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Tim Howell explains why the landscaping industry needs to play its part in solving the problem of plastic waste

Throughout my life I’ve been inspired by the television programmes and books narrated and written by David Attenborough. The wonders of our natural environment, and the diversity of species within it, have captured my interest for many years. Attenborough’s latest program, Blue Planet II, which aired in early December last year, has yet again opened up a view into the previously unseen underwater environments across the planet.

One comment struck me, and I had to rewind to check I had heard it correctly: “Eight million tonnes of plastic are deposited into the oceans every year.”

I found that incredible; the known negative impact plastic waste has on the world’s environment is significant, but we are yet to fully comprehend the impact of the microplastics that have entered the food chain. On further investigation, Attenborough’s figure comes from a report issued in 2010, and latest estimates indicate that the number is now closer to 10m tonnes of plastic entering the oceans each year. It’s shocking when you remember that most of this plastic waste will take centuries to fully degrade.

The good news is that steps are being taken. In a UN resolution issued on 6 December 2017, it was agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans. This resolution has no timescale and is not legally binding, but there is international awareness of the problem and it is a positive step for many countries.

At Mitie, we work with our customers to save them money by getting value out of their waste, educating them so that they see resources rather than waste, and ensuring the highest levels of compliance. Through a combination of expert knowledge, technology and specialist equipment, a waste strategy is delivered that fully engages people and delivers savings. The days of throwing everything away are behind us, and we have even started helping some of our customers recycle their used coffee grounds into energy.

In the landscape industry, we have a longstanding connection with the environment and biodiversity. On my part, I encourage our managers and staff to volunteer time and resources where possible to help support local environmental projects. In a number of areas, we have helped to support local clean-up projects, clearing litter and debris from external areas. We are ideally placed to help support these projects, as some of the sites we look after are prone to public littering. We have a great opportunity to offer our customers a real advantage in their sustainability approaches – which shouldn’t stop at recycling and reuse of green waste, or creation of wildlife habitats.

Through working closely with our supply chain, we can reduce the amount of harmful packaging that some of our supplies are delivered in, and make sure that the packing is reusable in a fully responsible way. We should demand that the machinery, equipment and products we use are made from materials that are fully sustainable. Our customers demand this from us, and we have a duty to ensure that our supply chain is fully compliant.

With over 170,000 people working in land-based sectors, we have a massive opportunity and an obligation to really make a difference to the environment. Volunteering to work in community clean-ups and beach cleans, or supporting national events such as the Great British Spring Clean in March (www.keepbritaintidy.org), will allow our country and our industry to show some leadership in taking environmental issues seriously.

Let’s play our part to make sure that, in decades to come, natural history programmes focus on habitats and the biodiversity within them, rather than mankind’s destruction of them; then we’ll have done our bit to save the world.

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