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Small businesses heed the call to reduce plastic waste

As supermarkets and big brands scramble to keep up with consumer demand for less disposable plastic, fleet-footed small firms are leading the way in changing practices. 
Since Blue Planet II illustrated the impact of single-use plastic waste on ocean life, more people have started questioning their use of disposable coffee cups, plastic wrapping, water bottles, cutlery and straws. 

And small firms have been quick to respond from local shops offering refills to the entrepreneurs developing plastic-free alternatives.

While big companies like Coca Cola and Asda have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact to cut plastic pollution in seven years, "zero waste" shops are already doing business across the UK from Truro and Powys to Harrogate and Aberdeen.


FSB member Dana Burton, who runs Goodfayre, an ethical shop in Salisbury, has noted a big increase in demand for plastic-free goods and has increased her range accordingly.

Customers can top up on pasta, beans, dried fruits, seeds, household products like laundry liquid and toiletries like shampoo and soap - reusing containers.

Dana says it has taken her 18 months to get to being about 80% plastic free and admits it is more work than selling ready-packaged items. 

"You have to weigh everything out. It's more of a process to purchase something, getting all that in place and making sure it works, especially on busy days, it's quite challenging but also, quite fun. When I scoop out sugar for someone and put it in a bowl, I feel like I'm going back to the 1920s!"

She thinks it is easier for small shops to reduce plastic waste than for supermarkets, which may struggle with the messier side of measuring out liquid refills and face lengthier processes when introducing new ranges. 

"People are really driven by the story behind businesses. It only adds to your business if you are doing something positive for the environment," she says.

 

In Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, Fran Beer and Carly Foss have seen huge interest in their product - a plastic-free alternative to cling film, made from locally sourced bees wax.

They set up The Beeswax Wrap Company in 2017, first working out of Carly's kitchen, but quickly outgrew it. They now employ 10 people from the area and are on the move again to larger premises. 

"Consumers want to buy local and want to support small businesses," said Fran.

"They can see small businesses are making the changes. They don't have to get it approved by a board of people. They are way more agile in being able to test new things out. Small shops are at the forefront of it and have much closer relationships with their customers." 

The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage has awarded more than 900 local independent businesses their Plastic Free Champions award, from cafes, butchers and grocers to accountants, estate agents and distilleries. You can read more about them here https://www.sas.org.uk/uncategorised/plastic-free-businesses-lead-the-way/

The group's Plastic Free Communities project officer Rachel Yates said they had seen a phenomenal response from local businesses across the UK, from urban centres to rural communities.  

While some raised concerns about the cost of reducing plastic waste, most were able and willing to find ways to tackle single-use plastic, that worked for them, she said.


"Businesses need time to research solutions which work for them and their community. We're finding that businesses are tackling items one at a time and balancing savings in one area, with potential added costs in another." she said.

"We're also hearing anecdotally that their stance on the issue is actually driving more customers and clients through the door."

Business-to-business consumers are also concerned about single-use plastic. The FSB's First Voice magazine is wrapped in fully recyclable plastic but has started making that clearer after many members got in touch to check it was.

The European Parliament has backed a ban on some single-use plastics by 2021 and the UK government is considering banning plastic straws and plastic stemmed cotton buds and whether taxes should be to reduce plastic waste. 

So it may be that the writing is on the wall for single-use plastics in the long-term but in the meantime, small businesses can get ahead of the game and reap the rewards.

The FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2019 (https://www.fsbawards.co.uk/) include an Ethical-Green Business of the Year category to champion environmentally friendly and socially responsible small firms. 

Last year's North East Area winner was Grn Sportswear, which creates sportswear with sustainable materials, including plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets. You can read more here (https://www.fsb.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news/2018/10/17/green-great-britain-week-presca-teamwear) from them, about how small businesses can both benefit the environment and build brand credibility.  


For 2019 the national final is due to be held in London on 23 May.