Single-use plastic bottles: councils should ‘set an example’

Image of brand new plastic bottles in a lineLocal authorities have been urged to record data on how many plastic bottles they are using and recycling in order to ‘set an example’ to residents.

SodaStream, a producer of home sparkling water makers, published a report earlier this month into the consumption habits of local authorities, submitting a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to councils in England, Scotland and Wales.

The FOI request, in active between December 2018 and January 2019, asked 108 councils about the number of single-use plastic bottles they have procured over the past five years, how plastic bottle waste was handled, and what sort of policies they had in place for staff and elected officials to reduce single-use plastic consumption or recycle their plastic bottles.

SodaStream found that only 38 per cent of the councils approached were able to provide details about the amount of bottles procured, while 34 per cent confirmed that they did not keep track of that information. More than half (55 per cent) did not hold information on the end-of-life destination for the bottles they procured.

In addition, only 14 per cent had specific policies on plastic bottles for staff and officials. The picture for Wales specifically was slightly higher than the UK average, at 18 per cent, perhaps a result of the Welsh Government’s commitment to becoming the world’s first ‘Refill Nation’ – supporting the Refill movement, which aims to encourage the use of reusable bottles and drinking fountains.

28 per cent of the local authorities approached said they were engaged with local plastic bottle waste initiatives. SodaStream gave some examples of how councils are getting involved in the fight against single use, with Monmouthshire County Council in Wales implementing a new procurement contract for school milk bottles, changing from plastic to glass. The Greater London Authority (also known as City Hall, the devolved governance body for London) said it had introduced a new plastic free policy in 2018, which had reduced the consumption of plastic bottles from 28,013 in 2017 to 4,323 in 2018.

SodaStream stated that councils need to be ‘much more accountable and proactive when it comes to handling, consuming and creating policies in relation to single-use plastics’, adding that ‘they need to be setting an example to the general public when it comes to avoidable plastic waste.’

The report concluded that ‘there is a great opportunity for councils to share best practice and make a real step change with respect to their activities around single-use plastics.’

Commenting on the data, Tiago Alves, general manager at SodaStream UK, said: “There are some really good examples of local councils taking the initiative but it is clear that there is a lot of work to do in terms of reporting on what they are doing in this area.

“As councils provide the means for households in the UK to recycle their plastic waste, they need to be setting an example to the general public. They may actually be doing a good job but the picture is unclear as many do not hold the information or they simply didn’t respond to the freedom of information request.”

A water fountain in London Borough Market
A water fountain installed in London Borough Market in 2017

Support for the Refill movement

To mark National Refill Day (19 June), SodaStream has partnered with the Refill campaign, which is developing a network of free water refill points in cafes, shops and public areas across the country, with a free app that helps users find nearby refill points.

The Refill movement originated in Bristol in 2017 as a project of the environmental campaign group City to Sea and has now spread to dozens of cities across the UK, with 20,000 refill points introduced by businesses in the past two years.

Bristol today saw the opening of one of eight new water fountains to be installed across the city, as part of an ongoing partnership between Bristol Water, Bristol Waste, Bristol City Council and Refill.


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