In depth: How are businesses performing against their plastic pledges?
Over the last two years, some the world's largest businesses have made ambitious new commitments to eliminating single-use plastics. Here, edie rounds up what progress some of these businesses have made to date.
In a global climate where net-zero emissions are being targeted for 2050 and delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has an 11-year window, two years can pass in the blink of an eye.
But looking back since that episode of Blue Planet 2 launched in late 2017 it is clear that businesses, consumers and governments alike have ignited a worldwide revolt against single-use plastics. In the following months since Blue Planet 2 highlighted the dramatic and damaging impact that human use and disposal of certain plastics have had on natural ecosystems, businesses of all sizes have either made new commitments, or resurfaced existing ones, to showcase their desire to eliminate single-use plastics.
Spurred by the fact that we are now producing more than double the amount of plastic as we did two decades ago, the UK’s business community moved to phase-out items such as straws, drinks stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds at a breakneck pace.
Indeed, many have now pledged to eliminate non-recyclable plastics from their product, packaging and service offerings altogether, with dozens having made such commitments under initiatives like WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy.
But much like a New Years Resolution, commitments are merely a statement of intent, albeit one that can be held to public scrutiny; it takes continuous action, new ways of thinking and leaps of faith to deliver against these commitments.
So, just how have businesses delivered on these targets to date? Last month, edie reached out to more than 20 businesses that have made new pledges to reduce single-use plastics over the last two years to uncover what progress has been made. Here, edie lists how the 13 businesses that responded are performing against their plastic pledges.
edie will continuously update current progress from businesses against their plastic pledges, as well as adding data from new businesses to the Plastics Hub throughout the year. If you’d like to add a plastics commitment to the Hub, please email email@example.com.
Discount supermarket chain Aldi made a commitment last March to ensure all packaging on its own-label is reusable, recyclable or compostable before 2022. It additionally vowed to scrap 5p carrier bags by the end of 2018, offering customers reusable 9p bags made from back-of-store plastic waste instead.
The company met its plastic bag commitment in December 2018 and has removed 266 tonnes of plastic packaging from its UK stores since setting the 2022 target.
Aldi has also replaced around 1,600 tonnes of non-recyclable or hard-to-recycle plastic packaging with recyclable alternatives during the ten-month period and has begun using PCR plastic in its food packaging for the first time. To date, around 244 tonnes of PCR plastic has been used.
Canary Wharf Group
John Garwood, MD & Group Company Secretary, Canary Wharf Group announces our progress in today’s #BreakingThePlasticHabit Breakfast Briefing and that if you line up the 3.5 million coffee cups we’ve recycled to date, they would reach from here to York! #MakingSustainabilityReal pic.twitter.com/mZTH2DHqgr— Canary Wharf Group (@CanaryWharfGrp) January 10, 2019
Since launching its ‘Breaking the Plastics Habit’ behaviour change scheme last summer, property developer Canary Wharf Group (CWG) has encouraged 83 retailers trading at its flagship commercial estate to ban plastic straws, reducing the development’s annual plastic footprint by 1.2 million items.
The company has also recovered 13,000 bottles through its reverse-vending machine scheme, and provided 35,000 free water bottle refills across its seven new drinking fountains.
Within its own operations, CWG has met its Breaking the Plastics Habit pledge of removing plastic drinks bottles, coffee cups and straws from its own offices.
As for coffee cups sold by the retailers on its estate, CWG told edie that its ‘Clean Coffee Zone’ scheme has captured and recycled three million disposable cups since its launch in 2017.
Cranswick, one of Britain’s leading suppliers of premium food, pledged last year to use 100% recyclable and sustainable sourced packaging by 2025. The business has also committed to reducing its plastics use by 50% by 2025.
To deliver on these commitments, Cranswick has designed an innovative new range of packaging that can be easily recovered through all household recycling collections across the UK. The packaging will be rolled out across its products by the end of March, after which point, the business will focus on sourcing plastic-free alternatives.
Since making the pledge, Cranswick has recorded a 4.24% year-on-year reduction in its plastic consumption, mitigating the use of 594 tonnes of virgin plastic.
“From becoming a founding signatory of the UK Plastics Pact, continuing our work with Champions 12.3 and supporting a circular plastics economy at Canary Wharf, to winning the 'Best Waste Prevention Project Award' at the Waste2Zero awards and partnering with the technology app OLIO to tackle community food poverty, sustainability truly has been at the heart of our business in 2018,” Cranswick’s group commercial director Jim Brisby said.
The Foreign Office
The foreign office has removed 97% or 1.56 million pieces of single-use plastic from its UK estate since February 2018 a reduction from 310 items per person to 10. The remaining 3% of plastic waste still produced is “currently unavoidable”, since it is within the supply chain.
More than half a million disposable plastic coffee cups have been completely removed from its UK Estate since the introduction of a 50p levy in April. Biodegradable coffee cups are now provided as an alternative, but staff are encouraged to use their own mugs. This is a significant change from last year, when hot beverage cups accounted for 48% of plastic waste in FCO catering.
Last May, hotelier Hilton committed to removing plastic straws from its 650 managed properties by the end of 2018, replacing them with biodegradable alternatives – a move the company claimed would avoid the use of five million straws every year from 2019.
The firm also committed to removing plastic water bottles from meetings and events in hotels across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, saving 20 million single-use bottles annually by offering visitors reusable jugs and cups instead.
Hilton’s director of corporate responsibility Sylvia Low said the company is now “well on track” to meet these plastic reduction targets.
“Across our portfolio, properties have adopted a variety of alternatives to plastic straws - hotels are encouraged to source the most environmentally-friendly options available locally, so this varies from the most commonly used paper and biodegradable alternatives, through to more innovative replacements such as straws made from bamboo or lemongrass,” Low said.
Iceland had pledged to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-label products by the end of 2023. Earlier this month, the frozen food retailer Iceland unveiled the results of its trial of an in-store deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, revealing that the scheme has captured more than 300,000 bottles since its launch in May 2018.
The reverse-vending units, which accept any of the chain’s own-brand beverage bottles and repay users with a 10p voucher to be used in-store for each bottle inserted, have collected 311,500 bottles to date, Iceland revealed this week. Once bottles are captured, they are cleaned and sent to recycling facilities. In total, more than £30,000 of coupons have been issued to date.
After selling more than one million single-use plastic items to its UK partner restaurants in 2017, takeaway food firm Just Eat announced in March last year that it stopped selling such items with immediate effect.
Since then, its shop has been restocked with compostable and biodegradable alternatives to items such as cutlery, Styrofoam boxes and disposable cups. Just Eat has been trialling edible, seaweed-based sauce sachets at 10 of its London-based partner restaurant, in a bid to gauge consumer reactions to such products.
Just Eat trialled a pre-ticked box on its app and website to encourage customers to opt out of receiving plastics that they don’t need. By the end of this trial, 20% of users had requested reduced plastic in their takeaway order. Just Eat is now working towards introducing this as a permanent feature on the platform
Lucozade Ribena Suntory
Soft drinks firm Lucozade Ribena Suntory (LRS) has been using 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics to house its Ribena lines since 2008 – a move which has prevented the production of more than 40,000 tonnes of virgin plastic packaging. According to LRS, this is the weigh equivalent of around 30,000 Ford Fiestas.
Following a successful trial in 2018, LRS has this year rolled out a new light weighted packaging concept across all of its 500ml Ribena bottles – a move it claims will save 325 tonnes of plastic annually.
More broadly, LRS is a member of WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact and is, therefore, striving to make 100% of its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
We’re always trying to find new opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment, so we’re delighted to announce that Premier Inn & Restaurants are introducing paper straws. This will eliminate the use of 12 million plastic straws across the sites we own every year! pic.twitter.com/COeNM2xK9u— Brewers Fayre (@brewersfayre) November 2, 2018
Hospitality giant Whitbread announced last October that it would begin removing plastic straws from its Premier Inn hotels in November 2018 – a move which is set to remove 10 million plastic straws from circulation each year once a brand-wide phase-out is completed.
Since then, the chain has implemented a software ordering mechanism that prevents teams from ordering plastic straws. Staff are encouraged, instead, to order paper straws and to keep them behind the bar, offering them on request only. Whitbread estimates that these changes will see its straw consumption fall to 6.5 million annually.
Premier Inn has also eliminated 48,000 salt and pepper sachets, which come with a plastic lining, from its headquarters since 2017 by switching to grinders in its staff canteens. The Dunstable-based office has additionally replaced plastic cutlery with bamboo and steel alternatives, eliminating 15,000 plastic items from its annual waste streams, and switched its takeaway food containers from polystyrene to biodegradable alternatives, eliminating a further 120,000 plastic items each year.
Food-to-go chain Pret-A-Manger moved last January to double its discount to customers who bring reusable cups into stores to 50p, after introducing an initial 25p discount in 2017.
Since this change was implemented, the brand has recorded a 15-fold increase in the number of drinks it has sold in reusable coffee cups.
When the 25p discount was in place, Pret sold around 8,000 drinks in a reusable cup every week. This figure now stands at 130,000 drinks – an increase which Pret claims helped to eliminate four million cups from its waste streams in 2018.
Pret has also launched a range of reusable bottles in recent times, in a bid to encourage customers to use its free filtered water stations instead of buying water in plastic bottles. The company has not yet published information on the amount of plastic this move has saved.
In October 2017, broadcasting company Sky announced that all single-use plastics will be removed from its products, operations and supply chain by 2020 and will that it will also invest £25m into an Ocean Rescue Innovation Fund to develop remedies to the amount of waste seeping into oceans.
The company has since revealed that all new products are now housed in single-use plastic-free packaging and that the £25m Sky Ocean Ventures fund has now backed Choose Water Skipping Rocks Lab.
As for reductions, Sky saved 175 tonnes of single-use plastic in 2018, the equivalent of 19 full rubbish trucks.
Coffee chain Starbucks has been offering a 25p discounts to UK customers using a reusable cup since 1998. Last year, it went one step further, launching a three-month 5p levy trial on paper coffee cups across 35 stores in London.
The trial led to a 156% increase in reusable cup use – a result that led the company to extend the charge to all of its London locations. On average, these stores have recorded a 126% uplift in reusable cup use since the 5p levy was introduced.
Proceeds of the 5p charge are donated to environmental charity Hubbub, which has collected more than 1.2 million paper coffee cups across Manchester and London. Hubbub is now working with Starbucks in a bid to help drive further behaviour change. The partnership has recorded a 3.5% increase in reusable cup use.
In 2018, we hit our target to remove 1,300 tonnes of hard-to-recycle black plastic from 100's of products. It's part of our overall commitment to remove all own-label black plastic by the end of 2019. Find out more here: https://t.co/JTVSGgq7mt pic.twitter.com/2WQErUHjTm— Waitrose & Partners (@waitrose) January 14, 2019
Having reduced packaging by almost 50% since 2009, Waitrose is targeting 10)% of its own-brand products to be widely recyclable by 2023, a figure that currently stands at 70%.
In 2018, the retailer hit a target to remove 1,300 tonnes of hard-to-recycle black plastic from 100's of products as part an overall commitment to remove all own-label black plastic by the end of 2019. Waitrose & Partners has also removed single-use plastic bags from its fruit and vegetable aisles and 5p carrier bags from all stores – a move that will cut plastic usage by 134 million bags each year.
edie's Mission Possible Plastics Hub
edie has today (15 January) launched the Mission Possible Plastics Hub – a brand-new content-driven campaign that will support sustainability and resource efficiency professionals on our collective mission to eliminate single-use plastics.
In addition to hosting content that supports businesses with their single-use plastics phase-outs, the Mission Possible Plastics Hub will be encouraging sustainability professionals to submit new commitments to tackle plastic pollution on the Mission Possible Pledge Wall.
If your company has an existing plastics commitment, or if you’re planning a new commitment over the coming months, you can showcase it on the Mission Possible Pledge Wall.
(By submitting a pledge, edie readers are agreeing to the commitment, target date and expected benefits being published on the Mission Possible Pledge Wall, along with their name and job title. They are also agreeing to being contacted by a member of the edie editorial team, should any further information about their pledge be required.)
Matt Mace & Sarah George