The UK Plastic Revolution
Since the start of 2018, the UK has been leading the charge in the plastic revolution that is sweeping the world as more and more people learn about the terrible effects that plastic is having on our oceans. In less than 6 months huge victories in the fight against plastic have been won, too many even in only the UK for me to mention in this blog. Many of these victories have only happened because of the huge public awareness that was created after the release of the incredible Blue Planet 2, which highlighted the plastic crisis in our oceans to millions of people who had been previously unaware of the issue and has brought plastic into the mainstream news. Habits around plastic in the UK have changed so much since the airing of Blue Planet 2 that this change has even been given a name – the Blue Planet Effect. This in turn has given rise to huge petitions and campaigns against plastic which have held some of the largest companies in the world to account for their plastic footprint and more campaigns to combat plastic are beginning every day. I have compiled some of the most important and impactful victories so far this year in this blog to give us something to celebrate and see our collective progress as a nation in 2018 and also to inspire us to continue fighting as there is still a long way to go.
- The British government have set out lots of new regulations around single-use plastic in the past few months and more are set to be rolled out in the rest of 2018. A 5p charge on plastic bags has been expanded across all UK shops, not just the large ones as before. This 5p charge led to 9 billion fewer bags being distributed in the UK last year. The government have also announced plans to get rid of all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. This plan includes increasing the number of recycling plants, reducing the number of plastic types used in products and doing more to make sure that waste is recyclable as well as reducing the amount of plastic used to package products. To learn more about the 25 year plan that the government has set out, click HERE and HERE. Environment Minister Michael Gove also announced that the UK will be introducing a return scheme for plastic and glass bottles and metal cans. This is where all bottles and canned drinks cost a bit more, but you receive that money back (this will probably be between 10p and 25p) when you return the bottle to special ‘reverse vending machines’ and the returned bottles are sent to be recycled. Many countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany already have these return schemes, and in Germany the return scheme means that over 97% of plastic, glass and metal bottles and cans are returned and recycled! Scotland has announced that they are banning all plastic cue tips and straws.
- One of the largest areas of focus in the fight against plastic has been plastic straws. Many shops and restaurants have been announcing that they are ditching plastic straws and replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives. McDonalds announced that all of its 1000 UK restaurants will be ditching plastic straws in favour of biodegradable ones. UK pub chain WetherSpoons has also announced that they will be ditching their plastic straws, which will divert over 70 million straws from landfill and oceans each year and replacing them with paper straws. Marriott International is also banning plastic straws in all of their hotels as well as Prêt a Manger and Costa. Other chains that are ditching straws include Wagamama, City Pub Co, Be At One and All Bar One. Most UK supermarkets have now either completely stopped selling plastic straws completely or are in the process of doing so by the end of this year. Campaigners are now pushing for a UK-wide ban on plastic straws.
Many of the changes that shops are making to reduce their use of plastic that I have mentioned below are part of the ‘UK Plastic Pact.’ This is a promise that over 40 of the UK’s largest businesses signed up to, where they promise to make 100% of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. This pact is the first of its kind in the world and has tied together 42 household names including many of the supermarkets mentioned below as well as brands such as Coco Cola Europe, Nestle UK and Unilever UK in a bid to tackle plastic waste. These businesses are responsible for over 80% of plastic packaging sold on products in UK supermarkets so this pact is huge progress and hopefully other countries will be following on soon. Please be aware that this is just an overview of what shops have been doing and there are many changes that I have missed out to keep this blog being relatively short.
- Tesco wants all its packaging to be recyclable or compostable by 2025 and wants its total packaging waste to be halved compared to 2007 levels. It has removed all polystyrene from its fish packaging, and replaced two layer plastic trays with single layer plastic which has helped them stop using an 92 extra tonnes of plastic each year.
- Sainsbury’s has an aim of reducing packing by 50% by 202 compared o 2005. Sainsbury’s has committed to removing plastic cotton buds and plastic straws, which are some of the most common plastic items found on our beaches. Sainsbury’s recycles carrier bags and has achieved a 33% reduction in its own-brand packaging since 2006. Between 02015 and 2016 it redesigned its two-pint milk bottles, saving 580 tonnes of plastic a year.
- Asda has reduced its packaging weight by 27% since 2007 by doing things such as introducing skin packaging for most of its meat products. It also saved 82 tonnes of plastic by making its two-litre own-brand water bottles lighter.
- Read more about what Asda is doing to ditch plastic HERE
- Morrison’s recycles its carrier bags and uses returnable bins for fish products to reduce the use of poly boxes. It has also banned plastic cotton buds and straws in its shops. Morrison’s is phasing out all plastic bags from its stores by the end of 2018.
- Aldi has promised to source all its pulp-based packaging from certified forests by 2020 and has reduced its packaging by 11% between 2012 and 2015. It recycles 100% of its cardboard and plastic.
- The Co-Op aims for 80% of its products to have easily recyclable packaging by 2020. It has replaced polystyrene pizza discs with cardboard, saving 200 tonnes of plastic from landfill and uses single-plastic packaging for meat, poultry and fish products.
- Waitrose has thinned its prepared salad bags and reduced smoked salmon packaging by 50%. It has also switched to biodegradable cotton buds (which is saving 21 tonnes of plastic per year) and has introduced a new sandwich wrapper which can be separated and recycled easier. It plans to make its own-brand packaging widely recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
- Waitrose announced that they will be removing all disposable cups from their shops by autumn, and are also ditching all black plastic and polystyrene in their own-brand products from 2019 as these are very tough for recycling machines to identify and recycle.
- Iceland is going to be removing a huge amount of plastic from its own-brand products by gradually phasing out and replacing plastic with the aim of being plastic free by 2023. For now, all products that are plastic free are market with the plastic-free trust mark so consumers can make more eco friendly decisions while shopping. Iceland have also introduced a flagship bottle return machine for a 6 month trial period in one of their London stores where shoppers can bring any plastic bottle, and when they insert the bottle in the machine they will receive a 10p voucher to spend instore.
Marks & Spencer
- M&S has trailed new materials to replace its black CPET (a type of plastic) packaging and the foils used to pack biscuits and crisps. Between 2007 and 2012 it reduced its total packaging by 25% and between 2021 and 2014, its food packaging usage per item decreased by 10%. Marks & Spencer is looking at using plastics made from plastic based oils.
- In April I created a change.org petition calling on Marks & Spencer to stop handing out free plastic cutlery from their stores. Within a week the petition had received over 50,000 signatures (which completely blew me away!) and M&S responded and announced that they will be replacing their free hand-out plastic cutlery with FSC certified wooden ones by this summer. In doing so this will be diverting over 75 million plastic knives, forks and spoons from landfill each year just from M&S.
- M&S are doing a lot more such as removing the 2 million plastic straws they use in their cafes each year and replacing them with paper ones, removing plastic covers from 500,000 cashmere jumpers and taking plastic from 450 million tea bags as well.
- Learn more about what M&S is doing to solve the problem of plastic HERE.
- The National Geographic is removing all plastic wrapping from their magazine issues and switching to a paper wrappers, starting this month. All international editions will be paper wrapped by the end of 2019.
- The UK’s largest tea brand PG Tips announced that they are getting rid of plastic from their tea bags. Ongoing campaigns are now calling for other UK tea brands to do the same.
- The Queen has banned plastic cutlery, plates, cups, bottles and straws from all her palaces and royal households after being impacted by Blue Planet 2. The BBC is banning all single-use plastic from 2020.
- Starbucks announced in April that they are finally creating a #BetterCup and are investing 10 million USD in the ‘NextGen Cup.’ This is a competition for the greatest innovators to make a fully recyclable and compostable cup that Starbucks hope to have rolled out across all their stores within three years. They are also going to be doing a lot more to encourage the use of reusable cups within their stores. This victory came about after months of protesting and boycotting by 100s of thousands of people all over the world. Starbucks sells around 8 billion drinks every year in the US alone, so this is great news for our countryside and oceans. Sticking to coffee, Costa announced in late April that they will be recycling as many cups as they sell by 2020, effectively making them cup-neutral. They have said that they will be recycling 500 million coffee cups per year – and not just their own but also cups from other companies as well. This is because they are offering waste collection firms £70 for every tonne of cups they collect (or 150% more than before). Currently only 0.25% of paper cups are recycled because their thin plastic layer makes them hard and expensive to recycle, but this amazing action that Costa is taking is going to have a huge impact! Go Starbucks and Costa!
- Nestle and Mars, the world-famous confectionary brands, have announced that they will be making all of their packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 as part of the UK Plastic Pact.
This blog is quite literally only covering the tip of the iceberg when it comes to victories in the fight against plastic this year as there has been so much amazing news coming just from the UK that I couldn’t possibly begin to even attempt to fit it all into a single blog. In the rest of 2018 there will undoubtedly be many, many more huge victories following on from what we have already achieved. However, reducing our use of plastic as a nation and as a global species isn’t all about governments and companies changing their products, you have a responsibility too. Try to use as little plastic as possible and avoid unnecessary plastic by doing things such as buying loose fruit and veg instead of plastic-wrapped alternatives. If you want to learn more about how to reduce your use of plastic click HERE .