The Interim Head of Asset Management (Climate Change Lead) gave a presentation concerning initiatives to implement a plastic free Guildford policy as an explanatory introduction to her related report which invited the EAB to consider the actions taken to date to reduce the use and impact of non-recyclable Single Use Plastics (SUPs) and recommend a way forward for the Council to undertake further work towards a plastic free Guildford and in doing so, help to deliver the Council’s Corporate Plan priority to protect the environment.
The presentation covered the national framework and local commitment relating to reducing the use of SUPs, the Council’s achievements to date, the role of the Surrey Environment Partnership (SEP), other councils’ approaches and the recommended way forward.
The national framework consisted of the UK’s 25 Year Environment Plan which was published by the Government in January 2018 with a target to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042, and the Waste and Resources Strategy 2018-19 published by DEFRA and setting out ambitious plans for a greener future with financial incentives.
On 23 July 2019 the Council adopted a motion recognising the damage plastics could cause to the environment and committed the authority to working with local communities to reduce the negative impact of the use of SUPs in so far as it was reasonable to do so. The Council asked that this EAB make recommendations, as appropriate, to the Executive on how to achieve each of the seven commitments set out in the motion. The Council’s commitment was to work to reduce the use of non-recyclable SUPs as announced on 23 July 2019 to play its part in delivering the SEP’s SUP Strategy (2018) and 5-year action plan, reduce the impact through use of SUPs and support, promote and encourage plastic free initiatives and events within the Borough.
The Council asked that this EAB make recommendations, as appropriate, to the Executive on how to achieve each of the seven points (a) to (g) below:
a. Avoid Council use of SUPs.
b. Encourage local businesses to avoid use of SUPs.
c. Engage with and support the Plastic Free Guildford Group.
d. Work with suppliers to discourage use of avoidable SUPs.
e. Support local communities to reduce the use of SUPs.
f. Support the national water refill campaign.
g. Work with partners to investigate effective and sustainable incentives for the return of SUPs for recycling.
In terms of achieving the Council’s commitments to date, examples included the cessation of some plastic use, communication with residents and businesses and community engagement, caterer’s packaging constructed from recyclable materials, newly installed water bottle refilling stations and supporting staff to recycle more waste.
The twelve Surrey councils within the SEP came together and created a SUP Strategy for Surrey, the primary objective of which was to avoid producing plastic waste. The Strategy featured a five year plan and an ambition for residents to: “live in clean, safe and green communities, where people and organisations embrace their environmental responsibilities”. The four themes of the Strategy were councils’ tackling their own plastic use, working with their suppliers and contractors, raising awareness across Surrey and supporting the county to take action. Each theme had a set of objectives and outputs.
There was a SUP Task Group which had agreed a mix of good practice and measurable targets with dates to aim for. Guildford Borough officers were involved and attended Task Group meetings.
The Output Action Classification target sought to group SUP items into the level of difficulty to eliminate e.g. easy, moderate or hard. The easy category consisted of plastic drink bottles and cups, plastic food takeaway boxes, plastic cutlery, plastic grocery bags, straws, stirrers, sauce sachets and tea bags with plastic wrappers. The moderate group covered hot drink cups and lids, coffee capsules and stationery. The hard category consisted of bin bags, food wrappers, yogurt pots, milk bottles, composite food packaging (e.g: chocolate boxes, biscuit trays, crisp bags, soup containers), cleaning supplies (e.g: washing-up fluid, other cleaning fluids and wet wipes), food packaging film, and protective packaging for fragile items etc. The target date for eliminating the easy and moderate groupings had been December 2019 whilst that for the hard group was December 2023.
An example of a SUP theme objective and output was SUP Objective 1: End the sale and provision of SUP products in order to phase out the use of SUPs across the Council’s estates and operations wherever possible.
The SUP Strategy for Surrey featured a collaborative approach in respect of the best way to tackle SUPs, commitment to eliminating SUPs in the county governed by the SEP with joint policy objectives. The Strategy contained good practice guidance for authorities and a Five-Year Action Plan which each authority could customise for its own approach.
Other Councils’ initiatives included producing their own SUP policy and pledges and/or action plans, endorsing the SUPs Strategy for Surrey and providing public information or guidance on their websites.
Officers proposed the preparation of a new Guildford SUP Action Plan for approval by the Executive, implementation of the four SUP Strategy for Surrey themes and co-ordination of a small number of Council officers to assist with progressing the work. The Action Plan would enable this EAB to make structured and planned recommendations to the Executive on how to progress the seven commitments.
Going forward, the Board was invited to discuss and consider actions taken to date to reduce the impact of SUPs and the recommendation to formulate a new Guildford SUP Action Plan for the Executive to approve.
The following points and comments arose from related questions and discussion:
· Having thanked officers for the work undertaken since the passing of the plastic free Guildford motion, a councillor drew attention to the omission of one element of the motion, the purpose of which had been for Guildford to obtain certification as a plastic free Borough working in conjunction with the Plastic Free Guildford Group and the community. The Interim Head of Asset Management undertook to ascertain progress in this regard and report back to the Board.
· Although there were Government guidelines concerning the reduction of plastic waste in the Government’s estate, the Interim Head of Asset Management confirmed that she was unaware of any such guidelines, indicators or metrics determining what reduction of plastic waste was expected from local government. However, the use of the Surrey SUP Action Plan as a framework to formulate a new Guildford SUP Action Plan would steer the way forward. The Board reflected on the enormity of the task to resolve reduction of plastic across local communities, and its suggestion that the provision of further resources would be necessary to support a wider plastic initiative, was welcomed.
· There was some concern that efforts to reduce SUPs had focused on operations at the Council’s Millmead House offices whilst there was a need for both Borough and co-ordinated Surrey-wide campaigns to engage the public and encourage behavioural change to tackle SUPs. It was suggested that the relevant recommendation be strengthened to reflect this.
· A councillor provided an update in respect of the Plastic Free Guildford Group, which was enthusiastic in its goal to reduce SUPs and would benefit from some support and guidance. The Experience Guildford Business Improvement District assisted with promotional activities and connected plastic free businesses, a number of which had achieved plastic free certification by reducing the amount of SUPs used. Further community engagement, including a presence at events and litter picks, would be beneficial.
· It was suggested that the practices and experiences of other local authorities be explored with a view to obtaining shared learning and best practice in this area.
· Reducing the use and impact of SUPs in its own estate was where the Council had most influence. In terms of engaging the wider community, the SUP Task Group and SEP had been influential. The Interim Head of Asset Management agreed to look into how the Council may resource engagement with local businesses and retailers to achieve the maximum effectiveness at the minimum cost. The Council’s website was one cost effective means to engage the public who should be encouraged to take personal responsibility to reduce the use of SUPs.
· Experience Guildford was reported to be eager to work with the Council to promote tackling SUP in the future once it had addressed current Coronavirus related issues.
The Chairman summarised the main views expressed by the Board as its response to the report’s request for input, which were as follows:
· There was a need for increased community engagement and co-ordinated publicity campaigns at local and county-wide levels to reduce the use of SUPs by the public and businesses.
· Litter picks were a useful method of engaging the community and heightening awareness of SUPs whilst improving the environment.
· With the assistance of the SUP Task Group, the Interim Head of Asset Management be requested to identify where the Council may undertake the most cost effective measures to reduce SUPs.
· The practices and experiences of other local authorities be explored with a view to obtaining shared learning and best practice in reducing SUPs.
· The aims of the plastic free Borough initiative should be pursued and the related certification obtained in recognition of this achievement.