When it comes to activities threatening life on our planet, the growing crisis of plastic pollution ranks alongside climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our time. In response to the problem, and to sustained pressure by environmental activists and campaigners, a growing number of UK food and drink outlets have announced proposals to reduce the amount of packaging waste they produce. Here are some of the latest:
In a recent move announced by sandwich shop chain Pret-a-Manger CEO Clive Schlee, the company will be tackling the problem of plastic water bottle use by introducing taps that dispense free filtered water in his stores. Since October 2017 all three Veggie Pret shops in London have been encouraging customers to refill their bottles for free using new filtered water stations. These shops have also begun selling two sizes of reusable glass bottles alongside their regular plastic ones.
Starting today, we’re trialling reusable bottles and filtered water stations in a handful of shops. https://t.co/kwJtWj1Jv5
— Pret (@Pret) October 11, 2017
The trial of reusable bottles and taps was then extended to their Manchester shops at he end of October, and the company is keen to stress that this is just the start of trying to do more. “We are making inroads on the problem of packaging waste by reducing where we can and making more of it recyclable,” Schlee explains. “This includes working to find a solution to the fiendish coffee cup problem. We recognise we have lots to do.”
Throughout 2017, the company also trialled several initiatives to improve coffee cup recovery and recycling, including introducing a 25p discount for customers bringing their own reusable cups in an attempt to reduce the number of cups they use. They’ve also made changes to a number of their packaging lines to reduce material weight.
The move by Pret comes shortly after Coca-Cola, under mounting pressure from campaigners to reduce its massive plastic bottle production, announced a refill scheme of their own. The initiative by Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), is currently being trialled at the University of Reading in the UK, and aims to reduce packaging by providing students with micro-chipped reusable bottles that can be refilled at smart fountain dispensers around the campus.
According to Nick Brown, Head of Sustainability at CCEP Great Britain, the trial will also allow the company to explore consumer behaviours and attitudes towards refillable bottles, with the goal of helping students and staff across the university to reduce their personal packaging footprint.
Coca-Cola also recently announced it had taken the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Our Ocean’s pledge and has stated that it aims to have all of their primary packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.
In an effort to reduce the amount of plastic that makes its way into landfill and the oceans, UK pub chain JD Weatherspoon has announced that it is to stop using plastic drinking straws from 2018.
— Greenpeace UK Oceans (@GPUKoceans) September 25, 2017
“These changes are part of an overall commitment from the company to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste produced,” Wetherspoon chief executive, John Hutson states. By switching to biodegradable paper straws, the company claims it will reduce it’s waste output by 70 million plastic straws a year.
The announcement comes after sustained campaigns ,  by activists to encourage people to refuse a straw if offered one. More than 500 million plastic straws are thrown away each day. Like other plastic packaging items, plastic straws take hundreds of years to decompose, and like bottle tops, coffee lids and other small items, they are rarely recycled, most often finding their way into landfill and the oceans or ending up as litter.
Other UK pubs and restaurants have also joined the campaign. The Laine Pub Co, which owns 55 venues across Brighton and Hove and London, has also announced it will no longer serve plastic straws with drinks in its premises:
Pub chain says this is the final plastic straw https://t.co/icKUl0jdF0
— Straws suck (@strawssuck_uk) September 8, 2017
As have Wales’ biggest brewer, A. Brain & Co Ltd:
— Brains (@brainsbrewery) September 7, 2017
And Escabeche tapas bar in Nottingham:
— escabeche (@escabecheNotts) October 20, 2017
And the People’s Park Tavern in East London:
— Straws suck (@strawssuck_uk) August 16, 2017
Now if we could just get a few more companies on board…