Plastics - position statement

Plastics (position statement)

There is growing worldwide concern about plastic in the environment. 

We are working hard to reduce plastic within our business and to support initiatives to help customers cut the single-use of plastic.

Plastic impacts on our work in three key areas:

1. Single use plastic used in our operational business activities, for example, laboratory gloves and plastic packaging from items we buy

2. Single use plastic used by our customers and disposed of down the toilet, eg, wet wipes and sanitary items

3. Single use plastic used by our customers to rehydrate, eg, plastic bottles.

Plastic type Issues  What we are doing 
Operational waste plastic 
  • We can manage plastics arising from our activities. Our suppliers can help by cutting the amount of plastics they use, eg, reducing plastic packaging.
  • Four of our 408 water recycling centres use plastic bio-beads as part of the treatment process.
  • Plastic elements used in water and sewage treatment will erode over time and shed microplastics. This scale of this, particularly compared to other sources, has not yet been quantified by the industry.
  • Our target is to send no waste to landfill by 2020; in 2018-19 we diverted 99.8% of waste away from landfill. As part of our Public Interest Commitment we have set a target to end the use of avoidable single-use plastic.
  • Plastic cups, bottles, cutlery and stirrers have been removed from our offices and depots.
  • We are working with waste contractors to inspect waste skips to estimate how much plastic they contain. Our aim is to set ambitious waste reduction targets and increase reuse and recycling.
  • Where our treatment processes use plastic bio-beads, we have set tight controls to avoid plastic being released into the environment accidentally. Where the risk is high, we are investing in secondary containment.
  • We need to carry out further work to understand the impact of plastic used in water and wastewater treatment disintegrating and entering the environment.
Water cycle plastic 
  • Consumer goods are the source of most macroplastics (particles larger than 5mm) received at our water recycling centres.
  • Microplastics (particles smaller than 5mm) in wastewater mainly come from clothes washing, car tyres and macroplastics breaking down
  • The amount of microplastics within the environment and the resulting impact is not yet fully understood.
  • To reduce waste macroplastics arriving at treatment centres, we run awareness campaigns to encourage customers to avoid flushing inappropriate items such as wet wipes down toilets and drains and to prevent litter entering waterways.
  • We do not analyse water or waste water samples for microplastics because there are no nationally agreed methods for doing this and it is not a regulatory requirement at present.
  • Existing treatment processes effectively remove 99.9% of microplastic particles from drinking water and treated wastewater, according to a robust UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) project. To enable us to gain more scientific evidence about microplastics we are contributing, along with other water companies, to UKWIR research. This research is considering ‘known unknowns’ about microplastic sources, pathways, behaviour, fate and abundance within water and wastewater treatment.
Plastic water bottles bought by customers 
  • There is still a massive reliance on single-use plastic water bottles.
  • We supply high quality drinking water which is available at the fraction of the cost of bottled water.
  • We are funding water refill points in our local communities and are working with local authorities and town councils to install water refill points in larger urban areas.
  • We fully support the UK Water Industry Public Interest Commitment to prevent the equivalent of four billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030.