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Councils examine range of options to stop scourge of plastic waste

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council have joined a list of councils across Northern Ireland to outline their committment to reducing the amount of Single Use Plastics (SUP) across their organisation.

The plans include removal of vending machines in leisure centres and the use of social media ‘influencers’ to encourage recycling. In October 2018, an action plan setting out a number of proposals was approved, including working with Northern Ireland Water, Sustainable Northern Ireland and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

A report said that while the use of plastics rather than glass for holding drinks and other materials has resulted in reduced fuel costs and carbon emissions, the recycling of these materials has been traditionally more difficult than glass and there is also the problem of the items being discarded and ending up as litter, rather than being binned. 

Among the actions approved were to increase the use of biodegradable waste sacks, requiring catering franchisees to stop the use of SUP such as cutlery, polystyrene food containers, straws, plates and cups, encouraging vendors providing catering at council events to reduce or stop use of plastic containers and utensils and providing advice and assistance to existing catering franchisees on phasing out of all unnecessary SUP. 

It was also decided to send out a survey with members of the leisure centres to garner their views on the removal of the vending machines and paper cups in public areas and their replacement with promotional water bottles and to assess the economic and environmental impact of removing all plastic bottles from council and caterers’ vending machines. 

Also explored was the potential removal of all SUP and cardboard cups from water fountains in Mossley Mill and Antrim Civic Centre, the assessment of options for conferencing visitors and a pilot for takeaways in the one council ward to encourage these businesses to stop using plastics in favour of paper and wooden utensils. 

Subsidies for council franchisees, such as a subsidy to help with the cost difference, which may make the change more amenable to the businesses in the short term, were also looked at. 

A report presented to the Operations Committee outlined how the scheme has been progressing over the last 12 months. Council now purchases disposable sacks made from recyclable materials, which are stronger and have been made from materials that would normally have ended in landfill. 

Each existing franchisee has indicated that they are happy to work with the council on reducing SUP, but expressed reservations regarding the cost implications and practicalities of some of the options available. 

A meeting has also been arranged with the new Gateway franchisee. These discussions are ongoing, as are those with vendors providing catering at council events. Officers have provided advice and assistance to existing council catering franchisees on phasing out of all unnecessary SUP. 

In terms of the vending machines, the report said that there are a number of studies that state that the use of plastic packaging for bottles is more sustainable than glass or metal packaging, if the plastic bottles are recycled. Officers have sought information from the vending suppliers, CocaCola HBC Ireland, which has confirmed that the water bottles sold in the vending machines are made from 100% recycled product and the amount of plastic used has been reduced by 7.5%. 

In addition, some of the previously coloured product bottles have been changed to clear bottles which is an improvement and plans are in place to have all plastic bottles used made from 100% recycled plastic. 

The report said that it is important to ensure that the quality of recycled materials is as good as it can be, that efforts to educate and create awareness about littering and recycling are sustained and that sufficient bins for recycling are in place at leisure centres and council facilities to ensure that empty bottles purchased are disposed of and recycled. 

A survey to explore the removal of vending machines and paper cups in the leisure centres, to be replaced with reusable water bottles with campaign branding for use at refill stations. However the responses have been few in number, according to the report, with further promotion to take place as part of European Week for Waste Reduction in November. 

The council is also set to support a campaign which identifies the location of water refill stations and shops where the public are encouraged to refill their water bottles. 

In terms of use of plastic cups at council offices, reusable glassware is used for all main meetings within the council and staff across all sites have been provided with reusable refillable bottles to use in place of plastic cups. However it was recommended that approval is given to retain the use of plastic cups at this time with the matter kept under review. 

The council has also trialled a range of compostable packaging with local takeaway food outlets in the borough. The report said that a majority of the participating businesses were constrained from making long-term changes by the increased cost of sustainable packaging. However, one of the pilot businesses has committed to reducing their single use plastics and using more sustainable packaging long-term. 

In March 2019, the EU passed a Directive, which the UK will be obliged to comply with, to ban the use of the following products, including single use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, cotton buds, and polystyrene cups and containers by 2021. In addition, there will be a target to collect 90% of plastic bottles by 2029. 

Council will be looking at Deposit Return Schemes and Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging waste, which are set to be rolled out in Scotland in 2020 and 2023. 

Officers are also proposing provision of a Bathroom Recyclables Bag to residents to help collect and recycle plastic containers used in this area of the house but often get disposed of in the black bin, development of a new social media campaign, using local ‘influencers’, to encourage greater recycling of plastic containers using the existing collection methods, wheelie box and blue bin.

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