Home / Environment / FM’s role in helping to reduce single-use plastic across the built environment

FM’s role in helping to reduce single-use plastic across the built environment

According to Sky Ocean Rescue, more plastic was made in the first decade of the 21st century than the whole of the 20th. Eight million tonnes of plastic are thrown away each year and washed out to sea, causing untold damage to marine life and entering the human food chain. What efforts can the FM sector play in helping to reduce the use of single-use plastic across the built environment, including retail and leisure parks, educational establishments, healthcare and corporate offices?


Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report, 583.3 billion plastic drinking bottles will be manufactured and sold during the year 2021. If you had to place all those bottles end to end, it would extend halfway to the sun, claims Global Vision International. If that wasn’t scary enough, other charities have suggested that by 2050 the plastic in our oceans could weigh more than all the fish. FM has a huge role to play in breaking this cycle of plastic use and must take the lead in ensuring that innovative solutions are created to enable businesses to eliminate their reliance and use of single-use plastic.

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded 40 per cent fewer bags on beaches. The introduction of ‘Plastic Pacts’ and ‘Plastic Pledges’ from various charities like WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) are encouraging businesses from across the UK to tackle plastic waste. With organisations such as ASDA, Coca Cola and Boots signing the pledge, we’re seeing an increasing commitment to reducing single-use plastic.

Environmental sustainability is moving higher up the business agenda, as it rightly should. Now it is time for the FM to follow suit. We are calling on the industry to further demonstrate the strategic value it has for many years claimed it provides. This may be the opportunity for our profession to showcase its role to business and governments around the world.

We’re already seeing some positive examples from within the sector. Churchill Services has started working with ‘Surfers Against Sewage’, a company that used to focus on coastline water quality but is now more concerned about the plastic contaminating our waters. The multi-service provider is now taking part in community beach and riverway clean-ups.

Atalian Servest’s B&I catering division Angel Hill Food Co. has committed to removing all single-use plastic disposables from its operation across central government estate contracts. To achieve this, the business is rolling out a three-phase approach, spanning two years, with the first phase involving switching plastic cutlery and takeaway containers to fully compostable alternatives. Phases two and three involve the business replacing bottled drinks with canned alternatives, changing the way it serves condiments and looking at a scheme to reduce single-use coffee cups.

OCS UK has also taken steps on a journey to reduce single-use plastic waste. It has replaced plastic straws and sandwich bags across UK catering functions with more sustainable options. In collaboration with waste management supplier, Reconomy, the FM provider has started an education programme to encourage all those who interact with OCS to think twice about their own plastic use. In addition, it has updated its procurement process to prioritise working with suppliers who share the business’ vision.

In-house FM and RE teams at other organisations have undertaken plastic audits to pinpoint cost effective alternatives. Sky, for instance, took a stand against single-use plastic via its ‘ocean rescue’ campaign. This company alone has reduced its plastic bottle usage by an estimated 450,000 per year within the UK.

It’s the little steps that truly make an enormous difference. IFMA UK and RICS will be running an event in Q2 to help pave the way. This event will feature environmental experts outside of the built environment – a mix of new voices so we can hear first-hand how our industry can help play its part in protecting the planet. 


Here at Zip Water UK, we understand the importance of cutting down our consumption of single-use plastic, and empowering others to do so. As the devastating environmental impact of plastic waste is unravelled, it’s vital we make lifestyle changes.

As the Royal Statistical Society’s statistic of the year for 2018 highlighted, only 9 per cent of all plastic ever made has been recycled. This is a shockingly low percentage and there is clearly a long way to go towards a more sustainable future. However, more and more high-profile organisations and companies are taking a stand in the war against plastics, inspiring much of the public to make changes in their own lives. The BBC – who pledged to rid themselves of single-use plastic by 2020 – is one company influencing many individuals to follow suit.

With plastic waste growing at an exponential rate and the recycling rate lagging behind, making changes on an even larger scale is crucial. This is where facilities managers can make a big difference, as they are in a unique position to make substantial improvements to a building’s sustainability. Having the ability to specify sustainable alternatives for public institutions and corporate offices offers the opportunity to promote an environmentally conscious way of thinking to larger groups of people.

A great place to start is with the consumption of bottled water. Not only are 7.7 billion plastic water bottles being consumed every year in the UK, but they cost around 500-1,000 times more than tap water – plus, 90 per cent of bottled water brands have been found to contain microplastic contamination. It’s also estimated that since 2013, NHS trusts in England have purchased around 600 million disposable cups. Not good for the environment, our pockets or our health.

Finding innovative ways to cut down on single-use plastic waste should be a top priority for facilities managers in a variety of settings. By simply implementing a series of small changes, a big difference can be made. For example, specifying an easily accessible, filtered drinking water system will directly result in reduced purchases of plastic bottled water. Additionally, with the advanced filtration systems available on the market today, tap water has never tasted better!

Not only does this cut down plastic waste output and costs for a business, but it could also influence the human dynamic. With more sustainable options available to employees, visitors and students, this in turn could create a more environmentally conscious collective. Promoting other sustainable initiatives, such as introducing a penalty fee for using disposable plastic bottles or running a recycling drive, will be much easier to implement with groups who are already more environmentally aware. All of this comes with the added benefit for the building of increasing the chances of securing sought after accreditations such as BREEAM and The WELL Standard.

With the damage to the environment at risk of becoming irreversible, facilities managers are invaluable to the global movement to cut out single-use plastics for good. FM’s have the power to impact on not only a building, but all those inside it, helping inspire change on a larger scale. 

About Sarah OBeirne

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *