Running since 1972, World Environment Day on 5 June is the United Nations’ flagship day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment. This year’s theme is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ which asks us all reduce our dependence on single use plastic that ends up in our oceans and food chain.

Many people were shocked by plastic pollution issues highlighted in the BBC’s Blue Planet series and were pleased to see the subsequent ‘UK Plastic Pact’ taking action to improve the situation. Every year around eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean, where it can prove fatal to marine life.  We all want to see what we can do to make a difference so I was pleased to work with our partners, EMCOR UK and Baxter Story who provide catering to our three centres at Swanwick, Whiteley and Prestwick, to identify where NATS can reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce.

There are very good reasons that our use of plastic is so high – it’s hygienic, convenient and cheap. In some cases it also extends the life of food so reducing food waste, which is another big problem in the UK, and it’s ideal for food packaging in our increasingly convenience driven society.  However, most plastic doesn’t biodegrade and so can cause pollution.

We looked first at our front of house products at our centres – the plastics we use at point of sale for our catering service…

There was some good news

  • 95% of the food packing on site is biodegradable. Our fruit and dessert pots are made from biodegradable plastic and our coffee stirrers are wooden
  • The box and film used for our pre-packaged sandwiches is a combination of biodegradable PLA plastic and card

However, plastic cutlery provided in the restaurants is a big source of plastic waste. To combat this, since early April everyone at our Whiteley centre can use metal cutlery instead – it’s collected and washed by the catering team daily so it can be reused.  This initiative should save around 500,000 plastic knives, forks and spoons every year at our Whiteley site alone, and we will be rolling this out at our Prestwick and Swanwick centres soon.

Coffee Cup installation encouraging people to use reusable cups

Water cups are another source of plastic waste. We have to continue to provide cups in certain areas but are introducing glasses wherever we can, so employees have been encouraged to opt for reusable bottles instead.

We also decided we could live without plastic straws so these have been removed.  Our cake bags are now biodegradable and the deli counter no longer uses plastic bags; just paper packaging. Earlier this year we introduced coffee cup recycling and introduced a discount for anyone using a reusable cup to buy branded drinks at our Costa outlets at Swanwick, Whiteley and Prestwick centres

There is still more work we can do and some of the things on our action list includes eliminating plastic sauce sachets, using biodegradable salad boxes and encouraging our supplier of drink machines to replace the cups used with a biodegradable alternative. We are also looking back of house with, for example, our caterers wanting to reduce how much cling film is used and finding alternatives to plastic milk bottles. Our supply chain team are also looking at biodegradable stationary options.

I expect that anyone trying to reduce their plastic waste at home has discovered it’s not as easy as you would hope, but I think that we are moving in the right direction and must continue to look for opportunities to do more.

NATS is celebrating World Environment Day by showcasing local charities and environmental organisations at our centres to help our employees find new ways to live without plastic – Remember, if you can’t reuse it, refuse it!



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