Plastic pledge: a water company's grand design to reduce damaging waste

Thames Water's work to reduce plastic-coated coffee cups in its canteens has acted as a launchpad to help other businesses in their efforts to combat pollution.

As part of becoming a more sustainable and responsible business, Thames Water has made progress in reducing the amount of single-use plastic waste.

Since May 2018, the on-site cafeterias at the company’s offices ditched single-use plastics and switched to Vegware’s compostable packaging and cutlery, made from plants. 

The company had already swapped plastic bottled drinks sold from vending machines to aluminium cans, which can be recycled, saving energy, raw materials and waste.

The initial shift to Vegware, whose products can be composted with food, achieved the short-term goal to eliminate plastic-coated coffee cups. It also gave the company an opportunity to enhance the benefit it can get from the disposal of food packaging. 

Over the past year, about 150,000 fewer disposable coffee cups have been used in one office building alone following the introduction of Vegware and a specific 20p re-usable cup charge. Therefore, the business has already moved forward from the substitution of single-use plastics to a reduction in overall disposable packaging use. 

There is a growing concern across business and society about the amount of plastic waste entering the environment, and its impact on wildlife and the wider global environment. 

Plastics are an issue in the water industry when items such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds are wrongly flushed down the toilet, as they can form blockages which cause sewer flooding that can be incredibly damaging to the environment. Thames Water has previously campaigned with City to Sea against their use and has welcomed the announcement from Defra to ban these buds by 2020. 

Using what was learned from reducing single-use plastics in its cafeterias, Thames Water has developed a diagram (pictured) to help companies, suppliers and partners think about and make a start on tackling the plastics challenge. 

It can be a daunting task for individuals and companies who are unsure of how to make a start on reducing plastics. Using the diagram can help think about the challenge by understanding its scale, making a plan and developing a pledge.

The aim is for Business in the Community and its members to each make a pledge to help reduce the use of plastic in their activities and to influence their supply chain to do the same. It is down to companies making the pledge to decide what they want to commit to, but the most important thing is to make a start on tackling plastics, however big or small the commitment.Thames Water Plastic Pledge