In recent months, there has been a rising tide of disturbing images showing the impact single-use plastics are having on the environment. When we see islands of plastic in our oceans it can be hard to see how we can help. Meanwhile, closer to home, two billion straws are thrown away across London each year and plastic bottles and their lids make up 10% of all litter found in the Thames.
Within the Square Mile we have over 483,000 people living and working in a very small area. And with an average City worker using around 1,000 pieces of single-use plastic per year at work alone, that is a lot of unnecessary plastic waste. But if we all make small changes these can add up to make a big difference. That is why we’ve launched our Plastic Free City campaign to help City firms and residents cut down their single-use plastics.
For individuals, we have put together some great tips on plastic reduction. More and more of us now carry reusable coffee cups and bottles, which is a great start. Our tips also cover areas you might not think about like toiletries, toothbrushes and synthetic clothing.
Naturally, you need to be able to refill your water bottle easily when you are out and about in the City. That is why we are installing up to 10 new drinking fountains across the Square Mile, in parks, retail squares and near transport hubs, with the first two unveiled in the City’s new public space in Aldgate Square.
We also know that there is a real desire amongst businesses in the Square Mile to take on environmental challenges and we have established three levels of pledge that businesses can sign up to. The pledge is wide-ranging, from stopping the use of plastic straws, cups or cutlery to introducing stationery recycling schemes or registering as a water refill site.
As well as being good for the environment, reducing plastics makes business sense. Research has shown that young people entering the workplace today – known as ‘Generation Z’ – are more environmentally conscious than the ‘Millennials’ who preceded them. A huge 80 per cent of 18-22 year olds ranked tackling single-use plastics as important or very important for employers, ahead of reducing electricity use, water consumption and reducing greenhouse gases. Environmental responsibility is now in the top three considerations for all younger workers and 43 per cent said they would be shocked if their employer continued to use single-use plastics.
We are delighted that a number of household-names have already signed up to the pledge including the Bank of England, financial services group Nomura and banking and asset management group Investec. Of course, we can’t expect others to do what we would not so the City of London Corporation is a founding signatory, as is our world famous Barbican Centre.
So, why not take the Plastic Free Pledge? And if you work in the Square Mile, talk to your boss or environmental lead about your company getting involved. Businesses and individuals can sign up and find great plastic reduction tips at www.plasticfreecity.london.
Catherine McGuinness is chairman of the policy and resources committee at the City of London Corporation.