New year, new me. Isn’t that how the saying goes? And it seems the UK, as a nation, is no different. Waste pollution has taken centre stage recently, with the looming question: what can be done to protect our lands and seas? You can be forgiven for missing such plans and announcements. There has been a lot, especially since the BBC’s Blue Planet II aired.
Just before Christmas, the Environmental Audit Committee released a report aimed at tackling plastic drink bottle pollution (http://bit.ly/2BOyIVY) and followed this up with a report on coffee cups (http://bit.ly/2qv93Q9). Both make recommendations to government, including the adoption of a producer responsibility compliance fee structure that rewards design for recyclability and raises charges on hard-to-recycle packaging.
Environment minister Thérèse Coffey then announced a ban (http://bit.ly/2rbqzsM) that means cosmetic and personal care product makers will no longer be able to add tiny pieces of plastic known as ‘microbeads’ to rinse-off products such as face scrubs and shower gels.
And on the same day in January, two seperate announcements were made. Firstly, the Scottish government revealed that it plans to introduce legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds (http://bit.ly/2ARtDd7). Then, the UK government published its ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ (http://bit.ly/2mkBVFx), with a pledge to eliminate avoidable waste among the plans.
The UK manufacturing sector isn’t perhaps thought of as the most environmentally friendly place.
Words such as ‘producers’, 'manufacture' and ‘manufacturers’ may have appeared several times in the above plans and calls, but there are many good practice sites in the UK that are already doing their bit. So what are they doing, and how can other companies take their ideas and develop them?
Living on the wild side
Manufacturing facilities may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think about British wildlife, but that hasn’t stopped a huge range of flora and fauna calling Ford’s engine plant ‘home’.
The Dagenham site, which has made more than 37 million engines and 11 million cars since it first opened in 1931 and now manufactures a range of diesel engines, has more than 50 types of birds nest in the surrounding haven for wildlife.
The site includes the Breach, a natural lake, formed when the River Thames burst its banks more than 300 years ago, and the River Beam.
The 620-acre area also counts peregrine falcons, swans, Canada geese, the protected European water vole, the rare Adonis ladybird, and carp and roach among its residents and visitors.
Dean Sheldrake, superintendent of Utility & Estate Services at Ford Dagenham, explains: "We have a fishing club who look after the lake. We also aerate the lake with four aerators to make sure we don’t suffer any issues with water quality."
As well as helping to re-stockfish supplies, employees also help to maintain and improve the local habitat by keeping waterways clear.
Pat Moss, plant and environmental control engineer at Ford Dagenham, says: "We have an annual beach clean along the front and normally we are over-subscribed.
"We collected over five tonnes of waste last year – mainly drift wood – with 28 employees. The year before that we collected two tonnes and we also did a lake clean, which gathered three tonnes of waste.
"You don’t think about it, but with the A13 so close to us, rubbish can often make its way on site."
Environmental efforts don't just stop there either, as energy waste is also at the forefront of employee minds. In 2015, the site met a zero-waste-to-landfill objective, which was a corporate objective. Since then a new objective has come into play - total waste management. The aim is a 15% reduction on general waste over three years through schemes such as recycling.
Moss adds: "The global objective for total water production is 72% from 2000 to 2020, and we are on target to meet that on our site. We also have a cross functioning team in my department and in the engine plant, which invites people off of the shopfloor to help us.
"We are currently looking at compost – green waste disposable – on site, which also reduces traffic movements."
Dagenham also has outfalls situated on site that run into the river. Sheldrake explains that the company monitors and look after those outfalls to make sure no waste ends up in the Beam. "It comes from our land so it is good practice to look after it," he says.
"It is basically a penstock area – so anything that comes off of the site, if it was contaminated, we can shut the penstock, deal with the contaminated item and protect the Beam.
"I also have teams that monitor the Beam and make sure that nothing is running into it."
Moss adds that the Environment Agency has a pumping station on site. Every month they come on site and collect the rubbish that has floated downstream, while also monitoring the river. Meanwhile, there is also a gardener who maintains all of the outside areas.
"We are also in contact with our manufacturing neighbours," Moss adds. "We have an agricultural company to the west and there are other companies, so if and when any issues occur, we usually try to work hand in hand together."
Another company looking to do its bit for the environment is British farm-to-table business Cranswick plc. The firm has pledged that all packaging it uses will be 100% recyclable and sustainably sourced, and has also pledged to reduce plastic use by 50% by 2025.
"While we commend the government for putting this issue on the political agenda, we believe as a major UK manufacturer we have a responsibility to drive systemic change to end global plastic pollution," says the company's chief, Adam Couch.
Cranswick aims to reduce the weight of plastic packaging by 50%; re-use all internal materials in a closed loop; and ensure all packaging is not only 100% recyclable but easily recyclable, to support circular waste solutions.
Group commercial director Jim Brisby adds: “An internal review in 2017 illustrated how important waste and recycling is to staff. This strategy will form a part of Cranswick’s new group sustainability initiative that seeks to address issues from farm to fork."
Coca-Cola: a global action plan
Another manufacturer looking to protect the environment is global beverage corporation, The Coca-Cola Company. The drink manufacturer announced in January that it's “fundamentally reshaping” its approach to packaging, with a goal to help collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging by 2030.
The goal is the centrepiece of the company’s new packaging vision for a ‘World Without Waste’ (http://bit.ly/2DEK3v5). “The world has a packaging problem – and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it,” says James Quincey, president and chief of The Coca-Cola Company. “Through our World Without Waste vision, we are investing in our planet and our packaging to help make this problem a thing of the past.
“Bottles and cans shouldn’t harm our planet, and a litter-free world is possible. Companies like ours must be leaders. Consumers around the world care about our planet, and they want and expect companies to take action. That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Coca-Cola: packaging a UK plan
In the UK, Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP)has already taken steps to combat packaging pollution.
In July last year, the firm launched a new GB sustainable packaging strategy (http://bit.ly/2E65guz)that sets out an ambition for the GB business unit to work with partners to recover all packaging so more is recycled.
The strategy focuses on three key areas: continuing to innovate to ensure packaging is as sustainable as possible; investing in consumer communication to promote recycling and encourage behaviour change; and championing reform of the UK recycling system to ensure more packaging is recovered and recycled.
A CCEP spokesperson told MM: “CCEP is continuing to take action to achieve its sustainable packaging strategy, outlined in July last year – a strategy that is specific to CCEP’s GB business unit.
“As part of the steps taken towards meeting the GB sustainable packaging strategy, the business will be aligned with The Coca-Cola Company’s recent ‘World Without Waste’ announcement – a global goal to help collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging by 2030.”
CCEP also launched a joint ‘Sustainability Action Plan for Western Europe’ (http://bit.ly/2DtT9Yj) alongside The Coca-Cola Company in Western Europe in November, with new commitments on drinks, packaging and society.
The packaging pledge aims to ensure that none of the company’s packaging ends up as litter or in the oceans, with an aim to collect 100% of all packaging. They will also more than double the use of recycled plastic for their PET bottles to at least 50% and ensure that 100% of their packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2025.
CCEP chief Damian Gammell said in November: “These actions will ensure we have a positive impact wherever we sell our drinks.”
Time to do your bit
Ford Dagenham and Coca-Cola are certainly up there with some of the best when it comes to wanting to protect the environment. But, it doesn’t matter whether you are a big global manufacturing brand or one of the little guys – it is everyone’s responsibility to do more to protect our lands and oceans, and this can be done in all types of manufacturing.
Try taking a leaf out of Ford’s book and get employees engaged to protect the land around your site, or sit down with your directors and board members and discuss the possibility of creating an environmental plan or packaging strategy, like Coca-Cola have done.
If such initiatives are too big then find a smaller alternative. Do you promote recycling on site – plastics, woods and other materials? What are your most common wastes? Are your suppliers over packaging materials? The UK manufacturing sector, like the rest of the UK, can become greener and 2018 is the year to kick start this revolution.
Does your plant have an environmental focus? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
13bn plastic bottles used in UK every year – just 7.5bn recycled
2.5bn coffee cups used and thrown in UK every year – just 0.25% recycled
718 litter items collected per 100m during the Great British Beach Clean 2017
10 most found beach items: plastic; packets; glass; cigarette stubs; lids; string; wet wipes; cotton bud sticks; fishing line; and cutlery and straws