The Blue Planet effect: How Suffolk firms are helping turn the tide on plastic use

Plastic straws Picture: Julie Kemp

Plastic straws Picture: Julie Kemp - Credit: Archant

As the tide turns away from plastic use, a growing number of Suffolk businesses are ditching their reliance on single-use plastic items altogether.

Applaud Cafe in St Peter's Street, Ipswich, with Beth Cook.

Applaud Cafe in St Peter's Street, Ipswich, with Beth Cook. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The 2017 BBC series Blue Planet touched a nerve in the public consciousness with its graphic scenes of the damage done to ocean life by plastic waste, and since then, momentum has been growing for companies to turn away from plastic.

According to Defra, 8.5bn straws are used in the fast food industry every year, and pressure is mounting for the government to ban single use plastics altogether. But big businesses are now actively trying to tackle the problem.

Last week, Anglian Water announced plans to reduce plastic use among its customers and in its business, and in May McDonald’s began phasing out plastic straws in its UK restaurants.

While plastic alternatives can be more expensive (paper straws cost around £4.50 for 250, compared to £2.50 for plastic ones), a growing number of independent cafes in Suffolk are also making the change.

Latitude festival, which is introducing a reusable bottle initiative Picture: Victor Frankowski

Latitude festival, which is introducing a reusable bottle initiative Picture: Victor Frankowski - Credit: Archant

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In Ipswich, Applaud Cafe on St Peters Street recently swapped plastic for compostable materials for their take away cups and straws, and also now offers discounts to customers who bring their own cups. “We have been quite conscious of the plastic problem for a while now,” said supervisor Annabel Mills.

“We encourage our customers to bring in their own cups, then they get money off their coffee.”

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At Paddy and Scott’s cafes in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich, single-use plastic was ditched two months ago.

“We only used plastic cups for water until eight months ago, and our take away coffee cups are now completely compostable,” said their Bury manager Vicky Parry.

Jack Ellis-Leek

Jack Ellis-Leek - Credit: Archant

Bury St Edmunds market is also on board the movement with its launch of reusable coffee cups.

And it’s not only cafes that are turning their backs on plastic. Last month, Attwells Solicitors removed single-use plastics from its Ipswich offices.

Organisers of music festivals are also ditching plastic wherever possible, with 61 independent festivals signing up to a pledge not to use single-use plastic by 2021.

In Suffolk, Latitude Festival will trial a new plastic bottle return scheme, run by the East of England Co-op. Festival-goers will be encouraged to return their plastic water bottles to vending machines in exchange for a voucher to spend at one of their stores on site, and the bottles will later be recycled.

But one young man from Ipswich, who is fondly called “the next David Attenborough” by his family, believes that businesses should be doing more to purge our waterways of plastic.

Jack Ellis-Leek from Whitton launched a petition which has so far garnered almost 14,000 signatures on, urging Michael Gove to ban plastics in all UK retailers and restaurants.

“Recently we have seen Tesco ban the (plastic) bag, UK restaurant chain Bill’s step up and ban plastic straws, and Costa introduce a reusable and purchasable mug, so let’s stand up and get something done about this global crisis which we are drowning in,” said Mr Ellis-Leek.

Despite struggling with a type of anxiety, the 21 year-old says he hopes one day to become a TV presenter like his idol, Mr Attenborough. “As soon as I am in front of a camera, I click into full passion mode,” he said. “I dream of getting on to TV to get the message out there to as many people as possible. If we continue to show the world how beautiful this planet and the animals really are, and also show them what we have done to this planet, then they may just listen.”

When he was working in a restaurant in Essex, Mr Ellis-Leek was made its environmental representative. “Soon after that, the restaurant had banned plastic straws,” he said.

Mr Ellis-Leek wants to see more community action taking place. “I’m trying to arrange to get local beach cleans done more often, and I have emailed local councillors and the mayor about why Ipswich should take a leading role in cleaning up the region,” he said.

“I believe that as a major regional town, Ipswich has a large responsibility for the area around it to motivate other towns and villages to follow its lead.”

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