Start small and think big
Set an ambitious target for your business to switch to plastic alternatives. You could aim to be a plastic-free business in 18 months and work back from there. Look for the quick wins, for example, getting rid of single use plastics (SUPs) such as coffee cups, in the staff canteen. The Single Use Plastics Directive that came into force in July 2021 means that certain Single Use Plastics such as plastic straws and stirrers are banned.
Plastic alternatives to SUP:
Straws – Paper straws are compostable but try reusable metal straws too, or don’t use them!
Stirrers – Wooden stirrers, reusable metal spoons
Plastic Cutlery – Bamboo or wooden sporks (a fork and a spoon!) or reusable regular metal
Plastic Plates – Compostable plates or go back to china ones
Cotton swabs – bamboo or compostable alternative
Look to other businesses in your area for inspiration, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to plastic alternatives.
The 5 R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Replace, Recycle
Use the principles of the 5 R’s to look at ways you can integrate plastic alternatives into your supply chain.
Refuse – Consider if you need to use the plastic item in the first place, for example see if suppliers can deliver with no packaging.
Reduce – Look at where plastic material can be reduced and start with things that are single use. For example, single use plastic cups at the water dispenser could be removed entirely and refillable bottles or glasses used instead.
Reuse – Can you switch to reusable items rather than single use? For example, reusable coffee cups for the morning cup of tea or coffee.
Replace – Where an item can’t be reused and needs to be single use, can you replace it with a fully compostable alternative such as bamboo, cornstarch or paper?
Recycle – This should be your last option, if there are no plastic alternatives available. Make sure you provide locations for recycling throughout the premises for sorting and collecting everyday waste items such as bottles, cans, cardboard and paper for reuse or recycling. Purchase items that are already made of recycled plastic.
Create a Plastic Register, particularly for single use items. Look at key plastic purchased by the business from operations, office, packaging, marketing/promotional materials and stationery, through to kitchen/canteen, laundry and catering. For each operational area covered, make a list of all items that have plastic content. Then look at the cost to purchase each item and if there is a non plastic alternative, made from a natural fibre, such as bamboo or paper, that can be composted at the end of its life. Consider if you need the item at all, for example, post-it notes or plastic straws.
Plastic free strategy
The ultimate aim is to integrate a plastic free strategy into your purchasing and contracting procedures to support your overall sustainability objectives. Discuss the policy with employees and invite their input for how best to implement it throughout the business. Agree on the targets you wish to achieve, linking them to your strategy. Prioritise the list into areas where you can have the most immediate impact. Allocate responsibilities for updating the plastic register, information posters and training for employees.