Durham County Council's story
Durham County Council is cutting its consumption of single use plastic, and helping partners and suppliers do the same. Key to this is the creation of the council’s own single use plastic pledge, which it follows and encourages others to sign up to.
The council’s initiative was prompted by growing public awareness of plastic pollution. Organisations signing its pledge make three commitments:
- To ensure unnecessary single use plastics are reduced and ultimately eliminated across their buildings, services and activities
- To support schools, communities and residents in tackling the problem
- To support a single use plastics network within the county
The network has been set up with partners and gives support and advice to businesses.
More than 300 organisations and individuals have signed the pledge, including SMEs, schools and Durham University.
The council has developed a pledge logo to help organisations show their commitment.
Durham has also surveyed its suppliers, ensured all future contracts will consider alternatives to single use plastic, and made minimising its use a condition for organisations taking part in authority-run events and exhibitions.
The authority is also engaging with suppliers via the North East Procurement Organisation, working with local schools to educate children about the circular economy, raising awareness among residents, and advising other local authorities on the issue.
Durham is exploring the use of unrecyclable waste plastic to build local roads – 6.5 tonnes have been mixed with asphalt and used in a trial project that won a national award from the Association for Public Service Excellence. The council has also strengthened its recycling of street litter and made sure council buildings are using the authority’s internal recycling schemes correctly.
Reducing single use plastic remains a high priority for the council and is embedded within the Council’s Climate Emergency Action Plan and procurement and commissioning processes.
Useful learnings from Durham County Council
Increased public awareness of the danger posed by single use plastics was a key catalyst for the project. This was boosted by numerous campaigns and documentaries such as BBC’s Blue Planet. This awareness created support and buy in from the public and councillors.
Feasibility work was important to the success of the project – in Durham’s case, it revealed that going 100% plastic free would be impossible, and that significantly reducing single use plastic while educating staff, communities and businesses was a more effective approach).
The feasibility study also highlighted potential pitfalls. One example of a potential mistake is jumping to use plastic free or biodegradable coffee cups which may not get recycled in the right way.
Good partnership working (both internal and external) was essential – if the authority doesn’t have the staff resource and support internally, then external partnerships are very useful.
Agreeing common goals made partnership working easier and more successful.
Durham County Council's metrics
The council will quantify CO2 savings from the project in its next two-year action plan. But the impact of some individual changes is already clear from an internal audit:
- Changes to the council’s own supply list have cut the catering department’s consumption of single use plastic by 90%.
- Switching from plastic to paper confetti at the Gala Theatre is saving an average of 750kg of plastic waste a year.
- Removing plastic overshoes from council leisure centres and pools is saving an average of 2.4 tonnes of waste a year.
The council has also driven greater awareness of the issue within and beyond Durham. This includes promoting St Bede’s school in Sacriston as an example of best practice, particularly their plastic-free days. This resulted in national television coverage on BBC’s The One Show, with presenter and environmentalist Matt Baker signing the council’s pledge himself.