From measurement to action: Five best-practice lessons on going plastic-free

Having taken place on 16 January, edie's Plastic-Free Power Hour webinar included a collection of best-practice examples of sector-leading organisations taking control of their plastics-use - and delivering real organisational change. Here, we reflect on the key takeaways from the session.

From measurement to action: Five best-practice lessons on going plastic-free

The sessions are available to watch on-demand

Sponsored by PHS Group, the session included Eurostar’s Rebecca Cranshaw, Marielle Pantin and Andy Haigh from the sustainability team at Canary Wharf Group, and Brett Fleming-Jones from PHS, and formed part of edie’s week-long plastics week coverage.

You can watch the Q&A debate, along with the rest of edie’s online plastics event, here.

1) Undertake analysis and assessment of plastics use before action

Kicking off discussion, Eurostar’s Cranshaw went into detail about how the train operator had reduced its plastics use through its Tread Lightly sustainability strategy, and how it has pledged to half its amount of plastic that it uses over the next two years – including a move to reduce the organisation’s plastics footprint by more than 100,000 bottles annually.

This overall target was created through an analysis in 2017 of the number of water bottles used or sold onboard, with figures presented to the firm’s sustainability committee. A decision was then made by the CEO and directors to challenge the amount of single-use plastic that was used, resulting in an overall target to reduce single-use plastic in lounges and on board by 50% by the end of 2020.

The analysis included an assessment of every item onboard, a workshop with the Sustainable Restaurant Association to look at best-practice case studies across the sector, and then develop solutions. As part of the assessment, Cranshaw said a hierarchy was followed, which included firstly eliminating plastic where possible by either removing completely or replacing with an alternative; secondly, where alternatives weren’t feasible, changing plastic to 100% recycled plastic; and thirdly, where both of the above aren’t possible, reducing the weight or amount of plastic in use, where achievable.

2) Remember the law of unintended consequences

Cranshaw also highlighted the business-critical element in the reduction of single-use plastics and the use of alternatives: don’t forget unintended consequences. 

She said that a systematic approach is needed in the assessment, and the hierarchy approach to reducing plastic ensures there is an “overall sustainability benefit”. In this way, lowering plastic use includes an overall lifecycle consideration of a product. The cycle includes production and sourcing of a material or product, the logistics and storage for all sites, loading, the use of the product by crew and customers, the sorting and segregation and ultimately the recycling and disposal.

There is also an incentive to drive change in products when the alternatives aren’t available, and the preference for recycled plastics means that helps to create a market for the material, creating in the long-term a reduction in virgin material and incentivising the supply chain to utilise recycled plastic in products – and also increase recycling rates as demand for the material increases.

3) Influence behavioural change

Pantin from Canary Wharf Group outlined how its “Breaking the Plastic Habit” programme was encouraging behavioural change across its estate – and its end-goal of being a Plastic Free Community, accredited by Surfers Against Sewage, which was achieved in June 2019.

Interestingly, CWG was keen to stress that it wasn’t about removing all plastic on the estate, but about “targeting specific, avoidable single-use plastic items” and influencing “positive behavioural change”, which included asking stakeholders to consider their own usage of plastic, how to break the habit incrementally, and how to “break the habit” by collectively moving away from a “throwaway plastic culture”.

The Group launched a series of initiatives to begin the process of influencing stakeholders, including “Wake up and Smell the Coffee”, using World Environment Day in June 2017 to showcase concern through a stakeholder vote illustrating plastic pollution was the “number 1 issue” they were most concerned about, and then begin a series of specific campaigns, such as one associated with plastic straws, to begin to change behaviour.

4) After influence, make a plan of action

Once the Group had got stakeholders engaged and on-side with the plans to reduce plastics-use, it came up with several categories to implement it’s Breaking the Plastics Habit strategy.

Firstly, it used events to communicate messages and drive change. This included Breakfast briefings which worked as a forum to update the community on activity; a collection of ‘roadshows’ for its plastics app to encourage downloads and continued engagement; ‘pop-up’ shows to tenants on plastics recycling, and also using World Environment Day for business events and to communicate progress.

Secondly, it used working groups to inform and inspire retailers to remove single-use plastics, and also it set up pilots for commercial tenants, including schemes such as the ‘compost club’ to continue action on the issue and set definitive paths in train.

The Group also used various channels to keep up the communication and progress on its strategy, including its website and the press, creating consumer awareness through its “#MaketheSwitch” campaign, newsletters, internal communications, and leadership reports.

Finally, CWG used partnership working to connect tenants, as well as connecting influencers in the single-use plastics industry to encourage change.

5) Build on success

Both Eurostar and CWG highlighted plans to build on the success of their current strategies. This included Eurostar undertaking an assessment of organic waste and waste stream analysis, as well as looking at options to move to a more circular model in its plastics-use. Additionally, Eurostar undertook its first-ever ‘single-use plastics free’ service last year, with plans to further reduce plastic by 80% over the following two years.

CWG had a similar stretch targets off the back of its Breaking the Plastic Habit campaign, which includes expansion of a number of its current projects, such as collaborating with tenants to support further initiatives and engagement, connecting on key issues for stakeholders, continuing a reduction in plastics in construction, and also analysing the potential to reduce single-use further within the Estate.

PHS also outlined how it can assist companies with its special partnership with Viridor on Energy-from-Waste, and how this can also help drive a shift in how waste is managed and reduce overall waste-to-landfill.

Catch up on edie’s Mission Possible Plastics Week 

Earlier this month, edie hosted Mission Possible Plastics Week – a five-day camapgin packed with exclusive interviews, podcasts, reports, blogs, webinars and in-depth feature articles – all dedicated to turning the tide on single-use plastics. 

You can catch up with all of the content, including webinars on-demand, by clicking here. This campaign was hosted in association with Nestle. 

James Evison

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