Did you know that we produce five million tonnes of plastic waste a year in the UK, of which 70% comes from packaging? System-wide changes to how we produce, use and recycle materials are needed to fully tackle the problem of plastic pollution and its connection to the climate crisis. And businesses of every shape and size can take plenty of steps to play their part.

What are the benefits of reducing plastic? 

From rubbish on the street to waste polluting rivers, beaches and harming sea life, plastic is an environmental issue that has captured public attention. It’s visible and is something that individuals and businesses can have an immediate impact on.  

A study from 2021 found that almost 80% of people in the UK are concerned about plastic pollution and want to reduce how much they use. And nearly 90% of people worldwide want a UN plastic pollution treaty. 

The majority of people are concerned about plastic – so it’s reasonable to assume your staff and customers are, too. Businesses that are reducing their own plastic usage and – importantly – helping consumers find plastic-free options, have a tangible way of showing that they’re becoming greener. And that’s not to mention the cost-savings from reducing how much waste needs collecting. 

120 businesses are signed up to the UK Plastic Pact set up by Wrap, an organisation committed to helping businesses be more sustainable by changing their approach to how materials are made, used and disposed of. These businesses will aim to reduce plastic used in packaging and strengthen recycling infrastructure in the UK, and include supermarkets such as Tesco, ASDA and Lidl, and FMCG brands like Unilever, Danone and Nestle. 

If you want to make your business more sustainable but aren’t sure where to start, here are some tips for cutting plastic: 

Swap disposable for biodegradable or recyclable 

There are lots of more sustainable alternatives available for plastic-based or throwaway items. Here are a few examples: 

Use cellophane instead of plastic wrap. Cellophane is made from cellulose and will biodegrade in landfill within two months if its uncoated, or three months if it’s coated.  

Opt for products that come in glass or tin packaging that can be recycled more times than plastic. 

Choose cardboard or compostable packaging for items like takeaway cups, plates and cutlery – whether for staff events or when selling to customers. 

Don’t offer things like plastic carrier bags or put them out on display – only provide them if a customer asks. 

Get recycling savvy 

Know what your local authority can and cannot collect, and what your responsibilities are as a business. 

Make it easy for staff or customers to help you reduce your plastic. Put out separate bins for general waste and recycling. 

Find out what recycling needs to be separated. For example, packaging marked as ‘compostable’ often needs to be collected separately rather than included with food waste. 

Partner with an organisation like TerraCycle® and become a drop off point for harder to recycle items like toothpaste and cosmetics packaging, crisp packets and more.  

Refill, don’t replace 

Think about the types of products you buy and whether there are refillable alternatives. Some examples for different sectors include: 

Food retail: encourage customers to bring their own containers for items sold loose or by weight. Or their own cups for takeaway drinks. 

Hospitality: use refillable toiletries that can be topped up for new guests, rather than replaced. 

Leisure: provide a water fountain or cooler for people to refill their bottles, rather than drinks in plastic bottles. 

Retail: stock items from companies that enable refills. For example, Ecover offers refills for cleaning products, and Faith in Nature for shampoo and conditioner. 

Sustainable supply chain 

It’s not just about changing your own business for the better. Take a look at your supply chain and source from companies that are also taking action on plastic. 

Stationery: choose recycled materials, whether that’s pens or paper 

Food and drink: fuel the office tea run with milk delivered in glass bottles. Work with suppliers for products like tea and coffee who are reducing the plastic in their packaging. If you provide fruit, buy from a local greengrocer.  

Fabric: synthetic materials like polyester and acrylic generate microplastic fibres when washed. Responsibly sourced natural fibres including cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo are plastic free and more sustainable. 

Postage and packaging: choose cardboard or biodegradable packaging rather than bubble-wrap or polystyrene.  

Getting buy in from staff 

If you want to make a success of reducing plastic, you’ll also need your team to get on board – especially if you have a larger workforce.  

Regularly share what action you’re taking and why it’s important: if you have an internal news email, make your sustainability actions a regular feature.  

Make it easy for people to help: make sure recycling bins are clearly marked and visible, including details about what can be recycled and whether it needs to be washed first. 

Be open to suggestions: create a way for your team to share ideas for how your company could be more sustainable. This could include setting up a voluntary sustainability group, creating a sustainability mailbox for people to email, or just a good old-fashioned noticeboard.  

For more support and ideas on reducing waste and plastic pollution, go to wrap.org.uk