Having a positive impact on single use plastic consumption within Hard FM

Plastic has become a mainstay within all our personal and professional lives, and for understandable reasons. It is lightweight, flexible, relatively inexpensive, and durable - and it is used in everything from shopping bags to 3D printed injectors.

Plastic retains some of the most attractive qualities in any material, and humans have acquired an insatiable appetite for its boundless creations. Though the issue of plastic arises from the very fact it is too durable - it simply never goes away. The environmental issues caused from the by-products created by the fabrication and disposal of plastic lie in the fact it takes hundreds, or even thousands of years to degrade.

Within the built environment, it is estimated that we are second only to the retail industry as the UK’s biggest producer of plastic waste; through a combination of litter generated by staff and the discarded wrappings of building components. We generate an estimated 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year. This is a substantial chunk of the 3.7 million tonnes of plastic believed to be disposed of in the UK every year – into landfill, into the oceans and exported to other countries.

I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by the ocean advocate and adventurer Emily Penn ( a few years ago, she demonstrated her first-hand experience of the scale of the problem. I would recommend taking a look at her website, for me it was my personal tipping point.

Below are 10 practical tips to have a positive impact on Single Use Plastic consumption through your hard FM services.

  1. Provide water refill schemes for engineers/reusable water bottles, and reusable cups for tea and coffee
  2. Retain carboard or hard plastic crates and boxes for engineers to transport spares from wholesalers and merchants
  3. Through procurement, insist on supply chain not using single use plastic packaging and consider including within the specification a need to reduce packaging through initiatives such as returning waste polythene back into its raw pellet form 
  4. What gets measured gets managed:
    • Measure single use plastic reduction and publish results within your annual report
    • Create a site specific waste management plan 
  5. Utilise products with recycled plastics where possible, examples include:
    • Flooring
    • Oils
    • Packaging
    • Pipes
    • Reinforced asphalt surfaces
    • Uniforms
    • UPVC windows
  6. Consider a ‘reverse logistics approach’ for packaging. So rather than something being thrown away, asking suppliers to take it back and reuse it
  7. Design out waste during refurbishment projects. This can include reducing the volume of unsustainable materials consumed and increase the use of sustainable materials and consumables specified
  8. Making segregated waste points available across site (including segregating polymer groups where possible)
  9. Use alternatives to disposable wipes for site husbandry
  10. Encourage employees and contractors to participate in environmental campaigns, such as beach cleans. Change lifestyle choices and reward them for their contributions

All of the above, of course, is no use if you do not set a cultural example through good environmental management and sustainable practices yourselves, to use my second Drucker-ism of this blog, culture eats strategy for breakfast!