Nobody can fail to have noticed the damage that waste, and plastic waste in particular, is doing to the environment. Plastic debris finds its way into the oceans of the world, it harms sea life and has created vast islands of floating waste, miles wide and far too big to remove. It is a problem that we must face up to now before it is too late.
There has already been some action taken to mitigate this problem in recent years. Micro-beads, which are used in many cosmetic products, are now banned after growing evidence that they were finding their way into the food chain. A 5p levy on plastic carrier bags in shops and supermarkets has seen a marked reduction in their use. The government has also pledged to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2024, where it is “technologically, environmentally and economically practical to do so”.
A long way to go
Small steps to reducing plastic in your setting
So what can early years settings do? A good place to start is with an audit of your current use of plastic.
Ask yourself the following questions:
How many single use items do we use?
Do we really need all of these?
What can we re-use or recycle?
How much plastic do we throw away each week? Ask children and their families to set themselves a challenge to reduce waste.
Can we replace plastic bags with fabric ones, for example when children bring in their wellies for outdoor play?
How is our weekly food shop delivered? Can we bulk buy rather than having lots of smaller packets/cartons?
Do we use any disposable cutlery, plates or cups?
Do we really need all this glitter?
How plastic waste in a nursery adds up
The small amount of plastic waste created every day can soon add up. Here is what an average 52-place early years setting would create each year, if open for 50 weeks:
|Plastic item||per year||Opportunities to reduce or replace|
|Nappies||12,500||This is generally down to each parent's choice, but nappies do still generate a huge amount of waste each year. There are more eco-friendly options available that can be suggested to parents – including biodegradable or resuable nappies.|
|Nappy sacks||5,000||Is it really necessary to put every nappy inside a nappy sack? A tightly-wrapped wet nappy is usually sufficiently watertight. Of course, a soiled nappy may require a nappy sack to minimise odour or prevent the spread of diease.|
|Wipes (nappy changes)||37,500||Biodegradable wipes are available, although they tend to cost more. Consider how many you use for each nappy change, while still ensuring that children are thoroughly cleaned.|
|Wipes (hands/faces)||7,800||Soap and water, or tissue, can often be used instead.|
|Plastic aprons||5,000||Single-use aprons are necessary when there is a risk of cross-contamination, such as during an illness outbreak. But not always required for every nappy change. Consider a resuable alternative or biodegradable alternative.|
|Milk bottles||2,000||Some settings have negotiated with their supplier to get re-usable milk bottles. Ask yours or consider switching supplier if possible.|
|Plastic wallets||650||Often thrown out instead of being reused, consider how you use these in your filing systems.|
|Hand sanitisers||150||Many staff opt to carry one of these with them at work. Suggest they switch to soap/water where possible.|
|Glitter||6kg||This micro-plastic can enter the food chain and there are now some plastic-free alternatives available.|
|Laminating||200||Paper is recyclable – plastic pouches are not. Consider removing laminating from your displays.|
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