Published date: 31 July 2019

Tackling the Plastic Problem

Did you know that the world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today?

Unfortunately, many plastics cannot be recycled or it is so expensive to do so that it just does not happen. This means that, because plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose, the world’s oceans, beaches, cities and towns are being clogged up, causing significant environmental damage and harming animals.

40% of annual plastic production is single-use plastic – plastic that we will only use once before we throw it away. If we want to tackle appropriate waste management, this is a good place to start.

The Government has launched the 25 Year Environment Plan which has pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic by 2042. As a result, they have introduced measures such as:

  • Abolishing plastic straws
  • Introducing a 5p carrier bag charge
  • Getting rid of plastic food packaging

In support of the Government’s plan, NHS Property Services’ CSR Strategy aims to minimise our negative environmental impacts of our 3000 properties through resource consumption and waste management. This includes developing and managing our buildings so they are efficient, sustainable and fit for purpose. This strategy follows a ‘people-process-technology’ category approach to identify the objective of each category:

  • People – engage with staff and tenants to reduce waste production and increase recycling
  • Process – embed a compliant waste management process across the business and supply chain
  • Technology – ensure facilities enable waste and cost reduction

We have developed our waste management system to ensure standardised procedures and processes are in place, waste management training has been provided to key people in the business and increasing the use of dry mixed recycling on our sites. We are very proud that in having worked with our contractors to ensure that our waste is legally and morally disposed of, 95% of our general waste gets diverted from landfill and is either recycled or sent for heat recovery.

To tackle single-use plastic at NHSPS, my team have signed our London HQ up to the City of London’s ‘Plastic Free City’ campaign. This campaign encourages all businesses within the square mile to reduce their use of unnecessary single-use plastic. As a result, we have currently joined at an entry-level by meeting four of the eleven required actions:

  • No straws are provided onsite
  • No single-use plastic cutlery is provided onsite
  • No single-use plastic cups are provided onsite
  • Tap water is readily available for all

Our next steps are to meet more of the campaign’s actions to move up to gold or platinum status, and to lift-and-shift our London HQ strategy to our other hub sites across England. We must continue to encourage all of our people and tenants to help us reduce NHSPS’ plastic consumption as we need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach in order to make an impact.

So how can you help?

  • Avoid using straws and plastic cutlery unnecessarily when out and about
  • Invest in a reusable water bottle, coffee cup and shopping bags
  • Switch to low/zero plastic cleaning products
  • Don't use the single-use coffee pods
  • Buy loose fruit and veg to avoid excessive packaging

We recently hosted a webinar to present our three year energy and environment plan, and provide guidance to our customers about how they can help us achieve it. Watch the recording below.

Cameron Hawkins, Head of Energy and Environment, NHS Property Services