Top 10 tips to eliminate single-use plastics from your business
During a plastic-themed webinar late last week, representatives from Sky, Cranswick, Aquafil and A Plastic Planet gave their advice for professionals looking to eliminate single-use plastics from their organisations. Here, edie rounds up their key takeaways.
edie hosted its first hour-long webinar of the year on Thursday (17 January), covering business action in tackling plastic waste to date and exploring how companies can collaborate, innovate and act to drive further, more ambitious action.
Hosted in association with phs and edie’s Mission Possible Plastic Hub, this interactive webinar heard from some of the leaders of the corporate war on plastic, who are igniting new thought-processes, behaviours and initiatives across their business in a bid to spark culture-wide shifts in attitudes towards plastic.
During the webinar, Sky’s head of inspirational business Fiona Ball, A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland, Cranswick Gourmet Pastry’s site director Andy Mayer and Aquafil’s brand and communications manager Maria Giovanna Sandrini outlined how businesses can implement more ambitious plastic-reduction plans and take up leadership positions in this space.
Topics discussed throughout the session ranged from plastics innovations and ‘easy wins’, through to purpose-led business and meaningful collaboration. Here, edie rounds up the speakers’ key takeaways.
1) Measure your plastic to manage your plastic
As with carbon, water use and other waste and resource streams, panellists expressed a shared “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” approach to plastics and encouraged listeners to conduct thorough plastic audits within their own organisations.
Cranswick has approached this challenge by carrying out “internal hotspot analysis” at each of its facilities, Mayer explained, allowing it to identify where and why plastics are currently being used. This approach enables him to benchmark his staff’s efforts against other Cranswick sites and target opportunities to drive large-scale reduction, he added.
Sky, meanwhile, has undertaken a plastic footprint mapping exercise in the same way it maps its carbon footprint. All products and packaging are separated for weighing, with the weight of single-use plastics included in each entered into a database. This digital tool then enables Sky to identify hotspots and re-design products or packaging.
2) Define your reach, and what ‘single-use’ means to you
In order to streamline the auditing process and drive plastic impactful reduction, Sky’s Ball encouraged listeners to start by determining which kinds of plastics their organisation should class as “single-use”. For Sky, this term applies to any plastic item, regardless of what polymer it is made from, which is used for a month or less.
“We started by producing a plastics policy, which helped us to understand the scope of what we wanted to look at and whether that included direct operations, Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers,” Ball said. “This was really important, as the scope of your plan can make quite a difference to how much plastic – and what kind of plastics – you’re looking at.”
3) Plan and implement ‘no regrets’ actions
All of the speakers agreed that, despite mounting consumer pressure for drastic and immediate plastic reduction from retailers, businesses should take extra time to consider the unintended consequences any plastic-free alternatives could bring.
For Cranswick, which predominantly produces high-value food products with a short shelf life, a key risk of going plastic-free is an increased food waste footprint.
“There’s no value in reducing plastic in one hand but creating food waste in another – you must act responsibly with all sources of waste in mind,” Mayer explained, citing the elimination of plastic windows used purely for aesthetic purposes as a move which balanced all waste considerations.
“Everyone is interested in what alternatives can be used, but increasingly, what mistakes have been made,” Sutherland added.
4) Interrogate your supply chains
Sky’s Ball, Aquafil’s Sandrini and Cranswick’s Mayer explained how plastics action within their organisations had been mapped at a supply chain level, in addition to a front-of-house and consumer product level.
Sky, for example, is working with suppliers at all tiers to ensure single-use plastic is not used within factories or during transport. To date, this collaboration has resulted in a 75% reduction in the number of plastic items used by its logistics partners.
Ball noted that Sky’s collaboration with suppliers was a mixture of “engagement and enforcement”, with suppliers urged to set even more ambitious goals but made aware they could be dropped by the company for failing to eliminate plastics.
“There needs to be a supply chain effort because the only way we can succeed is together,” Aquafil’s Sandrini added. “Being alone will not solve the problem – you have to co-operate with different supply chains and stakeholders than those in your industry, as well as those directly related to your business.”
5) Don’t neglect ‘easy wins’
When setting an all-encompassing or long-term target, sustainability professionals should take care not to neglect the actions which can be taken immediately to reduce their organisation’s plastic output, the speakers concurred.
For Cranswick, such “low-hanging fruits” have included removing plastic windows from pie packets, replacing them with artwork on a 100% cardboard box, and replacing plastic punnets used for transport with cardboard alternatives. Taking these actions have helped the firm to generate a 594-tonne reduction in its annual plastic footprint in less than a year.
“From the conception stage, we began to factor in waste production and how we can eliminate it, which highlighted some potential easy wins,” Mayer said. “There will be several areas you can remove plastic which won’t contribute to food waste. Easily-accessible alternatives are out there.”
6) Engage your employees in your action plan
While the vast majority of companies will have experienced a demand for plastic-free products or packaging from consumers, many are still underestimating their employees’ appetite for tackling plastic pollution, Cranswick’s Mayer explained.
The company’s target of halving its plastic use by 2025 applies to its internal operations as well as its consumer goods, making employee behaviour change a key piece of the puzzle. In a bid to spur this change, Cranswick has created three groups of “waste warriors”, who are tasked with engaging their colleagues on sustainability issues, at each of its sites.
“It’s only through collaboration with our employees that we will be able to deliver the results we need to hit our targets,” Mayer said. “We have been taken aback by the strength of interest and passion among our teams – 94% of our employees responded to our onsite sustainability study.”
7) Collaborate with innovators
A Plastic Planet’s Sutherland encouraged businesses to be bold and creative when exploring alternatives to plastic packaging – particularly for products which have traditionally been packaged this way to minimise damage, contamination or food waste.
She urged listeners to visit the UK’s first plastic-free convenience store – Thornton’s Budgens in Camden – to see “living proof” that hard-to-abate products like meat and cheese can be sold without plastic packaging.
“There are so many alternative materials, which nature can handle, out there,” she said, citing the emergence of cellulose-based alternatives to flexible plastics. “We don’t need to live a highly inconvenient lifestyle where we might increase food wastage.”
8) Don’t be afraid to set ambitious targets
Sky’s Ball emphasised the importance of setting targets which remove single-use plastic from products and services altogether, where possible.
She additionally encouraged listeners to set both short and long-term plastic reduction targets, to spur ambitious action from the offset and ensure continued progress. Sky, for example, has pledged to become single-use plastic free by 2020 and to invest £25m in innovative solutions by 2030.
“A lot of the issues we have changed in Sky have been made by looking at things very differently, which is helped by having strong and fast targets,” she said.
“Only with real ambition, strong leadership and a strong culture within your organisation can you really transform your approach to designing and producing products. We need to act now – don’t make incremental targets, go big.”
9) Play your part in driving culture-wide change
While praising companies to have made commitments surrounding specific items like straws or cotton buds, panellists concluded that spurring a plastic phase-out which will encompass the UK’s entire business community will require a more holistic and collaborative approach.
“We shouldn’t be talking about what a more sustainable disposable coffee cup will look like – the question we should be asking is how we are going to live,” Sutherland argued.
“This is much more intrinsic in changing how we take, make, consume and throw away everything that we use. The answer to plastic is not going to be one sustainable coffee cup or a latte levy, it is driving a truly circular way of living.”
Sky’s Ball, meanwhile, emphasised that the company’s internal plastic phase-out had been accompanied by collaborations with the likes of Volvo and the Premier League, in addition to the launch of Sky Ocean Scholars – a scheme to educate plastic innovators.
10) Use the power of the media
When asked for one key piece of advice for businesses looking to lead the corporate war on plastic pollution, A Plastic Planet’s Sutherland urged listeners to communicate their efforts with relevant media outlets in order to reap the benefits of increased brand trust.
“The way that the media has continued to focus on this issue has been incredible,” she explained. “Usually, you wait for the backlash, but it hasn’t come. The media has continued to re-invent the plastic issue to make it fundamental to people in a way that has never happened with any other environmental issues.”
edie recently 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.)