2018 was the year of what became known as ‘the war on plastic’.
Following on from blue planets harrowing scenes there was a real incentive for reducing our plastic waste.
However, when we go out onto our local highstreets how can we be sure they are doing enough to be eco-friendly and in doing so, are we shopping responsibly with the environment in mind?
We often think of our own carbon footprint when it comes to waste and recycling and whilst many of us have taken steps to reduce it what happens when we step off our front door step?
With people being more conscious as of late its clear to see the repercussions businesses are taking. Whilst we’ve seen the success of a 5p carrier bag scheme way back in 2015, we are talking about something more recent – paper straws.
Now the replacement of plastic straws with paper is nothing the government made law but it’s a real example of businesses taking a stand and being more conscious about, not only their recycling habits, but also what the consumers want to see.
What Do Local Businesses Think?
You can’t say it’s a bad thing, despite some people opposing them for getting soggy too quickly or not fitting their bars aesthetic.
However, we’ve all become so focused on plastic straws, there’s a chance we aren’t seeing the bigger picture and realising much more could be done.
There is an argument to be made that we need to scrap all plastic straws as the energy needed to make even paper straws is contributing too much to pollution and destroying the earth’s ozone layer.
Teesside University’s student union still hasn’t fully made the transition to paper straws, however is currently using biodegradable straws which were introduced a number of years ago.
The straws used are a brand called Naturelle which fully biodegrade into a non-toxic material.
The University is currently looking into a full switch over to paper straws and are aware of the positive impact it could have.
Glen Cooper is a trade manager for Teesside University’s Student Union, and spoke about the shift towards paper straws saying: “I think more bars would change to paper straws if the pricing was more in line with plastic.
“We pay more for Bio Degradable straws than standard plastic ones and paper straws can be more expensive still.”
Looking further into the student union there are many more steps it takes to reduce plastic waste with Glen saying: “We always endeavour to recycle all plastic waste including the Bio Degradable straws that come back to us after drinks are finished with.
“The SU has designated bins for plastic, cardboard and even food waste. We also recycle waste oil from our kitchen.
“We are always looking for alternatives to using plastic and will continue to do so.”
Reducing waste is clearly a core concern for the student union and the university as a whole with Glenn going on to say: “We are continually reviewing the suppliers we use and asking them to consider how much plastic they use and trying to ensure we minimise the amount we use in day to day operations.
“We’ve also previously participated in an audit run by NUS which involved experts looking at how green we are and we’ve run various campaigns to encourage students to be more environmentally sound.”
Its apparent that reducing plastic waste has become a much bigger issue, and is much more talked about amongst students and so the student union encourages student feedback and ideas.
An Age of New Businesses
Amongst our conventional shops we see and big chain supermarkets, the current climate and consumer change to be more conscious has caused new types of shops known as ‘zero waste’ to pop up.
These shops encourage you to bring your own reusable containers to pick up anything from pasta and olive oil to shampoo and washing powder all in an effort to lower your carbon footprint.
Mutiny is a brand new zero waste deli that has recently opened up in the heart of Darlington.
It’s run by Laura Phoenix and her husband, Anthony a couple who have a love of travel and have seen first-hand the effects of plastic waste in places such as Thailand and Cambodia, all over the streets and beaches.
This inspired them and is what made them so passionate about zero waste which ultimately led to them opening up the store.
They are also 100% vegan and encourage a vegan lifestyle.
Speaking about the Deli Laura said: “Darlington totally needs a place like this, people have come to us saying they needed this.
“A lot of people don’t know what zero waste is so we’ve had a lot of people enquiring since we opened.”
They endeavour to use little to no plastic but Laura spoke about this saying: “Obviously, we are a business so sometimes suppliers send us things in plastic but we try to go out to suppliers who are more conscious, our wholesaler is ethical, vegan and tries hard to keep their waste down.
“A lot of our rice and pasta is bought in bulk and delivered in paper packaging so I’d say probably 70% of what we get in is plastic free.
“Looking at the other waste products would be our take away coffee cups which are completely compostable but of course are still a waste product.”
Mutiny tries to reuse anything that comes in plastic or make them into eco bricks and are currently looking to become a eco brick drop off point as they said: “It’s really hard to be plastic free these days so ways of reusing it is really important.”
The business has already gained a small community who bring their recycling to the shop in the forms of spare tubs for others to use in exchange for a donation to the charity sea shepherds.
Looking at other businesses and their waste habits Laura said: “I hope more businesses move towards reducing waste, but its driven by profit and it’s often more expensive to be waste conscious and they don’t want to pay more.
“It’s our responsibility too, as consumers we need to demand more from bigger businesses.
“Other businesses in the local area really commend us for what we are trying to do, so maybe it will encourage them to think twice.”
Laura also discussed why zero waste is so important saying: “We’ve only got one planet, we forget because it won’t affect us, we think we can do it later, we can’t actually see the problem as it’s so well hidden in western countries.
“If we exit the European union it will be interesting as we may see more of our waste rather than a lot of it going overseas.
“We need to give back the earth, we take, take, take and are quite selfish at times.”
Recently we have seen children all across the country walking out of lessons at school to make a stand against climate change and discussing this Laura said: “It’s ridiculous that children are now having to stand up for our planet.
“When our baby is our age she can at least say my parents tried to make a change and do something.”
Speaking on plastic straws she was quite candid and said: “It’s interesting that people have been up in arms about straws, I think it’s just a straw why not just drink without one altogether?”
The Deli also has students in mind with them becoming more conscious and so will offer a student discount to make waste free and vegan shopping more cost effective to the younger generation.
What Do the Figures Say?
A survey conducted which received over 50 responses garnered some interesting results.
It found that over 93% of people were taking notice of plastic straws whilst 100% agreed businesses should be doing more.
Surprisingly over 62% felt they were shopping responsibly with the environment in mind – which shows just how perceptions are changing.
Among the responses most people attributed the problem of plastic waste to food packaging and felt supermarkets needed to step up, but also that the local councils needed to do away with charges for recycling or properly disposing of waste.
The Start of Something Bigger
Many believe that banning plastic straws un the UK would be just a stepping stone towards banning single use plastic altogether.
Stepping outside your front door there are ways you can help your own carbon footprint and help businesses reduce there’s, whilst businesses themselves can also take steps to help you.
The first thing to note is how are you going to carry what you are needing back to your home?
Expect to be stung by that 5p carrier bag charge if you don’t remember your own – many have now taken it upon themselves to always carry one, folded in the inside pocket of a coat.
This is a crucial step, remembering your own bag means the business aren’t forced to supply you with one unnecessarily.
Secondly you need to be conscious of what you are buying and how its packaged.
Fruit and vegetables seem to be packaged up to the eyeballs however if you look hard enough some supermarkets offer an unpackaged isle, bring some paper bags to pop them in and you are further reducing your waste and backing the supermarkets efforts to go green.
But what about cosmetics?
According to research conducted by Unilever less than half of those interviewed actually recycled their empty cosmetics containers.
You need to look closely at your containers and their labels to see if they can be recycled featuring the three arrows.
They just need cleaning out before recycling.
This can be applied to any item you are about to throw away, a quick check could surprise you.
Going back to bars and restaurants this can be tricky.
You don’t so much have the freedom as you don’t run the bar.
However, being conscious and refusing a plastic straw or even shopping in more eco-friendly bars could combat this.
Both huge chains and local businesses are all jumping on the wagon offering a whole host of options.
There’s no denying that whilst we do more, businesses should endeavour to do more.
This can be extremely hard given that it can start from the supplier of their stock and businesses need to be cost effective and make profit to survive.
A lot of eco-friendly options are more expensive, making it really hard for businesses who want to help but simply can’t afford it or it isn’t viable.
Small steps bars can make other than scrapping plastic straws are replacing paper napkins with reusable coasters.
Some bars have gone so far as to introduce reusable leather coasters.
Being smart about where bars purchase goods from is becoming huge now with lots of bars starting to use local produce instead of supplies that have been transported thousands of miles.
Whilst costly, it’s something to keep in mind when opening a new bar to introduce more eco-friendly appliances.
There are also small steps like replacing your cleaning products with eco safe ones – Greggs even donate surplus left over food to the homeless.
Lastly it leaves you, the consumer.
Despite what many say consumers do have a degree of power, power to incite change and influence other habits.
Introducing small measures like shopping mindfully, recycling and looking for more eco-friendly ways to buy produce sends a message to businesses and contributes to buying patterns.
It is then up to businesses to try and achieve cost effective ways to take this further to reduce all waste.
For more information on Mutiny visit there Facebook page.
For information on local recycling services visit the council website.
Trainee Journalist at Teesside University