhere!)
What can I do about this?
Say “No” to Single Use! The best thing we can all do is try not to use disposable, single use items:
Take your Interserve water bottle with you and get it refilled for free, rather than buying bottled water. You can also find cafes and shops in your area who will let you refill it for free by downloading the app from https://refill.org.uk/
Carry a reusable coffee cup or flask for hot drinks. Most outlets, including on the DWP estate, will offer a discount for this.
If you buy lunch from a canteen, sandwich shop or salad bar, you could bring your own reusable containe r to take it away with you, or eat in and use washable crockery and cutlery.
Avoid cling film for your leftovers – foil is more recyclable. Natural cotton and beeswax wraps are becoming more widely available and popular – they can be moulded to fit your plate or bowl and washed in cold water.
Unless otherwise stated, data and statistics are taken from HM Government’s “Our Waste, Our Resources: a Strategy for
England (2018) and “UK Statistics on Waste” published by DEFRA and Government Statistical Service, March 2019.
There are many other little changes you can make. Some small shops and even some supermarkets allow you to take your own container to fill with rice, pasta, cereal etc. Consider getting your milk delivered in returnable glass bottles instead of plastic.