We are committed to reducing the use of plastic across the region through a range of initiatives and activities.
How do we use plastic?
Our interaction with plastic takes place in three key areas:
Operational waste plastic This is plastic that arises from our own activities, such as packaging from items that we purchase, offcuts of newly installed plastic pipe and office consumables.
Plastic in the water cycle This is plastic that finds its way into water sources, sewers and treatment works, including wet wipes, sanitary items, clothes fibres and tyre fragments.
Plastic used to consume water This is plastic used by customers for hydration purposes, predominantly single-use plastic bottles.
How we’re reducing our plastic usage
We are working to reduce the amount of plastic used in these three areas. Learn more about the challenges we face and what we are doing to overcome them.
Reducing operational plastic waste
We have set a target to end the use of avoidable single-use plastic in our business as part of our Public Interest Commitment. As part of this commitment, we took a baseline assessment of the plastic waste generated by our company in 2018 and are using this to measure the reduction achieved up until 2028.
At our offices and depots, we have removed disposable hot beverage cups, plastic soft drink bottles, plastic cutlery, stirrers and plastic salad pots. We have also replaced protective plastic packaging with shredded recycled cardboard at our central store and distribution depot.<
We are working with waste contractors to inspect waste skips to estimate how much plastic they contain. We also set ambitious waste reduction targets and are increasing the amount of plastic we reuse and recycle.
We are recycling our used purple nitrile gloves with the help of the waste management company TerraCycle. The gloves are used to make park benches, waste bins and watering cans. We are also recycling our zip and cable ties.
As part of our zero waste to landfill commitment, we are recycling filters and cartridges used by our scientists during sampling, as well as washing and reusing pipettes up to 25 times before disposal. We are the first water and sewerage company in the UK to implement these initiatives.
Four of our 408 water recycling centres use plastic bio-beads as part of the treatment process. Where they are used, we are ensuring that controls are tight enough to avoid accidental releases into the environment, while also investing in secondary containment where we feel the risk of escape is too high.
Reducing plastic in the water cycle
Macroplastics (particles larger than 5mm) in wastewater are mainly from consumer goods. To reduce macroplastics arriving at treatment centres, we run awareness campaigns that encourage customers not to flush inappropriate items (such as wet wipes) down toilets and prevent litter from entering waterways.
Microplastics in wastewater are mainly from clothes washing, car tyres and macroplastics breaking down. A UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) project has confirmed that existing treatment processes effectively remove 99.9% of microplastic particles from drinking water and treated wastewater using a robust approach to sample and detect microplastic particles.
We need more scientific evidence about microplastics, so we are contributing to research with other water companies, through UKWIR, on ‘known unknowns’ about microplastic sources, pathways, behaviour, fate and abundance within water and wastewater treatment.
Reducing plastic used to consume water
There is still a massive reliance on single-use plastic water bottles, so we are working to reduce the number of bottles our customers use.
In addition to supplying customers with high-quality water to their homes, we have also installed water refill points in towns cities across the region, which locals and visitors can use to refill their bottles for free when out and about.
We are also working with local authorities and town councils across our water supply region to help them install water refill points in larger urban areas.
We are fully supporting the UK Water Industry Public Interest Commitment to ‘prevent the equivalent of 4 billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030’, while also being part of the steering group for this project.