Last year the COVID-19 pandemic was, quite rightfully, at the forefront of all of our minds. However, due to the immediate threat posed by COVID-19 and the need to stay safe, people turned back to single-use plastics. While some changes, such as disposable PPE, understandably remain in place, others are more worrying. For example, coffee shops refused to accept reusable cups, meaning that many slipped back into old habits. This has shifted recently, after over 100 health professionals internationally have deemed reusable items safe and confirmed that they do not increase the risk of transmission when properly sanitised. However, it may well take time for consumers to get back to using their reusable cups and bottles – which is why it is essential to provide safe ways to hydrate that don’t harm the environment.
The UK alone uses an estimated 7.7 billion plastic water bottles each year, so turning our backs on reusable alternatives would be disastrous. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, with 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic in landfills that will take more than 400 years to degrade.
But it is not just disposal that is cause for concern: single-use plastics are a problem from the moment they are made. To be manufactured, the process involves extracting crude oil that is later refined, chemical processing to turn the oil into plastic and create the shape, as well as shipping and delivery to their purchase point. Each part of the process causes damage to the environment – and that’s even before we consider the implication not recycling. The UK alone is responsible for generating 1.2mn tonnes of plastic waste every year – but how can we encourage others to consider their single-use plastic consumption and choose greener alternatives?
Businesses are in a prime position to lead the charge and encourage their employees to be more sustainable, whether that’s through installing plumbed-in water dispensers to enable people to fill up their own reusable bottles, educating those in the workplace about what they can do to support a greener future, or using their position as leaders to encourage their clients and customers to think about their choices and what could happen if they don’t.
The hospitality industry, one of the hardest hit by lockdown restrictions, isn’t shrinking away from its responsibilities. Instead, businesses in the sector have stepped up to reduce the number of bottles that they are using within restaurants, hotels and cafes. For example, the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel in Manchester has already contributed to the cause, by switching to a high-quality and sustainable water dispensing solution for its customers to negate the need for plastic bottles. However, while organisations can and should lead the way in sustainability, individuals play a huge role in helping to save the planet by being more mindful of their actions.
Empowering action and lasting change
One of the ways in which a change can be made is through education. Whether that be for the general public, employees, consumers or suppliers, there is an opportunity to further educate people about the alarming scale of plastic consumption and what this can mean for the future of our planet. This education can extend to alternatives to single-use plastics such as refillable bottles, filling stations and apps that will show the nearest refilling location. Businesses are in a unique position to help maintain and gain momentum by sharing information to a large audience. This could be through internal and external communications, campaigns, or changes to policies, for example.
As part of a collective effort to encourage people to adapt to an eco-friendlier way of life, the Freefill initiative was launched in early 2020, which saw the installation of bottle filling stations in public areas, as well as the provision and promotion of reusable bottles. As part of the initiative, dispensers were placed in a number of areas for the public to use including at train stations, such as London Euston, in Boots Wellness Centres across the country, Co-op and Londis mini-supermarkets and more. These dispensers give society a more environmentally friendly way to stay hydrated.
It’s more than personal – it’s business
Ultimately, change needs to come from the top. Businesses and organisations need to lead the way and practice what they preach, highlighting the issues and clarifying how people can make more eco-friendly choices. Businesses and organisations will need to review their overall processes, from their relationships with suppliers and manufacturers to the workplace and how they deliver, consume and dispose.
As we look to the future, we all have a duty to make climate change a top priority – if we don’t, the results will be catastrophic. By enacting positive change in as many places as possible, businesses are not only doing the right thing; they are also showing that they are forward-thinking, and that they care about the environment and the future of the planet – something that consumers, employees and stakeholders will be looking for now more than ever.
By Mark Taylor, Group CCO, Waterlogic