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Compostable Packaging Project: Ards and North Down Borough Council

The problem

Plastic is one of the most common materials used in business today. The use of single-use plastic is increasingly problematic due to its impact on the environment, biodiversity and marine life. Thousands of pieces of plastic litter wash up on Northern Ireland’s coastline each year. About 70% of the 6,250 pieces of litter per km on our local beaches is plastic (2016/17). Plastic is not biodegradable and breaks down into micro-plastics that can release toxins into our food chain and the environment.

Ards and North Down Borough Council wanted to take steps to decrease plastic consumption in the Borough. Develop an innovative solution to reduce, recycle and offer a greener alternative to reduce black bin waste, improve the sustainability performance of local businesses and instil a behaviour change regarding single-use items.

Overview

The project aimed to encourage local businesses to reduce single-use plastic by trialling compostable items and educating customers on issues of single-use plastics and proper disposal of compostable items. Over 50 businesses were targeted and the project was launched shortly after businesses had switched to fortnightly bin collections, to help reduce black bin waste.

Businesses were required to put posters in the window, or on their counter throughout the trial. Participants completed a pre and post survey regarding their thoughts and experience as well as their customers’ feedback. 

The compostable items were custom printed, clearly branded, with clear instructions for disposal. 250 of each of the following compostable items were provided for the 51 participating businesses that included; small food boxes, large food boxes, cutlery, greaseproof paper and straws and accompanying promotional materials. The total costs were almost £7,500.

Timeline / project progress

For the period of the trial there was a significant reduction in single-use items used in the 51 businesses across the Borough and potentially beyond the trial period. The project successfully raised awareness of the issues of single-use plastics among businesses and customers.

Stakeholders

The Compostable Packaging Project targeted businesses and the general public in the Ards and North Down Borough Council area. The project was funded through the Recycling Community Investment Fund (RCIF) and Live Here Love Here through the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and managed by Ards and North Down Borough Council.

Whole systems approach

Ards and North Down Borough Council introduced a ban on single-use plastics to launch its Stand for Sustainability campaign, as an umbrella for all future sustainability initiatives. This compostable packaging scheme has and will continue to contribute to Ards and North Down Borough Council’s ongoing commitment to reducing Single-Use Plastics within the Borough.

Impact

During the trial period, single-use items used in the participating businesses was reduced to zero, as a direct result of this project. The aim is to reduce some if not all single-use items for businesses that have indicated they intend to continue. Of the 51 businesses, 19 completed the post-trial survey. 90% of respondents confirmed their businesses had benefitted from introducing the compostable items, based primarily on customer feedback. Of the products, the food boxes were deemed the most useful. All businesses, with the exception of one respondent indicated they would use these items in the future.

In addition, the project successfully raised awareness of alternatives to single-use plastics among businesses. There was also a strong uptake and a positive response from nearly half the businesses approached/involved.

 Learnings and legacy

This project is an example of local businesses making small, but significant changes. When they consider it a priority to reduce single-use plastic consumption, it not only positively impacts on their own sustainability performance, but the environment and the community as a whole.

While the sample businesses achieved notable successes, they all encounter significant challenges, such as the relatively high cost of replacement plastic products. Suppliers need to reduce their costs if more businesses are to be encouraged to adopt sustainable packaging alternatives that will in turn reduce the overall cost price. Findings indicate that businesses are under increasing pressure from customers to offer biodegradable packaging alternatives, but still require an incentive to bridge the gap.

Contact details

alison.curtis@ardsandnorthdown.gov.uk

emma.adair@ardsandnorthdown.gov.uk

Links / References

BBC News coverage

Ards and North Down Borough Council: Stand for Sustainability