Is it time to start getting robust single use plastic policies in place in all popular UK destination?

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The campaigns targeting single use plastics are coming in thick and fast, the latest from Which? reporting on the percentages of recyclable single use packaging being used by the major UK supermarkets.  The supermarket chains appear to be on the back foot and are vulnerable to media criticism and associated public backlash for both the range of items packaged in plastic and for the percentage of that plastic which is difficult to recycle or, worse still, non-recyclable.

This is a non-tourism example but I’d argue it adds weight to my view that tourism, leisure and the visitor economy, whilst perhaps far less profligate than the grocery retail sector are similarly open to public scrutiny and potential criticism. The visitor economy as a whole utilises many single use disposable items and a lot of these are currently made of plastic.  That usage is particularly apparent in popular destinations due to the scale of visitor numbers, the nature of activities they typically undertaken and the number of businesses servicing those activities: it is simply far harder not to notice when the activity and their byproducts are concentrated in both time and space.

I think it may only a matter of time therefore before campaign scrutiny turns towards “popular tourist destinations” and the visitor economy sectors in general.  Whether that happen before the UK and the devolved Governments impose legislative restrictions in the next couple of years on single use plastics and other problematic disposable items, like plastic lined paper cups, remains to be seen.  Also, still to be clarified is: what exactly will be covered by future legislative controls, how improvements are to be achieved, for example, will it include a deposit return schemes (DRS) and, once in place, how effective will it all be in reducing, recovering and recycling some or all the one shot disposable items that are now such a routine part of everyday life.  And, lest we forget, just because straws may be made of waxed card not plastic in future, doesn’t  mean they are no longer problematic, especial when still being disposed of in their multi millions.  Some of these latter issues have been highlighted in my earlier posts on single use plastics and DRS proposals.

Councils, including a number covering popular destinations, are already taking action to get their own houses in order by adopt internal policies.  Typically, the use of single use plastics is being limited or banned, as far as practically possible, in all of the Council’s own operations, in all publicly owned building and on publicly owned land. In a typical destination, that by default will impact on the visitor economy and events, entertainment, attractions and the business activities conducted by concessionaires and operators of any other business in, or on, publicly owned land and properties. Restrictions may also be extended to events and activities funded by, supported or facilitated by local councils but not necessarily held on their land or in public owned or operated facilities.

Where this is happening, the initial driver often seems to be to meet local resident’s concern and not as a specific response to any potential tourism management and marketing opportunities or potential threats. Some Councils and/or local partnerships are also working with wider business interests to achieve voluntary single use plastic free status, either for individual businesses, business sectors or entire communities.  What largely started in a few smaller rural and coastal destinations is now being adopted in other, larger urban areas.  Some of these schemes are in recognised UK destinations and some appear to have a marketing angle included.

The accumulating pressure on other sectors leads me to believe that is increasingly important that all popular destinations try to adopt robust policies on single use plastics and potentially on  other associated disposable item before the public and campaign groups start demanding that they do so. It is good that some Councils are taking a lead in this already, but I do think there is merit in Councils or the local DMO, BID or DBID/TBID rolling this out to the wider business community, albeit not an easy task, particularly, in larger urban destinations with many potential partners, or across larger rural destinations with a more widely dispersed business community.

I don’t necessarily think that having such policies in place will confer any great market advantage. Experience in other similar campaign areas, for example, bathing water quality, suggests that the public rather assume excellence to be the norm and that anything less comes as a disappointing surprise to them. However, should the public ever be encouraged (by campaigns?) to start looking at tourism, leisure and the visitor economy in any detail and see that robust policies are perhaps not yet in place to reduce, recover and recycle in a popular destination as an entity, then they are likely to be unduly critical of both the localities involved and of “UK tourism” as a whole.  This is rather more about avoiding an identifiable open goal for negative publicity, than it is about trying to gain any short-term, market advantage by doing the inevitable but doing it that bit sooner than the competition down the road.

On balance I don’t think waiting to see what the national legislation, that may or may not appear in 2020 -2021 or beyond, has to offer is a sensible option.  Surely better to be seen to act now, even if it is only on the simpler issues and then, if and when Governments pronounce on their solutions, adjust as necessary?

The Which? report on supermarket packaging can be accessed at:

Any detail you are prepared to share around your own local successes and any obstacle encountered in developing effective local single use policies would be welcomed.  Anything receive will, with your permission, be made available to other members who are in the process of, or have yet to develop, local council or voluntary partnership policies.


One thought on “Is it time to start getting robust single use plastic policies in place in all popular UK destination?

    Kevin Boorman said:
    June 25, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    Hi, Peter, in February this year our council passed a motion banning single use plastic at events on council-owned land. Just last weekend we held our ‘Mid Summer Fish Fest’ and that was single use plastic free. All of the stallholders used either reusable or compostable vessels, bamboo plates, wooden cutlery/stirrers, and even our emergency water was on cans or in tetra packs!

    All the best,


    Kevin Boorman Marketing & Major Projects Manager Hastings Borough Council Tel :- Hastings (01424) 451123

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