Ten tips to cut plastic

The author of the forthcoming Kids Fight Plastic offers his top 10 tips on how publishers and bookshops can reduce their plastic use—for good.

First, thanks for listening! In the past few years, it has become easier to inspire change, as we all understand the true impact of plastic. It is everywhere: in the oceans, in our rivers, in our drinking water and in the fish we eat. It’s also in our offices, warehouses and bookshops. So everything you do will make a difference, from the way you drink your coffee in the office to the way you pack your books or present them in your shop.

  1. Think differently. This is vital. Firstly, consider the "end of life" of everything you use and produce. Work out what will happen to it once you’ve finished with it, from the cutlery at lunch, to the packaging you send books out in. If you can’t guarantee its future, don’t use it.
  2. Make choices. In Kids Fight Plastic, I tell kids how they can stop using the most common pieces of single-use plastic. The #2minutebeachclean app tells us what people find on beaches, and seven items make up a third of the total: plastic bags, plastic bottles and their lids, wet wipes, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, and sweet and crisp wrappers. Find alternatives to these items and you’ll effectively cut beach litter by a third. Use a flannel rather than wet wipes. Take cutlery to work. Shop with a reusable cotton bag. Say no to plastic straws at events. Use a reusable water bottle and get a forever coffee cup. Easy!
  3. Scrutinise your office or shop. What’s in yours? Plastic cups at drinking fountains? Name badges? Bubble wrap? Undertake a plastic audit and assess how you can manage without it. Do the easy stuff first to get people to buy into what you are doing. If you give out 10,000 water cups a year, buying glasses will save those plastic cups from going to landfill, into the ocean or from being exported for "recycling".
  4. Stop relying on recycling. There is no guarantee with recycling, unless you can get an audit trail. Recycling is a commodity. Low-value stuff gets burned for energy or goes to landfill. Only the high-grade stuff such as clear, clean PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, has a decent value. Also, remember that plastic, unlike aluminium, is not infinitely recyclable. It downgrades and becomes less valuable.
  5. New plastics. Compostable and biodegradable plastics, unless treated properly in an industrial composter, can take months to break down, if at all. Plus they can’t be taken by standard recycling. Question everything before switching. For magazine wraps consider switching to certified home compostable wraps, with clear instructions to the consumer about what to do with them.
  6. The print. I long to see recycled stock and non-oil-based inks as a standard finish. Consider printing in Europe, dare I say it, to save the carbon footprint of your books. Imagine a thriving UK industry where [printing] prices are comparable, quality is excellent and turnaround is quicker. Can you do that? Think planet. The more of you who do it, the more it will happen.
  7. The warehouse. I have long complained about plastic padding with deliveries. Shredding cardboard for filler will save trade-waste costs and use up old cardboard. Paper packing tape is good too!
  8. On display. Some bookshops still shrink-wrap books for display. I won’t name names, but I could. I understand why, but it’s wasteful and costly. For expensive art books, where thumbing is inevitable, consider a display copy as collateral damage or seal them with twine with a polite note explaining why it’s sealed.
  9. Mailings and mail order. Bubble wrap is hard to recycle. Composite jiffy bags, which have paper and plastic combined, are an eco-nightmare. Ditch the plastic in favour of paper-filled bags. Look at reusable packaging or, at the very least, switch to cardboard.
  10. Point of sale. What will happen to your p.o.s material once your bookshop has moved on to the next big thing? None of it has to be plastic. Giveaways, shelf wobblers and cut-outs can all be cardboard or paper. How about including instructions on disposal for bookshops? Also, save them money by designing stuff that can be reused later. It’s not impossible.

Martin Dorey’s first children’s book, entitled Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minutesuperhero, will be published by Walker Books on 1st August 2019 (9781406390650, £7.99).