Returning to the workplace without Pointless Plastic

As lockdown measures continue to ease for some businesses and many Northern Ireland organisations prepare to reopen, employers will be considering their responsibility of how to return to the workplace safely and sustainably. Government guidelines should be relied upon to advise businesses on safety measures such as limits set by social distancing, office layout and sanitation, writes Claire Leonard, Tackling Plastics Communications Officer at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

However, sustainability will be an action that businesses will decide on internally to adapt to their specific organisation.

Working from home has already shown the effect society can have on mitigating climate change. We’ve heard reports of improved air quality with the reduction in commuters travelling to and from work. Amidst these environmental gains however, there’s one significant area where ground is being lost: the war on plastics. There’s a new polluter in town- single-use PPE- in the form of disposable plastic masks and gloves. Tackling the plastic pollution problem is evidently more critical than ever.

How organisations return to the workplace will provide opportunities to build better sustainability practices and empower change. Preparing ‘your people’ and communicating those expectations will promote a business culture that fosters this shared responsibility. Referencing the coronavirus, Oxford University Professor Richard Bailey as quoted in a recent New Scientist article believes, “The silver lining is it’s an enormous opportunity to change the system, to rebuild things in a different way.”

One way reopening businesses can start to address this is simple – tackling pointless plastic in the workplace. Basic behavioural changes businesses could adopt include encouraging employees to bring in their own reusable food and drink containers. Expert advice suggests that, by employing basic hygiene, reusable containers are safe to use during Covid-19.

Not only is this a sustainable practice but a hygiene measure too. Depending on the needs of the office environment, employees could be encouraged to wear reusable facemasks that can be washed, rather than depending on single-use masks. Clear internal communications and signage relaying businesses standards in the physical environment will help with this transition.

We’ve spoken to two businesses navigating through a new way of working, whilst continuing to tackle pointless plastic, by signing up to the Live Here Love Here ‘Plastic Promise’.

Recently, we’re delighted that Linen Quarter Business Improvement District has signed the Plastic Promise. LQ BID represents around 440 organisations within Belfast, with this historic area being the business hub for the city, as well as home to many of the best hotels, bars and restaurants.

LQ BID’s Plastic Promise was to work with hospitality businesses in the Linen Quarter to source a more eco-friendly alternative to takeaway cups.

Another business to sign the Plastic Promise is Co-Ownership. The shared ownership provider in Northern Ireland has taken this opportunity to commit to reducing the amount of pointless plastic they use within their office.

Their team has committed to supplying all staff with reusable drinking bottles and removing plastic ones from water fountains. They will also provide cutlery and glassware to help encourage staff not to use plastic takeaway cutlery with their lunch or drinks. Reusable bags will be provided for staff and customers to encourage them to avoid buying plastic bags in shops.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful recently commissioned a survey that was funded by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to gauge perceptions on single-use plastic during Covid-19. Data gleaned that 81% of those surveyed thought that ‘the issue of single-use plastic was more, or as important to me as now as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic’.

From a business perspective, consumers are aware of the importance of reducing their personal use of single-use plastic and will likely hold businesses accountable to this measure. Young consumers are also influencing this change, with Lego reporting a sustainability investment of £310m was prompted by letters from children asking the organisation to remove single-use plastic bags from its products.

Our ‘new normal’ may have changed but our collective efforts to tackle pointless plastic in the workplace or our homes doesn’t need to. This is the first phase in a long transition to the ‘next normal’. If the examples above have inspired you, make a commitment now to reduce your use of pointless plastic in your business by signing a Plastic Promise.

If you have multiple offices, you could consider turning this into a competition to see which sites perform best. You can check out where you are on our Leadership Board. Visit www.liveherelovehere.org/plasticpromise to find out more. And if you’re motivated to go one step further, get in touch with the Tacking Plastic team at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful to get your free Business Toolkit and make changes to reduce your plastic footprint today.

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