Is all this bad news about plastic and pollution depressing you?

Well it needn’t because you have the power as a consumer and an employee to make a difference at home and at work.

Firstly, you don’t need to feel bad about all packaging. It actually has a vital role to play in reducing waste, and without packaging of some description, far more food and goods would be wasted getting from the farm or factory to the shops.

In India, for example, where packaging is much less sophisticated, 44% of the annual harvest is lost before it even reaches a single customer. [i]

But by all means do feel cross about packaging which isn’t sensible or well thought through.  Take, for example, black food trays for takeaway food. These are notoriously difficult to pick and sort for recycling, so Waitrose has responded by switching to a different material to overcome this. Similarly, packaging made from compound materials, such as plastic attached to card, also poses problems. But there’s usually an acceptable alternative – we all have a responsibility to recognise the issues and insist on change.

Use your consumer power

Consumers can ask their favourite stores about packaging policies; and can vote with their feet and wallet by only choosing brands and products that have made an effort with their packaging.

Take coffee cups. It’s a myth that coffee cups can’t be recycled. There are coffee companies out there which recycle their cups and coffee grounds, and provide the facilities for collection of their cups for recycling.  Cawleys is one of the pioneers in providing this service.  Consumers just need to seek out businesses like us.

Across the whole of the Canary Wharf Estate[ii] all coffee cups and coffee grounds have been recycled since early last year.  Working with us and our partner company, Veris Strategies, we enabled the entire estate (112,000 people working across 97 acres) to be a #CleanCoffeeZone.  It can be done!

Any size business can make a difference

And it’s not only large corporates which can make a difference either.  We work for Charlie’s Coffee and Company in St Albans[iii] which has a brilliant, ethical approach that touches every part of its business from the milk, to the cups to the coffee.

The company even sells Coffee Logs, bio-fuel logs made from transformed used coffee grounds, in its shop.  The circular economy is right there, hard at work in Charlie’s.

Segregate and separate different waste streams

And it’s right to feel cross about people not bothering to segregate and separate their different waste streams correctly.  The sad fact is that only a third of people in the UK make an effort to recycle things properly at work.

We polled over a thousand people through YouGov[iv] last year, and proved that the majority of people just don’t take the trouble to separate out and recycle things properly in the the UK make an effort to recycle things properly at work.

Household waste is organised by the local council and outsourced to different companies, and each will have its own policy regarding recycling, according to the budget and regionally available facilities.  But waste from businesses, and this includes schools, shops, libraries, factories, garages, warehouses and offices of every shape and size, is a different matter and they have to organise their own waste collection.

Ask about the waste management system at your place of work

That’s where we come in at Cawleys, because we specialise in business waste.  We don’t do any household collections but have huge experience in delivering waste management systems which are easy and cost effective in the workplace.

We know from experience that the easier and simpler a waste collection system is, the better it will work.  We have specialist, easy systems for coffee cups for example, for plastic, food and cardboard. We can tailor a system to the very specific needs of an individual business.

Questions to ask at work

This is where you as an employee can make a difference.  Try asking these questions about waste management where you work:

  • What system of collection is used?
  • How many different waste streams are sent for re-processing?
  • What recycling rate is achieved?
  • What happens to even the simple things, like coffee cups, batteries from keyboards, lightbulbs or used ink cartridges? All of these things can and should be recycled for second life uses.
  • If you have a canteen, what happens to the food waste?

If you ask the right questions and don’t like what you hear, try and find a new waste management supplier which can do things differently for you.

Even the busiest of workplaces, like a hospital, can make a difference.  We work for Kettering General Hospital for example supporting a wonderful campaign called ‘Break, Hydrate, Reuse’. The campaign encourages staff to take breaks and keep hydrated without using single-use plastic bottles or coffee cups.

Ask for Infinity

We’ve also recently developed a new approach to waste management in the workplace which we’ve called the Infinity process.[v]

The name symbolises our ambition to help companies segregate their waste streams, and be part of the system that ensures as much precious waste resource as possible is given second life uses.

Having our own Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) we’ve always been able to segregate waste out into different waste streams, but the Infinity system helps segregate at source, and capture higher quality, less contaminated waste streams.

Take positive action

We can all take steps to end waste from plastic and to help conserve resources.  Managing waste doesn’t sit at the end of the line, its right at the heart of a process where everyone can make a difference.


[i]Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAOUN) 2011  Global Food Losses and Food Waste

[ii] Canary Wharf

[iii] Hertfordshire Advertiser April 2018 New way of recycling coffee

[iv] YouGov Omnibus 2017 Commissioned by Cawleys

[v] The Infinity Recycling Programme Cawleys, 2018

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