Innovate Blog
The serious issue of plastic waste in our oceans

Wednesday October 25, 2017

Ask the Expert: Jo Gilroy (Head of Sustainability).

We asked our Sustainability expert ‘How does plastic waste end up in our oceans, and how can we help to reduce it?’

And here’s what she told us…

Sustainability Expert - Jo Gilroy Twitter - @JoannaGilroy

Sustainability Expert – Jo Gilroy Twitter – @JoannaGilroy

A new seven-part series called Blue Planet II is about to air on the BBC to a global audience. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, Blue Planet II gives viewers an unparalleled glimpse into life under the sea. What sets this series apart from its forerunner (The Blue Planet, 2001) is that it lays bare the serious ecological impact plastic waste is having on the marine environment.

It’s estimated that more than 8 million tonnes of plastic material enter our oceans every year. Presently, billions of people are drinking water that’s contaminated with plastic, and a bowl of mussels contains, on average, 14 pieces of plastic. The wellbeing of more than 300 different marine species is threatened, and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the world’s oceans.

So, where does all this plastic come from?  A common misunderstanding is that ocean plastic is a problem created almost exclusively by the developing world, due to a lack of waste management infrastructure.  This is not the case.  Most plastic waste actually comes from the developed world, where plastic’s many useful properties: shatter-resistance, hygiene, lightweight, durability and versatility – are utilised to deliver a variety of benefits across many applications.

Providing sterile hospital equipment (like disposable plastic syringes) is a good example. Significantly increasing the shelf life of fresh produce (cucumbers wrapped in plastic film last up to 14 days longer than unwrapped) is another. A recent study revealed that an average family in the UK will choose a grab-and-go meal option four evenings out of seven. Food and drink on the go is a great example of a consumer convenience for busy lifestyle, that whilst not essential, has become ingrained in our everyday routine.

The important truth is, immersed in our take-make-waste culture, many of us have yet to fully consider the impact plastic waste has on our environment, and in turn, what end of life options are available for the plastic products we use. It’s shocking to consider that 61 per cent of British people litter.  When we litter, the material, be it biodegradable, recyclable, or neither, does not miraculously disappear.  It does not dissolve harmlessly into our environment.  Much of it ends up being washed or blown into our storm drain system, for which there is not filtration system, and simply flows into the nearest watercourse, travelling onward to the ocean.

So, how can we reduce plastic waste in the ocean? Well, as a foodservice operator there are several simple solutions that will make a big difference.  When catering for customers, choose a packaging material which matches the waste management infrastructure your customers have access to.  For example, if your customers have accesses to recycling bins, choose a widely recyclable material.

If you operate a closed environment where your food and packaging does not walk out the door, make sure you provide the right bins which match your packaging material and work with your waste management provider to put in place the right collections.  For example, compostable packaging must be disposed of in a food waste bin and sent to an in-vessel composting facility.  Recyclable packaging should be chosen where there is an identified recycling facility available to recycle it.

As consumers, we also have a responsibility to only use disposable plastic products when necessary, such as using a drinking straw only when it is suitable for the drink.  Above all, we have a responsibility to look carefully, identify the right bin for our used packaging and to not litter.  If we take care with our disposal habits, plastic need not harm our marine environment, as it can, and should, be recycled for a second, third and fourth life.

At the launch of Blue Planet II Sir David Attenborough says “We have a responsibility, every one of us. We may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us.”

At Bunzl Catering Supplies, we are actively supporting our customers to make the right packaging choice and to use plastic packaging responsibly.  Check out our Sustainable Future 2017 e-brochure and get in touch to find out how we might work together to support your foodservice business.

Image sourced from: