Since Sir David Attenborough highlighted the devastating effect plastic is having on our environment, raised public awareness around the issue has seen an increase in people taking responsibility for their own actions in an attempt to reduce reliance on plastic.
Inspired by the goal of eliminating avoidable single-use plastics, Cambridgeshire County Councillor Anna Bailey asked the Council late last year if it would be possible for the organisation to commit to tackling avoidable waste, particularly plastic, as an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters the sea each year creating pollution.
An officer working group was set up to define what a plastic strategy could look like, and the resulting document was signed off by Full Council last month. The strategy focuses on key areas that can be influenced by the organisation to bring about positive change in the way that plastic is acquired, used and disposed of – both within the council, including staff as individuals, and as part of the procurement and delivery of services.
By setting out the Council’s ambitions for acknowledging and changing corporate use of single-use plastics the hope is to provide a clear statement of leadership and commitment to delivering a greener and healthier Cambridgeshire.
The strategy will see the County Council encourage its nearly 5,000 staff to reduce and re-use plastics wherever possible before recycling. The strategy started with the removal of plastic bottles from office vending machines in January, and there is a plan to provide a guide for staff that will offer hints and tips for plastic-free lunches. This will include a directory listing local establishments where people can either take their own containers to fill or buy plastic-free lunch options to avoid adding unnecessarily to pollution.
Schools will also be provided with resources to enable them to deliver plastic-free lunch days and encouraged to download lesson plans to educate pupils and their parents.
As a Waste Disposal Authority, the Council already works closely with Waste Collection Authorities, to provide local households with sustainable options for waste management, and will continue to work in partnership to ensure that residents can make good choices about their plastic recycling.
Cllr Anna Bailey, East Cambs District and Cambridgeshire County Councillor, said: “There is an urgent need for new thinking to tackle waste, and the plastics strategy being put in place aims to reduce avoidable plastic waste through conditions for suppliers and contractors.
“If we can bring about positive change by raising awareness in the organisation and within local communities that single-use plastic can be eliminated when suitable alternatives are available, that is fantastic.”
Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “This shows that even before announcing a climate emergency in May this year, the Council was already looking at ways to tackle avoidable single-use waste and responding to increased awareness of plastic pollution. As a large employer locally and procurer of services, we can definitely make a difference through our staff and our supply chain by encouraging new behaviours”.
The Council also recently signed the UK100 pledge, promising to deliver 100% clean energy for Cambridgeshire before 2050 and now plans to collaborate with other UK100 city councils in order to both learn from them and work together to influence national policy.
An overarching Climate Change & Environment Strategy to measure and reduce our carbon footprint, enable adaption to a changing climate and protect Cambridgeshire’s natural capital, is currently being developed and more information will be available in the coming months.
For more information about what the Council is doing to tackle environmental challenges, please visit the Climate Change and Environment pages on the Mobilising Local Energy Investment (MLEI) website.