The Roadmap to Sustainable Businesses – a focus on Single Use Plastics

The Roadmap to Sustainable Businesses – a focus on Single-Use Plastics

Edie recently released a Mission Impossible Report on Single-Use Plastics, highlighting how UK businesses can innovate, redesign and eliminate single-use plastics. As businesses placing plastic packaging on the market come under increasing pressure from both employees and customers, transforming the way we make, use and dispose of plastic has never been more prominent.

Susanna Jackson, an environmental data analyst at Comply Direct discusses this further. She has a personal passion for promoting sustainability and helping companies reduce their environmental impact.

It is very clear that the UK needs to handle plastic waste better, with 5 million tonnes of plastic used annually, of which half is packaging. Significant progress is already being made, for example, supermarkets have removed 3,400 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging. Meanwhile, members of the WRAP UK Plastics Pact, who account for 85% of supermarket plastic packaging, have committed to eliminating 8 problematic or unnecessary single-use plastics by December 2020. However, plastics can be very valuable when used correctly; being very light they reduce transport emissions, as well as improving food safety and shelf life, while use of other materials may result in unintended consequences on food waste or emissions.

What actions can businesses take?

Internal Operations

  • Define types of plastics and areas of use in business to phase out
  • Conduct site audits and measure plastic footprint
  • Example: Sky undertook plastic footprint mapping exercise by weighing all products and packaging and separating weights of single-use plastics
  • Enlighten employees – create ambassadors for plastics phase-outs
  • Example: Cranswick created 3 groups of waste warriors who engage colleagues on single-use plastics at each site
  • Consider impacts of switching to materials like glass and metal, biodegradable/compostable alternatives may only degrade through industrial processes
  • Move bins away from desks and create centralised waste collection bins and recycling points

Supply Chain

  • Adopt a collaborative approach to supply chain engagement
  • Example: Burberry established supply chain packaging taskforce looking to eliminate problematic packaging
  • Steering groups between businesses and suppliers to discuss ideas, uncover opportunities, and set visions
  • Example: Unipart Logistics and Sky removed more than 120 tonnes of single-use plastic from supply chain through bespoke workshops – jiffy bags replaced with paper boxes
  • Public targets to help educate suppliers on areas to target and reduce the chance of focusing on wrong areas
  • Example: Comply Direct Packaging member Waitrose refuse to use biodegradable materials in its packaging and suppliers should be made aware of potential risks of replacements

Products and Services

  • Identify areas to reduce and remove unnecessary plastics e.g. external plastic sleeves, shrink wrap, size of packaging
  • Reuse – shift from transactional aspect of consumer relations to a service-based loop
  • Example: Comply Direct Packaging member Ella’s Kitchen enrolled in recycling firm TerraCycle’s Loop initiative – businesses provide product refills to consumers while retaining ownership of reusable packaging
  • Refills:
  • Example: Waitrose Unpacked Trial featuring a refillable zone – dispensers for dry goods, coffee, beer and wine refills, frozen pic and mix
  • Recycle: ensure products and packaging placed on the market can be collected for recycling – most supermarkets replaced black plastics as cannot be identified in recycling facilities and often end up in landfill
  • Example: Waitrose introduced home compostable alternative made from tree pulp – 10% lighter, recorded 50% reduction in co2 emissions


  • Engage and educate consumers to promote the circular economy
  • Provide incentive – pre-make choice for consumers or incentivise through discounts
  • Example: 25-50p discounts for using reusable coffee cups in Costa, Starbucks, Pret
  • Long term engagement – use social messages and active campaigns
  • Example: Coca-Cola consumer-facing sustainability awareness campaign to highlight the recyclability of its products
  • Take responsibility – provide services or explicit instructions on how to recycle materials
  • Bridge gap between consumers and waste collectors – act as a hub for hard to recycle products
  • Example: M&S working with Dow Chemical Company to place collection points for plastics not commonly accepted for kerbside recycling at its stores and some primary schools

Edie’s Mission Possible Plastics Online Hub supports businesses with single-use plastic phase-outs, encourages sustainability professionals to submit commitments on a pledge wall, and informs about all the latest plastic developments