Making changes to protect the planet

We're making lots of changes - big and small - in our shop, to help protect the planet

07 February 2019

Our #PlasticPromise campaign has meant we've all been thinking about the small ways we can each make a big difference to our environment.

At Girlguiding, we’re dedicated to protecting the planet across everything we do. This means there’s work to be done behind the scenes in our shop and our warehouse, where all our badges and uniform come from.

Beth Hancock, our Buying and Promotions Manager, tells us how things have started to change.

The plastic problem

Plastic is amazing. It's durable, cheap, thin, thick, flexible, rigid, safe, clean, and easily accessible. Whether you want to protect your sandwiches or your unit meeting activity cards, it's there for you.

But it's bad for our planet and I know this isn't news to anyone. I'm pretty sure everyone remembers when they were sat down ready for the new highly-anticipated David Attenborough documentary, only to be faced with an ocean of plastic, and the stark realisation that years and years of convenience were taking such a toll on our environment.

We've found a global issue that unifies all of us, and we need to hold our hands up and realise that plastic itself isn't the devil. Our inability to recycle it ethically and properly is what lets us and our environment down.

So the biggest question is: what do we do? And how do we make a change?

I'm not going to lie, walking around our warehouse and thinking about this made me nervous. We have over 1,361 products, produced in more than 160 factories around the world from Gillingham to the Shandong province.

And we’d love to be able to say can remove all plastic. But we can’t ignore the reason why we use so much of it. Our teams realised we needed to take a balanced approach, looking at all the ways we use plastic and where we can change to something else.

Why we use plastic

  • It protects our products. We can see through it – badges can look very similar in an opaque bag (and last year we sold 3 million of them!)
  • It separates products so we can count, process and pack them quicker.
  • We need to put safety messages on some individual products by law. And we need to maintain our high product safety levels.
  • Our products are around for a while. Our uniform is ordered two years in advance and it lives on shelves in our warehouse, in volunteer shops and with other suppliers for a good amount of time until it's sold. Biodegradable options are great unless you need something to last.

So where does that leave us? We’re dedicated to making a change, and fortunately, many alternative options are arriving on the market. They have different pros and cons, and we’re now testing and trialling to find more sustainable packaging that works with all our products and suppliers.

The good news - yes, there's lots!

Here are 5 changes we’ve made already to reduce the amount of plastic we use

  1. Andrea Mountford, our facilities manager, has worked with Carl Fitton, our warehouse manager (and our fabulous team of packers), to swap most of our packaging options for more eco-friendly alternatives. We now have recycled and recyclable box filler, and paper-boarded envelopes instead of our blue plastic bags. Once this has been rolled out for a full year, we predict that'll be around 38,000 fewer plastic bags going into landfill!
  2. Single badges ordered through our shop are now in paper bags, and we’re looking to streamline all our warehouse processes to avoid anything we don't need. We're looking into rolling this out to our main badge orders as well. Nicola Robinson, our buying department environment lead, has many options on her desk that she's costing and testing as we speak!
  3. We’re working on swapping all our plastic bags for recylable versions. A lot of our packing is recyclable but we've not shown you how to recycle them properly. This is a great first step to using an option that's better for our planet.
  4. When we’re sourcing new products, we’re always looking for an option that avoids single-use plastics. If we can use a recyclable version, then we do. Keep your eyes peeled for all the recycling symbols in the catalogue and on new products.
  5. We're working with Wendy Reynolds, Production Controller, to source all our paper from sustainable sources, and we're looking at a bio-degradable laminate option for the resources that need protecting. For packaging all our publications, like guiding magazine and our catalogue, we're looking at recyclable films (like one made of potato) and for things that need to be kept together, paper belly bands (these aren't as exciting as they sound – but better for the fish!) 

This is going to be a long journey and one we must carefully manage. We can't ignore process needs, end use or cost and with the timescales of manufacturing mean we’re making changes today that you might not see for another year. But we’re passionate about making a difference, we know our members want to protect the planet and we’re working hard behind the scenes to become more sustainable. Stay tuned for more changes in how we work.