Tackling plastic pollution in Waltham Forest

Campaigners and local businesses are helping reduce the borough’s ‘plastic footprint’, writes James Cracknell

Eat17

Customers at Eat17 in Walthamstow Village can now buy many food items without any packaging

Green groups, shops, cafés, and even hospitals, are stepping up to the challenge of tackling plastic pollution in Waltham Forest.

As the extent of the damage caused by single-use plastics around the world has become clear, more and more people are now demanding that retailers of all kinds switch to alternative sources of packaging.

Campaigners from a local Greenpeace group have been highlighting the poor track record on plastic of several major supermarkets, while one shop in Walthamstow Village has introduced refillable facilities so that certain items can be bought without any packaging. Whipps Cross Hospital’s newly-refurbished restaurant has also started offering 20p discounts for customers who bring in their own reusable mugs and containers.

According to Greenpeace there is an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic being dumped in our oceans each year, where it kills wildlife and takes centuries to degrade. While this has been going on for decades, Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary Blue Planet 2 dramatically highlighted the extent of the problem last year – drawing promises of action from government and industry.

This year campaigners from Greenpeace Waltham Forest have targeted the borough’s biggest supermarkets, as well as organising local litter-picks. The group’s co-ordinator Hannah Boustred said: “Tackling plastic pollution has been a key campaign for us in recent years. We have organised community litter picks in places like Walthamstow Marshes and Hollow Pond in Leytonstone, and we have put pressure on the leading supermarkets to change their policies on plastic packaging.

“We targeted well-known supermarkets in the borough, replacing their plastic bags in the fruit and veg aisle with our paper-based alternatives. We also encouraged the public to take action themselves by returning excess plastic packaging and sending a clear message to supermarkets that it is unacceptable.

“With recent commitments by Morrisons and Iceland to reduce their plastic footprint, it now seems the tide is turning on plastic – although there is still a long way to go.”

Greenpeace 'End Ocean Plastics' stickers alongside broccoli wrapped in plastic

Greenpeace campaigners have this year taken action against big supermarkets in Waltham Forest that continue to use excessive plastic packaging (credit John Cobb/Greenpeace)

While supermarkets are among the worst offenders when it comes to plastic packaging, one shop in Walthamstow has been leading the way in tackling the problem. Eat17 in Orford Road has introduced a range of refillable units that allow customers to buy everyday items without any need for packaging. Customers can bring in their own wine bottles to be refilled and containers for rice and pasta, which are then weighed and priced at the till.

Eat17 manager Saskia Parks said: “Our customers are definitely looking to be eco-friendly and are making efforts not to buy pre-packaged foods and use disposable items such as coffee cups.

“They are happy to have the option to buy what they need without buying the plastic packaging as well. We now have our sights set on expanding our refillable services to include other products.”

Another local shop going plastic-free is Coffee Boxx in Wood Street. All take-away items come in compostable packaging, with straws and bags made from paper. The shop’s owner, Sunny, told the Echo: “We decided against using single-use plastics as we want to do our bit for the environment, and from an ethical view, the amount of plastic waste found in oceans is phenomenal. We made this decision from the day we opened and even though it costs us a lot more, we absorb these costs and do not put up the price of our drinks.”

Local organic food grower OrganicLea, a workers’ co-operative based in Chingford, has for years been offering residents a veg box scheme. Although it is not completely free from plastic packaging, the majority of its fruit and veg is delivered loose.

Marlene Barrett, from OrganicLea, said: “We’re ahead of the game because a lot of what we sell is unpackaged. Supermarkets put produce, especially organic, in containers that we don’t. When we do need punnets or containers, we have paper bags and cardboard or cornstarch containers.”