Can we ban single use plastics in the office? Follow up staff meeting

As you’ll have read in the initial blog post and watched the accompanying video, Andy put it to us all he would like us to trial a ban on single use plastics to see if we could all, as a team, do more for the environment.

It was suggested that if it was a successful trial we would vote on whether this should be written into our contracts so that it isn’t just a nice to have policy, it’s a statement of who we are as a company and that us staff are fully behind it.

It got taken a little out of proportion by some media outlets, making out this was a policy implemented straight from the top, without our consultation, and that if we didn’t do it, we were to be given 3 warnings then sacked!

I had to personally take to LinkedIn to let people know the true extent. That this was a trial, fully consulted with the staff and that any contract changing was to be done with our full consent.  It seems the media, as you’re probably aware, like a bit of controversy.

It hasn’t all been negative though. There are a number of companies who have contacted us to praise what we’re doing, also asking for advice on best practice so that they can implement these kind of ideas into their own environmental & sustainability policies.

This is exactly why we started this in the first place, obviously to reduce our own impact on the world, but also give tried and tested advice to others and having a sort of butterfly effect.

I’d already interviewed a couple of staff members during the trial to see how they were getting on.  Both Richard and Kehinde spoke very positively of what was happening and that although challenging, it had made them both think about their habits when it came to food purchasing and recycling in general.

After the trial was over it was time for all the staff to get together and discuss how they wanted to take forward the ban on single use plastics.  The questions put to us:

  • Did we want to go the whole hog and have an outright ban?
  • Did we want to do part of it?
  • Did we find it that hard that we didn’t want to do any of it at all?

Whichever one we felt most appropriate, we were to come up with proposals of what we should do next.

The general consensus was we all really wanted to give it a full go but at the moment there seemed to be too much to think about whilst working at the same time.  Some of the staff leave planning meals and snacking as a last-minute thing, as the most of the working population do, concentrating more on work than where to grab lunch or what snacks to get them through the day and what they're wrapped in.

It’s been hard to find items without single use plastic as most shops don’t cater for this.  You have to go out and find places and this takes away the convenience aspect we as a society have all come accustomed to.

I said in the discussion, did we need more education on where to get items that didn’t contain single use plastic, therefore do we need more time to adjust before we could make it an outright ban?

It does seem that although it’s possible to live single use plastic free, at the moment it’s a total change in lifestyle needed to do this.  We need more awareness of where to buy items which create less waste and more single use plastic free products available which are convenient to purchase.  This is a world where we automatically need everything yesterday to keep up with the speed of how fast the day flies. A habit is hard to break in a short period of time.

It was suggested that for this to be a complete ban, the company would need to provide more and more things on top of what it already was as some staff were finding it difficult to do alone.  The cost of doing this ban had already reached a hefty price for the company to provide treats and snacks.

A point was made that a complete ban at this moment in time could make things worse, as people eating out of the office could be throwing plastic away rather than recycling it in the facilities that have been added to the office.  We know that recycling should be the last option in the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra, but at least it has a chance in the office recycling bin than out in general waste.

Another interesting point made was a complete ban in the office may force people in the building to be good but due to limited options available to buy, things are getting taken out of single use plastic at home and into reusable tubs.  This leaves the waste still at home to get rid of.

The proposals

There were 2 main proposals put together by the staff.  They were happy for either of them to be written into contracts, on the proviso that the contracts were written in a way to protect the staff if a change of ownership was to occur.

We all agreed we wanted to do more overall, but due to time constraints and limited availability of food and drinks without single use plastic some felt it would be difficult to implement a complete ban.

The first proposal put forward was to ban all single use plastic that could easily be got rid of and reduced.  This included water bottles, salad packaging, sandwich packaging, milk bottles, plastic cutlery and cling film.

It wouldn’t include snacks such as crisps, chocolate and biscuits as they’re hard to find quickly and easily without being wrapped in single use plastic.  The company has provided a range of cakes during the week, but they're that good they're gone within a day!

The second proposal was to incorporate single use plastic free days into the week, so that on just one or 2 days there was an outright ban. This allows for a more gradual way of people making a behaviour change, seeking out more information and finding places where items can be purchased without having to compromise on convenience or impacting on time.

As a side note, it was mentioned that we should start a compost bin so all food waste could be eliminated and the resulting matter given to the local community for their gardens.

The vote

At the next meeting there were a few things cleared up by Andy before any voting took place.

If the company was able to provide a snack box, and subsidise the cost of snacks which were single use plastic free, would staff be up for looking at the option of a full ban again in the future?  It was agreed by staff that they would be fully behind this.

Andy acknowledged that the ban may have been interpreted as being imposed on the staff and that we may not have had time to fully adjust to the idea of planning for a complete ban. He wanted to make it known that no one is ever going to make anyone do anything they aren’t comfortable with at Intelligent Facility Solutions.

However, the company will still be proposing these kinds of things at regular intervals.  Andy highlighted that in any way the company can make it easier without affecting peoples lives, it’s going to keep doing it, such as subsidising the purchase of electric cars so that as a company we can keep reducing our footprint and increasing our sustainability.

Andy also made sure staff were aware that anything that is written into contracts will be fully agreed with staff, including any wording etc.

It was clear that the overall decision was tilting towards the first proposal where easily replaceable items were to be banned.

Pressure's needed on manufacturers and suppliers to keep demanding more is done to reduce the amount of waste from plastic packaging as there is still a lot of items that it’s hard to find without single use plastic.  We’ve proven there’s a need for this as we are all keen to choose items which are less damaging to the environment, but big corporations are yet to meet those needs.

At the moment we’ve decided that we’ll ban all easily replaceable items but treats like crisps, biscuits and chocolate will not form part of the ban.

We’ll do all we can to bring items that can’t be recycled at home into the office and use the facilities that have been provided such as the TerraCycle box, to minimise waste as much as possible.  Andy will also deposit things on his way home in recycling areas he knows of.

In summary, all the staff agree we want to be at the forefront of trying different things to make a difference to the planet, whilst constantly finding solutions and changing our behaviour over time.

We want to be able to provide creditable and practical advice to other businesses, that’s tried and tested, on how we can all be more environmentally conscious and make a positive contribution to reducing climate change!

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Written by: James Marvin

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