Tag Archives: Accounting for Energy
By Accounting for Energy – (5 min read)
Single-use plastics such as straws, cotton buds and cutlery are causing a stir, raising awareness of consumption habits and the impact of our reliance on plastics.
The UK government has announced a commitment to a wholesale ban on single-use items and, assuming its current consultation does not throw up any surprises, the ban is pegged to be in place by 2020. For once, government, business and the public all seem to pulling in the same direction, so the focus represents a real opportunity to ride the wave and make genuine, long term change.
Industry has been quick to respond, and it is interesting to see, across the globe, changes within the same time frame. The European Commission’s Single-Use Plastic Directive will prevent the sale and use of 10 of the most polluting single-use plastic products – including cotton buds, cutlery, straws, stirrers and polystyrene containers. Meanwhile, Australia’s Labor Party has promised a raft of environmental legislation focused around waste if it returns to power in the 2019 elections.
The pledges include a ban on microbeads and some plastic bags, a $60-million (£32.6m) recycling fund and $15 million (£8.15m) of funding to help neighbouring countries clean up the Pacific Ocean.
So how many single-use items does the UK consume? Plastic straws are a good gauge, with some estimates showing that the UK sips and flings 8.5 billion – 130 per person – each year. However, others refute this figure. McDonald's told the BBC’s Reality Check that the company uses 1.8 million straws a day and, if you apply the same calculation used to reach 8.5 billion, it shows that around 4.4 billion straws are used in fast food outlets each year in the UK – around 67 per person.
Surfers Against Sewage has historically spoken out against the volume of plastic appearing in the oceans. Recently, it awarded Anglesey ‘plastic free’ community status – the first time that a county has been recognised. It follows an 18-month campaign to highlight the issue of disposable plastic waste, and has seen businesses encouraged to ditch disposable coffee cups and bottles, and schools pledging to cut plastic waste.
Raising awareness is key. The BBC’s Blue Planet II, and the more recent Blue Planet Live, have transformed the way that the public views plastic, particularly plastic packaging. But if we are to bring about permanent change, we need to maintain momentum. Hubbub’s Plastic Fishing Tour will see a new 12-seater punt – made from 99 per cent recycled plastic – take to the waters in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and across central Scotland in coming months.
The project sees volunteers and school children collect plastic waste from waterways, raising awareness of growing levels of plastic pollution in the country’s waterways and encouraging people to recycle more. The scheme began in London and is funded by the proceeds gained through the Starbucks five pence charge on drinks purchased in a single-use cup, which is in place across all of its 950 outlets in the UK.
Combined with government commitment and awareness raising, is a need for someone to do the unthinkable, to go further than anyone else, and draw a line in the sand. This year, festival giant Glastonbury has taken a bold step, banning single-use bottles from its 2019 event in June.
The festival summed up its thinking with a typically matter of fact approach. “With more than one million plastic bottles sold at Glastonbury 2017, we feel that stopping their sale is the only way forward.” Let’s hope that others follow its lead.
By Accounting for Energy – (4 min read)
Sustainability is a big word. We all know the dictionary definition, yet in daily usage, it has taken on a wider meaning. In fact, it can refer to almost any activity or goal likely to benefit the environment. In terms of doing business, sustainability can mean recycling your waste, or reducing vehicle journeys. One aspect that is often overlooked, however, is how business goals can be used to promote social outcomes.
In 2015, the UN introduced its Sustainable Development Goals – 17 aims for countries, both rich and poor, to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. The ethos was that economic success need not come at a cost to the environment. However, it also went a step further, calling for sustainable business to end poverty. The UN goals include a commitment to work towards a world with no poverty; decent work and economic growth, and reduced inequalities.
While it may be easy to assume that in the UK, a developed nation and the fifth highest performing economy in the world, we are all well-heeled, in fact, poverty is on the rise. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s most recent report, UK Poverty 2018, 4.1 million children and four million workers are living in poverty, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years. The UK is clearly not a land of milk and honey for all.
Recycling enterprises have always been well-placed to drive socially conscious business. At the dawn of recycling in the UK, Friends of the Earth and others spearheaded paper recycling and, for many years, a thriving community sector drove multi-material recycling schemes.
Today, social businesses such as Greenstream Flooring in Wales continue to challenge preconceptions. Since 2011, Greenstream has saved 500,000 tonnes of used office carpet tiles from landfill or incineration, selling them for business reuse or donating them to low-income families and organisations that would not otherwise be able to afford them. It also provides training and volunteering opportunities to help people back into work.
The breadth of socially-centred enterprise extends from the Reuse Network’s members, which collect, refurbish, sell and donate goods to low income families and the public, to used wood from the construction centre – sourced through the National Community Wood Recycling Project. Social enterprise businesses such as Manchester’s Emerge provide recycling services, confidential data shredding, and food redistribution through the FareShare programme.
With a stronger focus on corporate social responsibility, wider business is also reflecting the need for greater social obligations. Reconomy, for example, recently launched its social value programme to build community relationships. In practice, this means ‘breaking barriers’ for ex-offenders and the homeless, and ‘supporting change’ in wider industry.
In today’s uncertain climate, it is encouraging to see that social goals still have value in business. In the words of Ellen Petts of Greenstream Flooring, “Basically, we like helping people. We have to earn money to do it, but it all goes into helping people.”
By Accounting for Energy – (3 min read)
UK recycling infrastructure is stepping up as waste exports come under scrutiny. The last two years have brought intense examination of routes to export and the impact these may be having on nations that take in waste from the UK. Awareness of the negative impact of certain wastes is nothing new – the Basel Convention, which has been raising awareness around the toxic processing of electrical waste for decades – is just one example. However, recent events have created a perfect storm that has finally led to outrage in all the right places.
The decision by China to close its doors to UK waste, through its National Sword programme, led to panic within an industry which had relied on China to provide markets for paper and plastics. The Chinese market has largely been replaced by other Asian countries such as Malaysia, but the effect of discussions around China, coupled with the airing of the BBC’s Blue Planet II, which showed the devastating effect of marine litter, has led to increasing discomfort with the concept of pushing our problem on to less developed societies.
As the latest Circular Economy Package comes into effect, greater producer responsibility will, hopefully, begin to trickle down to packaging design. In the current climate, however, the industry is divided on how to proceed.
While some claim that exports are necessary to prop up a sector that sends two-thirds of its plastic waste abroad, 35 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for government to deal with “our own waste on UK soil” and issue a complete ban on plastic waste exports to the developing world. The move was proposed by Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, but has cross-party support.
As calls for the UK to invest in its own recycling infrastructure gather pace, Biffa has announced plans to build a new, £15 million plastic recycling facility in the North East. The site aims to process three million bottles each day.
Biffa’s Mick Davis described the plans as an exciting opportunity that will support the country’s plan to find new ways to reuse plastics. New infrastructure is certainly the starting point for a UK-based recycling economy; the next step is to encourage wider business to support the move and drive green procurement.