Supporting Plastic Free July
Small changes can make a big difference, as Becky has discovered…
Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company has expanded and how has three further offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint – and the dedicated team enjoys serving members of these diverse communities. Technology has come a long way since the organisation was first set up, and the international community increasingly aware of changes in our environment. Today, Becky shares what she’s learned about the Plastic Free July campaign, and how the company has begun to make small changes in support of this…
Plastic Free July is a global initiative aiming to encourage people to reduce their usage of plastic. The campaign began in Australia in 2011, and has grown to the extent that a specific charity was founded to run it – the Plastic Free Foundation was born in 2017. Those who participate reduce their household waste and recycling by 21kg per person per year, and 8.5 out of 10 participants have used it as a chance to make changes that have become lasting habits.
Parkesine was considered to be the first human-made plastic, and was invented in 1855 – the same year that Freeman Brothers was started. It was actually made from cellulose (the main component of plant cell walls) and treated with nitric acid. It’s interesting that the original formulation of plastic was a substance which occurs in nature, as I feel that we’ve now almost come full-circle – more on that later! Plastics as we know them today weren’t widely used until much later, following the invention of Bakelite – the world’s first fully-synthetic plastic – in 1907.
Since then, plastic has dominated our lives. From car interiors and office equipment, to personal care items and all kinds of packaging, the amount of plastic items we come into contact with daily is enormous. It’s cheap and easy to manufacture, as well as being durable and lightweight, so for many suppliers it has been a dream… until the bubble has burst in recent years. Consumers have realised that plastics take an incredibly long time to break down, and with our climate changing and the planet suffering, this is now a significant drawback.
Many consumers and businesses began to take positive action: governments introduced plastic bag fees; coffee shops invited customers to bring their own reusable drinkware; water bottle refill stations are made publicly available; beauty salons sought out reusable or recyclable materials, plus so much more besides… and then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and priorities had to change again.
Safety became paramount, as did hygiene and, unfortunately, particularly during the early stages when little was known about this novel virus, different measures were put in place. Most notably, items such as single-use face coverings, single-use gloves, hand sanitiser and cleaning products all came into significant use, and our reliance on plastics again shot up. Even issues such as increased e-commerce and greater prevalence of takeaway and home delivery food have meant that more single-use plastic is being used again.
Not all plastics are single-use, of course. However, many items are only used in the short-term, or designed to not offer many uses. Even those which are meant to last longer – such as children’s toys – are often thrown away, rather than repurposed, again impacting their carbon footprint. The fact also remains that plastic items take a very long time to decompose, so even for pieces of equipment such as computers and other electronic devices, an alternative should be sought in the long-term.
On a practical level, there are many steps that all individuals can take to support the campaign, whilst also remaining compliant with necessary hygiene protocols in the current climate. In our personal lives, many of my colleagues and I take this seriously, and I find it fascinating to discover new alternatives to plastic products.
To name just a few of the items I regularly use, here are some of my favourites: a reusable water bottle; a reusable straw (which folds up and has a small case that it fits into); cloth makeup remover pads (disposable wipes contain plastic); bamboo toothbrushes; bar soap. Having started to make different choices, I now find myself much more aware of how much single-use plastic can be involved in our day to day lives, and am now always keen to seek out an alternative where possible. It’s become quite a fun project, to discover what else is out there, and how these items can also save me time and money.
Unfortunately, the funeral industry typically has a high carbon footprint. There are many reasons for this, from the necessity to run a fleet of vehicles – both for collecting Deceased persons, and transporting them, their loved ones, and our colleagues to funeral services – as well as the fact that other guests travel from a variety of distances to funeral services (outside of pandemic times, this can also include a high level of air travel). The storage of Deceased persons these days is managed via the use of cold rooms, which require a constant electricity supply. And, of course, cremations themselves use a lot of energy.
In terms of single-use plastics themselves, again we must put our safety first, as well as ensuring that each person is cared for in the way they deserve to be, so we do use a significant amount of single-use gloves, aprons, and other equipment within the course of our daily duties.
However, we do our best to respond to feedback, and keep up-to-date with new technologies, and so have been able to make some adaptations to our practices, as well as offering additional services to those who work with us. For example, when ordering a new batch of branded pens, we sought out a supplier which doesn’t use plastics. Our branded ballpoint pens now look and feel like plastic, but are actually made of sugar cane, so they are fully-compostable!
For many years, we have kept items of clothing belonging to Deceased persons in customised cotton bags, and often use these bags for giveaways too. Another longstanding habit within Freeman Brothers has been the way we offer hospitality to our visitors. When many organisations – particularly during the pandemic – have opted for single-use drinkware, we’ve always chosen reusables (thoroughly cleaned between uses and well-cared for!). We believe that it offers a more welcoming experience, but also know that it’s more environmentally-friendly. When circumstances allow, should you attend a face-to-face meeting with us, you will always be offered refreshments using crockery and glassware, rather than paper or plastic cups.
The key with all awareness days, weeks, months, and other campaigns is to use them as a starting point. Rather than it being a chance to take some performative action, it is best to see it as a new beginning and an exercise in building momentum. To this end, we’ll be pushing ourselves throughout the year ahead to consider our usage, seek out alternatives, and be aware of how we can improve when looking for new suppliers. Hopefully when the next Plastic Free July rolls around, we’ll be in an even better position than this year.
To learn more about the campaign, visit the Plastic Free July website.
Tel: 01403 254590
If you have an urgent query, please call 01403 254590. This number is answered by one our staff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the quickest way to reach us.
Tel: 01403 785133
25 & 27 Brighton Road
Tel: 01293 540000
126 High Street
Tel: 01273 831497