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Plastics: The next challenge for sustainable organisations

Businesses are well aware of climate change and what can be done to tackle it, but the issue of plastics is one that has also been at the forefront of public discussion.

Despite increased consumer demand for reduction, it’s projected that plastic production will double in the next 20 years. This will significantly exceed existing waste management and recycling capability.

Just as businesses have stepped up to combat up the climate crisis, they’ll also have to face up to plastic pollution. The issue is a sharper one, too, with the increased plastic waste generated by COVID-19.

How can organisations in the public sector respond to this demand and demonstrate their commitment to positive change?

Your plastic footprint

A recent, jointly published report by Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that in 2019, UK supermarkets were responsible for producing more than 890,000 tonnes of plastic packaging.

The report calls for plastic accounting to increase transparency and across the sector, while improving visibility for consumers and making progress measurable.

A type of accounting could help, but until such a system comes into place, businesses across the private and public sectors are reliant on existing procurement frameworks and waste management.

Alternatively, disposal frameworks – such as the NHS shared business service (SBS) for Waste Management and Minimisation – are in place and free to access for UK public sector bodies.

Wrapping up

WRAP, a charity which advocates for sustainable resource use, calls for a comprehensive review of all stages of the plastic lifecycle. WRAP currently works with the Welsh government, helping to reduce plastics pollution through cost-effective procurement and recycling.

In a 2019 report, the charity called for mandated reusability and recyclability of all plastic products, and aiming for a collection and recycling rate of greater than 90%.

ESG and plastics reduction

Slowly, progress is being made in the collective clean-up of plastic pollution. Like greenhouse gases, plastic waste is part of your overall environmental footprint.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting offers visibility and accountability over carbon emissions.

Further education bodies, including colleges and sixth forms, now have to report carbon emissions using the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Report (SECR) framework.

While the carbon emissions reporting process is not yet mandatory across the wider public sector, organisations should consider doing so, where they are not already.

To include plastics waste reduction measures would be a step above and beyond this, moving you from a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy to an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policy.

Industry and government will need to work together over the coming years to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to tackle the rising tide of plastic waste. Government grants are available to businesses to fund projects which will find innovative solutions to the plastics problem.

There may not be the same robust reporting around it yet, but public sector organisations can play their part by using appropriate frameworks, and in engaging partners to help determine the most appropriate course of action.

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