Working towards a sustainable environment

A “bioreef” of mussels, an initiative that tackles ghost fishing gear and a behaviour change campaign that reduces plastic pollution from period products are among the winners of Waitrose & Partners’ £1m plastic pollution innovation challenge.

<p>Waitrose & Partners has a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable</p>

Waitrose & Partners has a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable

Developed in partnership with environmental charity Hubbub and funded by Waitrose & Partners’ carrier bag charge, the company’s ‘Plan Plastic – The Million-pound Challenge’ initiative has awarded money to five innovators that have demonstrated that their projects could have a measurable and positive impact on the world’s ongoing plastic waste problem.

More than 150 applicants were whittled down to five winners, who will receive between £150,000 and £300,000 each to upscale their solutions.

Plymouth-based Blue Marine Foundation’s SAFEGEAR initiative that aims to stop ghost fishing gear at source by attaching beacons to buoys to make the gear visible to fishing vessels was announced as one of the five winners. Elsewhere, a biorecycling facility will be created in Somerset that will use mycelium (a vegetative part of a fungus or fungus-like bacteria) to break down synthetic plastic waste and turn it into new products. Led by Onion Collective CIC and Biohm, the plant process will eliminate petrochemical plastic waste completely.

The Women’s Environmental Network and City to the Sea’s Plastic-Free Periods campaign, which aims to educate the public on environmentally friendly menstrual products has also received backing, as has the Youth Hostel Association’s Message in a Bottle campaign to place water refill stations at 60 major youth hostels across England and Wales, in a bid to cut down on single-use water bottles.

The final winning project is Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Mussel Power initiative, which aims to use ecology to tackle microplastics by placing beds and rafts of mussels in estuaries and coastal sites to filer out microplastics as part of a “bioreef” approach.

Waitrose & Partners’ head of CSR, health and agriculture, Tor Harris said: “It’s important for us to tackle unnecessary plastic both in our shops but also in the wider world. All these inspirational projects have the ability to create real impact in tackling environmental issues and encouraging behaviour change so we can collectively achieve our goal of reducing plastic pollution.”  

Internal commitments

The launch of the Challenge comes as Waitrose & Partners works towards a 2025 goal of making all its own-brand packaging is either recyclable, reusable or home compostable.

Since setting this target in 2016, the retailer has banned the sale of single-use plastic straws and disposable coffee cups in all of its UK stores, following earlier phase-outs of products such as plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbead-based health and beauty lines.

It has additionally pledged to remove black plastic, which is notoriously hard-to-recycle, from all own-brand products by the end of 2019, and to eliminate plastic-based glitter from its own-label lifestyle products by Christmas 2020.

The supermarket has additionally backed the Marine Plastics Research and Innovation Framework– a UK-led research and innovation hub that aims to tackle plastic waste through innovative solutions.

Matt Mace