#WorldRefillDay takes place on 16 June, so we’re celebrating the brilliant progress that’s been made to date on single-use plastic reduction across Greater Manchester.

In this blog, Michelle Lynch, Principal Environment Officer – Sustainable Consumption and Production at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, shines a light on the various initiatives underway to tackle single-use plastics in Greater Manchester, including how we’re driving the refill revolution across the city-region…

Why ditch unnecessary single-use plastics?

The answer isn’t that all plastic is bad. If plastic products are made to last, reused and recycled at their end of life, they can be a great option. The problem is in our prolific use of avoidable single-use plastics and the lack of recycling infrastructure available. There are lots of reasons why our use of single-use plastics needs to be drastically reduced, but one of the biggest issues is how long they take to degrade – over 400 years! – which means that every new bottle, food tray, polystyrene cup or other single-use plastic item that gets used once then thrown away is added to an ever-growing pile of entirely avoidable rubbish.

This is a major problem, in terms of the impact on the environment – with over 240 metric tonnes of plastic expected to be in the ocean by 2030, devastating habitats and biodiversity. We can’t allow single-use plastics to continue polluting our towns, cities, rivers, and oceans. In Greater Manchester we are committed to exploring and piloting sustainable alternatives, like our Schools Eco Refill Pilot that promotes refill and reuse in local communities.

There is also an ever-increasing legal requirement for businesses when it comes to single-use plastics. From 1st October 2023, new laws came into force banning items like plastic cutlery, plastic plates and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers. Action needs to be taken at a national, local, business, and individual scale

In Greater Manchester we want to help everyone from businesses, residents and community groups to do more to tackle single use plastics – everyone has a role to play! We know it’s not always easy to make the most sustainable choice, and any choice we make has an impact on our planet. PlasticFreeGM aims to talk openly about the difficulties and pitfalls of trying to make sustainable choices, offering practical advice and support to businesses and organisations struggling to work out what steps to take for the best.

Single use plastic fork

Our Plastic Pact

Our efforts to reduce single-use plastics are all built on the Greater Manchester Plastic Pact, one of the first and boldest Pacts to commit to reducing single-use plastics from the public estate.

Amongst the other organisations that signed the pact in 2019, which included our 10 Local Authorities, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and the NHS Foundation Trust, the Pact committed us to:

  • Demonstrate personal leadership.
  • Share knowledge, data, insights and best-practice.
  • Review procurement processes and provide carbon literacy training to all staff.
  • Embed environmental sustainability criteria in social value procurement mechanisms.
  • Support new initiatives to reduce single-use plastics and increase recycling and re-use.
  • Raise awareness amongst staff, suppliers and the wider community to influence and change behaviour.

The Pact provides us with the right mindset, approach, and environment to help single-use plastic reduction initiatives thrive, working with partners right across the city-region to make it happen.

Greater Manchester’s Refill Revolution

If we are to successfully encourage individuals, communities, and businesses to use less single-use plastics day-to-day, we need to put viable alternatives in place. That’s why we have we have joined forces with City to Sea to promote their Refill app across the city-region.

City to Sea is a not-for-profit organisation campaigning to stop plastic pollution at source, by connecting our day-to-day actions to the impact they have on our oceans. Their app makes living with less plastic easier, helping people across Greater Manchester and beyond understand where they can refill everything from drinks bottles to food containers.

Encouraging people to choose refill over buying single-use plastics only to throw them away is a real step in the right direction, but it will only be successful if residents can refill where they are, or when they are on the move around the city-region. For that reason, we’re growing our network of local refill stations, encouraging businesses to sign up as places that people can refill.

Lots of businesses have already joined the refill revolution in Greater Manchester – and you can too! If you’re a business with a tap and can offer free refills to the public, then all you need to do is add a few details to the Refill app. Once your station is live, you’ll be ready to welcome thirsty refillers and benefit from increased exposure and footfall as a result. And best of all, by signing up as a Refill Station you’ll be helping reduce plastic pollution across our city-region.

To date we’ve signed up over 900 refill stations across the city region, saving over 48,000 bottles from being used – that’s equivalent to 335 blue whales lined up nose to tail! And we are seeing big increases all the time – since January there’s been a 10% increase in businesses sign up across Greater Manchester and over 100 new refill stations added in Manchester City Centre over the last year. The more businesses that sign up, the better!

We have lots of great community refill schemes operating in Greater Manchester too, but we need more people to get involved and help create lasting changein the communities where they live and work. If you are interested in joining us to grow refill and reuse at a local level, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

We are testing new approaches in Greater Manchester to reduce avoidable single-use plastics, including a pilot that sees ten pupil-led school eco refill shops being set up. Delivered in partnership with Pupils Profit, an ethical enterprise delivering personal, social and health education, the school shops sell refills of household products to the school community, with pupils and residents encouraged to bring in containers to refill. Products include washing up liquid, body wash, soap bars, shampoo and conditioner bars – and even a dog shampoo bar!

The initiative is providing young people with valuable enterprise skills, as well as helping them understand and embrace the values behind reducing waste. It also contributes towards helping Greater Manchester achieve its long-term environmental vision – to be carbon neutral by 2038.

Hamer Primary School Eco Shop launch

What’s next?

Whilst we are making great progress, there is still more to do. Over the next year we will continue to work to reduce avoidable single-use plastics on the public estate and offer support and advice to residents, business and communities to cut down on their own plastic waste.

We are also working hard to bring alternative solutions to Greater Manchester that will help residents and businesses ‘Step up to Reuse’, and we hope to launch two returnable cup schemes in the city centre very soon – watch this space!

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