The production of plastics has been on the rise for generations, and even with increased recycling efforts, the number of wasted plastic has grown, as well. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that around 60 percent of plastic that could have been recycled is instead thrown in the trash, with an estimated 88 pounds of plastic being thrown out by each person every year. Since plastic takes around 500 years to decompose, many are looking to scale back on their use of plastics.
Campaigns have started to pop up in the country, asking people to abandon single-use bottles that mainly focus on water or other soft drinks. Research showed that the amount of plastic that was being used via bottles and straws was largely in part because people were too embarrassed to ask for tap water if they weren’t making any other purchase. Once some of the restaurants and grocery stores heard about this news, they set out to make plastic waste in the UK a thing of the past.
One of the biggest changes came from a chain restaurant called Wetherspoon’s, which has around 900 locations in Europe. The company announced that plastic straws would no longer be used in any of their stores, instead opting for biodegradable paper straws. Even those straws are ones that you have to ask for, as a spokesman said that “straws will no longer be automatically added to drinks, although they remain available for customers if requested.”
CEO of JD Wetherspoon John Hutson said “These changes are part of an overall commitment from the company to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste produced,” and there were hopes that other large companies would follow suit. Pret A Manger was one of the first to respond, saying that their stores would ditch selling bottles of water, instead opting for free filtered water dispensers and selling glass bottles to take tap water home or drink while in the stores.
Caroline Cromar, Brand Director of Pret A Manger said “We’ve been really surprised and encouraged by the hugely positive response on social media – we’ve even sold quite a few glass bottles already. We’ll be listening carefully to feedback from our customers and shop teams before we decide on the next stage.” Many of these large companies have felt the pressure from those concerned about the environment, especially when it was revealed that nearly 6.5 billion tons of plastic have been wasted since 1950.
Water fountains are now starting to be installed throughout the United Kingdom, while the country hopes that drinking from single-use plastic bottles starts to become more taboo, or only in the event of an emergency when clean water isn’t available. The conservation project has been appreciated by the London and Whipsnade Zoos that have stopped selling bottles of water, saying that “Obviously as a conservation charity the subject of plastic in the ocean is very close to our hearts.”
Kathryn England is the head of company that runs both zoos, and she said that “There is not that much out there that isn’t plastic at the moment. One of the big challenges that we have as a zoo is that we can’t have glass on site for safety reasons.” What they’ve done to help combat plastic bottles is introduce cardboard cartons of water and resealable cans that can be easily disposed.
With multi-million dollar companies starting to get on-board, officials in the United Kingdom are hoping that this leads to a cultural shift, where others that might be more reluctant feel the pressure of hurting their bottom dollar. “I think the more brands like this can come on board, the more pressure that puts on the big manufacturers to actually switch over and start creating and developing innovation that is going to come up with an alternative solution to plastic that will work for everybody,” England said.
Others have also floated the idea around of making plastic bottles with deposits. This has been something that’s been done in the United States, most notably in the state of Michigan where each plastic or glass bottle or aluminum can carries a 10 cent deposit. Each bottle or can returned allows you to get that money back, and it’s caused the recycling rate of these cans to be around 95 percent in Michigan, with states that have a five cent deposit falling between 60 and 80 percent.