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Reducing single use plastic in the washroom

Around the globe, there has been increased awareness on the devastating impact of single-use plastic.

Single-use plastics, used in many everyday items like coffee cups and stirrers, straws, plastic bags and water or soda bottles, are not biodegradable. Upon disposal, they end up in landfills or worse, in bodies of water. When petroleum-based plastics do break down after many years, they release toxic chemicals that can seep into our water and food sources.

With the current level of plastic use, it is estimated that, by 2025, the ocean will have 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish. In another 25 years, by 2050, plastic will likely outweigh fish in the ocean.

One report noted that single-use plastic is also responsible for accelerating climate change because of the greenhouse gases it emits at every stage—from its production to its disposal as a waste product.

To mitigate these disastrous effects, private companies, non-profit organisations and governments around the world have initiated various campaigns to minimise usage and promote eco-friendlier alternatives.

  • In Canada, Vancouver became the first city to ban plastic straws as well as the distribution of foam cups and takeout containers. The move, which came into effect earlier this year, is part of a long-term goal to ban all solid waste by 2040.
  • In the US, various cities and states have been implementing their own plastic-free campaigns, some as far back as 2007. San Francisco was the first city to do so and since 2010, the policy has led to a 72% reduction in plastic bag pollution. In Washington, D.C., the state has been implementing a tax on plastic bags which goes to a clean-up and river protection fund. This effort has resulted in a significant reduction in plastic bag usage.
  • As of January 2018, the European Union (EU) has implemented plans to reduce single-use plastic consumption and ensure that all plastic packaging on the EU market should by recyclable by 2030. Intentional use of microplastics has also been restricted.

In the UK, the Buckingham Palace announced last year that plastic straws and bottles will be banned from the Royal Estates. The London City Airport has also banned plastic straws in all its food and drink outlets. UK-based Costa Coffee removed plastic drinking straws from its stores as of January 2018 while McDonald’s UK has announced a similar initiative, starting with the rollout of alternative paper straws.

The government has expressed its intent to prohibit the sale of single-use plastic items like straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. As part of the long-term plan to eliminate plastic waste, plastic microbeads—used in certain cosmetic and personal care products—have already been banned.

But as early as 2015, UK stores have been charging extra for single-use plastic carrier bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Since this was introduced, plastic bag consumption decreased by more than 80%.

Tips for commercial washrooms

So, you’re probably wondering: What can I do to help?

As a commercial property or building manager, you can implement simple changes which can significantly minimise plastic use. Here are some tips to get started.

  • Reduce the need for plastic packaging. When ordering washroom supplies like cleaning solutions or loo rolls, purchase in bulk so your suppliers use less packaging plastic. Better yet, check with them if they can pack using old cardboard boxes or any other recyclable material instead of plastic bubble wrap. You may also want to consider looking for eco-conscious suppliers.
  • Rethink your soap. The same goes for disposable pump bottles. Install a refillable liquid soap dispenser and order refills in bigger bulk bottles instead of multiple small ones. If you can, try glass hand pump bottles which can be recycled continuously.

Many establishments, like boutique hotels or spas that want to make a stand, are now ditching the liquid soap altogether and going back to the good old soap bar. Choose a locally made brand that uses paper packaging, and better yet, one made with organic ingredients.

If your washroom is the type which offers amenities like hand sanitisers, lotions, cotton buds and other personal care items, make sure that these too are as plastic-free as possible.

  • Make sure you have the correct waste disposal bins. This is especially applicable to sanitary waste. Incorrectly disposed tampons, sanitary pads and used nappies can cause waste, drainage and even plumbing issues.
  • Double check your hand towel. Hand towels are ideally made from 100% paper, but some brands will add synthetic polymers to improve durability especially when wet. Synthetic polymers are made from petroleum oil and, in large quantities, used in many single-use plastic products. Every year, millions of seabird species die because of synthetic polymer congestion which can be easily mistaken for food. These polymers also contain harmful toxins that can end up in fish and other marine wildlife which humans consume.

Check your brand to make sure you are using a 100% paper hand towels. You can also opt for an energy-efficient hand dryer to reduce the need for paper towels and the inevitable plastic packaging that comes with it.

While you’re at it, you can consider installing sensor taps to reduce water wastage. Sensor taps are ideal for commercial washrooms because water flow, and even temperature, can be controlled, even with an influx of multiple users. You can also ask a professional to reassess your flushing system to check for more efficient ways of managing water use. These, in turn, can equate to savings, which can then be allocated to environment-friendly modifications, especially the reduction or elimination of dependence on single-use plastic.

If there is sufficient space and it will not affect the seamless flow of movement in the washroom, you can set up a bin for recyclable or single-use plastic to encourage proper disposal.

commercial washroom caters to hundreds of people on a regular basis so the environmental impact of these simple alterations can truly create a ripple effect of change. It can even encourage users to do their part at home. In this global crusade against single-use plastic, every bit of effort counts, and the washroom is just as good a place as any to make a difference.