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Tackling single-use plastics

Plastic pollution can have a serious impact on the environment, entering the ocean and potentially harming marine wildlife. At Surrey County Council, we are taking steps to reduce the amount of single-use plastic (SUP) that we use together with our partners. Additionally, as individuals there are a few simple steps that we can take to cut down how much we use.

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What have we achieved so far?

In March 2018, Surrey County Council's Cabinet passed a motion outlining the council's commitment (PDF) and wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment asking what else the Government will do to address the issue. We therefore welcomed the Government's ambitious reforms announced in DEFRA's new Waste And Resources Strategy (December 2018) aiming to reduce plastic pollution.

Before that in October 2018, we took a step forward in tackling our use of SUPs when our Cabinet approved a single-use plastic policy (PDF) for reducing and working towards zero SUP across our full estate.

We also carried out a SUP waste audit in our head office, County Hall, Kingston upon Thames which provided us with a detailed analysis of the SUPs found in an office environment and highlighted the main problem areas. Consequently we have:

  • Provided reusable bottles to Surrey's 600 fire-fighters instead of daily bottled water which saves approximately 29,515 plastic bottle per year.
  • Introduced a range of compostable products to replace SUP catering items wherever possible.
  • Eliminated the provision of SUP condiment sachets.
  • Discontinued selling drinks in plastic bottles across offices.
  • Eliminated SUP cups for water coolers in offices.
  • Started providing water jugs and glasses at council events (e.g. meetings, training, etc.)
  • Added a specific reference to SUP reduction in our Supplier Code of Conduct Procurement Policy for new suppliers and contractors.
  • Revised our Social Value Procurement Charter and included a financial proxy for the reduction in SUP which could have an influence over the outcome of the award of contract following a tender process.

In addition to the above, we continually collaborate with Surrey's 11 district and borough councils to have the greatest impact and widen our reach countywide. As a result, we agreed to bring our resources together and in June 2018, we established a SUP task group with representatives from all of our district and borough councils.

Thanks to the Surrey Waste Partnership for its sponsorship, Surrey County Council and the 11 district and borough councils together developed a SUP strategy for Surrey and a five years action plan (PDF). Surrey Councillors, Leaders and Chief Executives across all 12 partners approved this strategy and its action plan in January 2019.

The next step for us is working closely with our communities, businesses, schools, hospitals and beyond in order to implement our SUP objectives. This will enable Surrey residents, businesses and visitors to enjoy the long-term benefits these positive actions will bring.

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What are we doing currently?

We organised our actions under four key themes:

  1. Getting our house in order: We have already reduced our SUP consumption dramatically within the last year. We are currently working towards zero provision of SUPs in our own estate. Our biggest challenge in line with our hospitality needs is to reduce hot drink disposable cups and lids across our offices and we aim to find a practical solution to this problem by Dec 2019.
  2. Working with our suppliers and contractors: We have revised our procurement policies to reflect our SUP objectives and are currently liaising with our stationary catalogue supplier to eliminate or replace SUPs with eco-friendly sustainable alternatives.
  3. Raising awareness across Surrey: We are promoting local litter-picking events taking place in the county and regularly posting eco-friendly blogs on our staff intranet.
  4. Supporting Surrey to take action: We teamed up with Paper Straw Group to launch a Surrey Straw Switch campaign to support Surrey businesses swap from plastic to paper straws. As part of this initiative, all participating businesses will receive a starter pack inclusive of 250 free paper straws and will receive a special rate in their purchases.

    Each Surrey local council will have its own dedicated date for the launch throughout 2019. Woking Borough Council was the first in Surrey to take part and the Big Switch day took place successfully on Thursday 28 March 2019. Surrey Heath Borough Council was the second council in Surrey to take part and the event took place on Friday 29 March 2019. We are grateful for the support we have received from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment on this campaign.

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What can you do?

Here are some ideas to help reduce how much single-use plastic you use:

  • Use a refillable water bottle
  • Use a reusable coffee cup rather than takeaway ones, which often contain plastic
  • Don't use straws unless you need to
  • When shopping, take reusable bags
  • Use your own cutlery or sustainable alternatives
  • Refuse single-use condiment sachets
  • Buy fruit and vegetables without plastic wrappers

In Surrey, plastic pots, tubs and trays and bottles from the bathroom can be recycled. Once collected, plastic is sent to a facility where it is either melted and molded into a new shape or processed into granules to be used again in products such as picnic benches, football shirts or children's toys. The Recycle for Surrey website has more information on how we recycle plastics.

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