Low Plastic Zone

14 June 2019

Pilot Project: Leytonstone Low Plastic Zone for businesses

Plastic pollution is a major concern for the environment. Plastic is not only a waste and littering issue; it often finds its way into waterways and oceans, releasing toxic chemicals before breaking down. Birds and animals in the sea mistakenly eat plastics or feed plastics to their offspring or get entangled plastic, leading to a great loss of life. Many customers are concerned about these issues and will use their purchasing power to go to outlets that are making efforts to reduce single use plastic.

We encourage businesses in our Leytonstone pilot area to sign the Charter of Commitment pledge which means replacing at least on single use plastic item on the list. If you are located in the pilot zone, then it’s free to participate and you will receive help on making the change. Following this, you can become certified and will be able to use stickers in your window which may help to attract more customers to your shop. Further details are in our FAQs below. Complete Charter of Commitment and email to: wasteteam@walthamforest.gov.uk 

By initiating this pilot project on reducing single use plastic, the London Borough of Waltham Forest is helping to create positive action amongst businesses and local communities. This forms part of the commitment the London Borough of Waltham Forest made to commit to reduce the effects on climate change by declaring a climate emergency in April 2019. Read the full report here.

If you are unsure about taking part please read our Frequently Asked Questions below or email us at wasteteam@walthamforest.gov.uk

Why are we running this project? 

The aim of this pilot project is to reduce the amount of single use plastics across Waltham Forest. Single use plastics are littering the oceans and Waltham Forest is working together with external stakeholders such as the local Friends of the Earth and with the North London Waste Authority and six other north London boroughs to implement the North London Waste Prevention Plan 2018-20. It is hoped that plan and subsequent projects will contribute to wider Government and pan-London initiatives, and complement the work other key stakeholders are doing.

Who is running the project? 

The London Borough of Waltham Forest is delivering this project in partnership with North London Waste Authority and with six other north London Boroughs (Barnet, Islington, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey).

Why is the London Borough of Waltham Forest running this project?

To take the lead in tackling the amount of single use plastic within our borough and inspire other councils and wider government to conduct similar projects to reduce the use of single use plastics.

Do businesses have to pay to take part? 

There is no cost to businesses that wish to participate. Material and advice are completely free of charge.

Do participating businesses have to take part in publicity about the project? 

No, but we are interested to collect details of businesses who are interested in being case studies and to talk about their experiences (if so, we ask businesses to tick the box on the photo permission form).

Why is single use plastic a problem? 

Single use plastic finds its way into waterways and oceans, releasing toxic chemicals before breaking down.

What is the definition of single use plastics? 

Single-use plastics are often referred to as disposable plastics. They are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include, among other items, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery (United Nations Environmental Programme).

What are the most common single use plastic items? 

Following an on-the-ground assessment in north London, we identified the most common single use plastic items offered by businesses are

  • bottles
  • food on the go and takeaway packaging
  • cups (including coffee, smoothie and alcoholic beverages)
  • carrier bags
  • cutlery, straws and stirrers
  • condiment and milk sachets
  • packaging and punnets

What are the criteria for a shop to be accredited as ‘low plastic’? 

In order to encourage as many businesses as possible to participate in the project, the condition for a business to participate in the initiative will be for them to commit to eradicate a minimum of one single use plastic item, from a range of options. Once this has been achieved, the business can then be accredited as being a ‘low plastic’.

What is a ‘plastic free zone’? 

For an area to be accredited with the status of ‘low plastic zone’ it requires that more than 50% of the business operating in the area accredited as ‘low plastic’. If less than 50% of the businesses have achieved a ‘low plastic’ status, then the area will be branded as ‘working to be a low plastic zone’.

I know a business in a street close by. Can they participate? 

Yes, they can participate.

What if a business already made efforts to reduce single use plastics? 

Even if a business has already implemented practices to reduce types of single use plastics, they can still tick the relevant box in the Charter of Commitment. As long as they retain their commitment to eradicate at least one plastic item from their business.

What if businesses already recycle their plastic waste? 

This is a great step towards sustainable practices, but the items listed in the Charter of Commitment cannot be widely recycled and businesses will still be encouraged to reduce the use of these items.

What business categories have you identified?

For the purposes of the assessment, businesses were categorised as follows:

  • Retailers: (jewellery, clothes, opticians, mobile phones, charities)
  • Hospitality: (catering, fast food, pubs, restaurants, cafes
  • Food and drink shops (off licence, food stores, butcher, vegetable stores, patisserie)
  • Services (banks, pharmacy, hairdressers, beautician, cinemas, post office, nurseries)
  • Markets stalls
  • Supermarkets; and
  • Betting shops

What is your rationale behind alternatives listed in the Charter of Commitment? 

The focus is on alternatives at the top of the waste hierarchy. The five main criteria were selected because

  • The alternative can be implemented at low or no cost to the business
  • There is no cost to the consumer
  • There are no operational implications regarding waste and recycling collections and provision of recycling and waste containers to the council
  • The alternative is easy to implement
  • The alternative can be implemented quickly

The above criteria were based on a survey carried out by the London Borough of Waltham Forest in early 2019 which identified that although 92% of businesses surveyed would like to adopt environmentally free practices, 49% of businesses are willing to make changes as long as the alternatives are convenient and low cost.

What are the proposed alternatives for the most common single use plastic items? 

Plastic bottles: Businesses are encouraged to sign up to the Refill London scheme, offer free refills and encourage customers to bring their own reusable bottles.

Food on the go and takeaway packaging: businesses are encouraged to promote the ‘Bring your own lunchbox’ message and support the ‘Long live the Lunchbox’ initiative from Global Action Plan.

  • There are currently no alternatives for plastic wrappers and film for takeaway food that fit within the above criteria. ‘Vegware’ type of containers have specific composting requirements and represent a cost to businesses.
  • Plastic cups (coffee, smoothies, alcoholic drinks): Where possible, businesses to promote the ‘bring your own’ message to their customers. It was accepted, however, that public houses may face operational challenges due to licensing issues.
  • Plastic carrier bags: Shops to ask customers whether they need a plastic carrier bag before they offer one. The main message to promote to customers is ‘Bring your own carrier bag’ rather than offering other single use alternatives, such as paper bags.
  • Plastic cutlery:  Businesses to offer washable cutlery to their customers when eating in the restaurant/pub/café. However, as this approach will be challenging for takeaway shops, as an alternative it was proposed that they can ask customers if they need single use plastic cutlery rather than having it on display for customers to take- so that customers think a bit more before they take.
  • Plastic straws and stirrers: Businesses to ask their customers if they need a plastic straw before they offer one and not to have straws and stirrers on display. Officers agreed not to propose to businesses that paper straws or wood stirrers are purchased instead, due to the cost implications to business and operational implications to the Council. Businesses will be encouraged not to leave straws and stirrers on the counter but only give them to customers that request one.
  • Plastic condiment and milk sachets: Businesses will be advised to offer items such as milk, sugar, butter, jam and condiments in larger (ideally refillable) containers or dispensers rather than individual single use portion packs. Businesses may be able to make financial savings by using larger containers, which can also be recycled if they cannot be refilled.
  • Plastic packaging: Businesses will be advised to avoid selling goods in single use packaging.
  • Plastic punnets: Businesses will be advised to sell loose fruit and vegetables whenever possible rather than offering pre-packed alternatives. Market stalls often display fresh items in punnets but then tip them loose into a bag - this is to be encouraged.

What are the timescales for the visits? 

Waltham Forest council staff will visit businesses in the selected areas, encouraging business managers to sign up to Charter of Commitment. Staff from North London Waste Authority will then provide on single use plastic. If required, they can work closely with the participating businesses to help them reduce single use plastic items and provide them with tips on how they can encourage their customers to choose sustainable alternatives. After an initial visit there will be a second visit by North London Waste Authority staff two weeks after the first. There they will assess progress made. Business practices that are in line with the commitment made when signing up are certified as ‘low plastic’ and provided with a badge. Once more than 50% of the business operating in the area is accredited, the area achieves the status of ‘low plastic zone’.

What happens once the area is certified? 

A press event will take place in each certified area and depending on timescales for accreditation, a collective launch for all participating areas in north London is being considered. If this takes place, we plan to create a visual stunt in order to highlight the initiative, galvanise residents to take action, and create positive publicity.

What publicity will businesses receive? 

All businesses that participate in the project will be listed on Waltham Forest Council website and Waltham Forest news and the Wise Up to Waste web page which is part of the North London Waste Authority. Once an area has been certified as ‘low plastic zone’, North London Waste Authority staff will visit the certified businesses and collect case studies. These case studies will feature on the Waltham Forest Council website and Wise Up to Waste website and quotes from shop managers will be used for press and publicity.