Plastic free canteen leading to much larger PL’YAS’TIC FREE project

Alexis Percival, Environmental and Sustainability manager at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, provides an overview of the work done to reduce waste by eliminating single use plastic from the canteen at their headquarters. This has much reduced climate damaging emissions from plastic waste.

Why did you decide to reduce single use plastic?

The increasing amount of waste being generated from the canteen coincided with the airing of Blue Planet and highlight of the amount of plastic in the eco system as well as on the planet.  The gauntlet was thrown down to look at how we could reduce single use plastic and look at alternatives

Part of our work to reduce single use plastic we had to consider how we could create a circular economy for packaging – returnable and reusable – for many of the products we use. From this plastic free canteen work we launched a much larger PL’YAS’TIC FREE project.

What have the environmental benefits been?

The amount of plastic savings that we have made has far exceeded what we were expecting:

  • On an annual basis we have saved nearly 200,000 pieces of plastic from the waste stream.
  • We have reduced the amount of plastic waste by approximately 4 tonnes a year, but still generate around 0.5 tonnes of waste from the changes.
  • Waste production has been reduced by at least one industrial waste bin per day.

This is broadly equivalent to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by 4,000kg (4tonnes) a year.

What other benefits have you noticed?

The financial benefits have been significant - we have saved over £12,000 in a year in procurement costs for plastic packaging and waste disposal.

Cleaning staff do not have to empty the bins as many times over a day.

Staff have appreciate the effort to reduce plastic and have embraced the changes.

How did you begin?

We assessed the plastic that we were using within the staff restaurant. We had 15 products that were single use plastic products. For example, these included salad containers, cutlery and plastic lined cups and lids.  We assessed how the products were used.  We quantified how much was being used and what alternatives were available.

What did you use instead of plastic which would end up as waste?

We assessed what plastic alternatives or replacements were available to replace them. We decided that we would look for reusable alternatives. We decided not to opt for vegware alternatives because of the lack of compostable waste facilities in the area. We switched from single use plastic milk bottles to glass, returnable bottles. We switched from plastic bottles to metal cans for our drinks.

We changed our serving receptacles from single use plastic to reusables.  For instance, for those eating in, all food is now served on a ceramic plate with a returnable metal knife and fork. People who are taking their food away are allowed to take the plate an cutlery from the canteen, to be returned later or if they are leaving the building the can take away a cardboard container and wooden knife and fork. Plastic sachets have been replaced with large sauce, vinegar, sugar and salt pots.  We installed water points to encourage staff to use reusable bottles.

Have you been able to avoid all single use plastic?

Not yet. For those products that we haven’t found a solution (crisp packets) or there have been logistical challenges (e.g. staff being able to see sandwich contents in the vending machine, vending machine cup use), we are continuing to look for alternatives. We are upgrading recycling facilities in order to ensure that we dispose of as much waste in the correct manner.

How did you ensure staff and stakeholders changed their behaviour?

Our kitchen management embraced the change and requested that all supplies and deliveries made to the kitchen had reduced or no plastic alternatives. Working closely with the kitchen staff we eliminated a lot of the waste from the products.

Our suppliers engaged with the task of plastic and waste reduction.

Staff are aware of the problems with plastic. Most staff embraced the changes although there were some who were unsure as to what to do initially. We had a full poster and newsletter campaign with a launch event to get staff engaged with why we were doing this with details of the impact that eliminating plastic from our canteen could have.