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Is plastic on your audit plan?

Guest blog by Monica Dawson CMIIA QIAL | 6 February 2018

Even if you didn’t watch the series, it will have been near impossible to avoid the discussions that followed the final episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, highlighting the impact of plastic on our oceans and wider environment.

On 10 January 2018 the UK government announced a 25 year environmental plan. This ambitious, 151 page plan, set out targets on a range of issues including clean air and water, thriving plants and wildlife, reducing environmental hazards, responsible sourcing, climate change and waste minimisation. It follows the Green Growth Strategy announced in October 2017 to reduce carbon emissions by 57% by 2032.

The government aims to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042.

Whilst broadly welcomed, many environmental experts have also noted the lack of enforcement, highlighted the areas missing and claimed that the timescale is too long. If previous government plans are an indication, it is likely that legislation will follow to enforce key aspects, as seen with the Modern Slavery Act after the announcement of the National Plan supporting a UN resolution. Plans are quicker to put in place than legislation!

Most of us as individuals and our organisations recycle as much as possible, reducing the cost of sending waste to landfill. But recycling is not the solution; not creating the demand for plastic is the solution. 

As internal auditors, what should we do? Wait until legislation is proposed to do a readiness audit and then a year later follow up with compliance checks? Or do something today?

All organisations have an association with plastic in one or more of its many forms. What is the extent of plastic usage within your organisation? How much of this could be eliminated entirely? What percentage is recycled? Could product designs be amended to reduce the use of plastic?

Is there a reduction programme already underway? Has it been audited? Is it challenging enough?

Could you undertake a plastic audit? Identifying where plastic is used in manufacturing, product sourcing and consumables. What percentage is intrinsic to the product itself and what is avoidable? Which parts of the business use the most? Which of the seven types of plastic are used? Which processes need to be re-engineered? It should be possible to present the information in a way that enables decisions to be taken on setting reduction targets and moving towards the target. 

From complex manufacturing through to simple consumables purchasing, there will be opportunities to make a difference. Just imagine how rewarding it would be for internal audit to be the catalyst for change that impacts beyond the organisation and has the opportunity to affect future generations.

For information ...

There are seven types of plastic, the plastic symbol has a classification number inside it, it is not a recycling symbol:

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) - Commonly recycled

Soft drink, water, cooking oil bottles, packaging trays, frozen ready-meal trays, first-aid blankets, polar fleece.

2. High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) - Commonly recycled

Cleaning solution and soap containers, food and drink storage, shopping bags, freezer bags, pipes, insulation, bottle caps, vehicle fuel tanks, protective helmets, faux-wood planks, recycled wood-plastic composites.

3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - Almost never recycled

Signage, furniture, clothing, medical containers, tubing, water and sewage pipes, flooring, cladding, vinyl records, cables, cleaning solution containers, water bottles.

4. Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) - Sometimes recycled

Trays, containers, work surfaces, machine parts, lids, '6-ring' drink holders, drink cartons, protective shells, computer hardware casings, playground fixtures (slides and the like), bin-bags, laundry bags.

5. Polypropylene (PP) - Commonly recycled

Clothing, surgery tools and supplies, hobbyist model, bottle caps, food containers, straws, crisp bags, kettles, lunch boxes, packing tape.

6.  Polystyrene (PS) - Almost never recycled

Styrofoam food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, packaging, packing peanuts, bike helmets., disposable cutlery and razors, compact disc and dvd cases, clothes hangers, smoke detector housing, medicine bottles, test tubes, petri dishes.

7. Other (O) - Almost never recycled

A catch-all category for all other plastics, including polycarbonates commonly used in consumables although in decline due to carcinogenic concerns.

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Content reviewed: 1 February 2023