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Plastics, a key environmental aspect to manage in ISO 14001

Sunday 12th April 2020

Plastics; a key environmental aspect for organisations

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The Plastics problem

Plastic waste and its subsequent pollution of soil and waterways was first reported as a problem in the United States in the 1970s, when marine litter and plastic pellets were identified in the North Atlantic. Now, it is a global issue. Sea life is affected through entanglement in plastic litter or through ingestion of plastic fragments. Recent research has highlighted the presence of micro-plastics, which are small microscopic plastic particles, in the environment and within wildlife. 

Annual global production of plastics has increased more than 200-fold since 1950. In 2015 the world produced more than 380 million tonnes of plastic and it is estimated that one bin lorry of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute. As a durable and lightweight material, plastic plays a vital role in the preservation and packaging of materials, particularly food, where benefits have been identified in prolonging shelf life, so limiting waste in other areas. With benefits, there come negatives. Alarming reports suggest that by 2050, the volume of plastic in the sea will outweigh the volume of fish.

Much of this ocean waste is single-use plastics, such as cotton buds, straws and cling film. The linear nature of plastic use means only 4% of global plastic packaging is collected for recycling and only 2% is reused as packaging. The 2017 BBC documentary series ‘Blue Planet II’, reignited the issue of marine plastic pollution, society’s plastics use and its subsequent disposal. The resultant public outcry has, without doubt, had a significant impact on businesses involved in the manufacture, sales and disposal of plastics.

Campaigns from environmental pressure groups and consumers receive significant press attention, adding to the business impact. The UK Government uses targeted legislation to tackle the problem, such as the 2015 introduction in England of the 5p charge for single-use plastic bags. This is soon expected to increase to 10p. The proceeds generated from this charge, minus reasonable costs, are expected to be donated to charitable or environmental causes and companies can be fined for non-compliance. 

The heightened awareness around plastics has occurred at a similar time as when China, the largest market that accepted waste plastic for disposal, stopped importing the material. This has exposed the under-developed industry in the UK and Europe for recycling plastics. Whilst some plastic is being re-engineered into other products, the majority of plastic is simply going to ‘energy-from-waste’ sites.

Working towards a Circular Economy

A business focused campaign was initiated in 2010 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This sought to build a circular economy, its first initiative targeting plastic, where the waste from one process forms a resource for another. The circular concept has been used in plastic manufacturing for many years, with reground plastic used at varying proportions with virgin material in moulding processes. This new approach to a circular economy concept aims to build more markets and opportunities, capitalising on this untapped billion-dollar market. The Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is a UK based charity that works with businesses to help reduce waste and develop sustainable products. Its ‘Plastics Pact’ initiative aims to revolutionise the plastic packaging sector by reducing the total amount of plastic packaging and helping to build stronger recycling systems that ensures plastic packaging can be effectively recycled and made into new products and packaging.

Why you need to manage plastics 

Plastic products and packaging are ubiquitous in businesses today and you are legally required to deal with plastic appropriately or face penalties. Packaging legislation applies to plastic materials, including the UK’s commitment to the Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC), the ‘Obligated packaging producer’ responsibility and the 2012 regulations covering food contact materials.

A new EU directive, ((EU) 2019/904) on reducing the impact of specific plastic products on the environment, must be implemented in the UK before 3rd July 2021. It prohibits placing certain single-use plastic products, such as cotton buds, cutlery, straws, plates, drinks containers and stirrers on the market. Manufacturing face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels using microbeads was totally banned in January 2018, followed by the ban on selling these products from June 2018.

Using ISO 14001 to manage Plastics

ISO 14001 is the international management standard for environmental management. Organisations are required to understand their use of plastics (as an environmental aspect) fully, in order to set meaningful improvements through their day-to-day operations. ISO 14001 sets requirements for organisations that drive greater understanding of legislation and compliance obligations so that you meet all legal requirements and the expectations of your customers to whom you have made commitments.

ISO 14001 ensures that you have provided your team with training and awareness on your initiatives for environmental improvement, and through enhanced worker participation and engagement, you can celebrate and improve your performance together.  

For more information on how Spedan Ltd can support your environmental improvement, contact us today.


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Adam Faiers - Director

Adam has been working on Quality and Environmental management systems for most of his career in small, medium and corporate organisations. A keen advocate of the ISO approach as a platform for improvement, Adam ensures that systems are practical and useful for Managers and Staff to use.

Following a number of years working on software development projects, Adam has diversified into Information Security and Business Continuity management. Keen to formalise his industry experience, he is currently undertaking a Diploma in Business Continuity Management at Buckingham University.

Adam has a PhD from Cranfield University and now supports the MSc Environmental Management programmes through the advisory panel and visiting lectures.


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