#BeyondPlastic Taskforce, FCO

Andrew Collingridge, lead at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s #BeyondPlastic Centre of Excellence, talks about winning Best Team and tackling the issue of single-use plastics

What was the initial aim of #BeyondPlastic?

Having got the agreement of the Foreign Secretary, the initial task was to define how it would be translated to the wider office. The most important thing was coming up with a definition, which the civil service adopted widely – that the plastic had to be avoidable, it had to be financially sensible, and would actually achieve something. 
 

How did you enable your staff to engage with the programme?

It’s a big help when the man at the top supports it and says ‘this is what we are going to do’. There was an intense communications plan, so it was constantly in the news and in front of people. There are two phases – the UK, and the rest of the world, where 300 posts are trying to achieve the same thing. We came up with the Kickstarter, funding small amounts of money to help people do the right thing. In the UK, people did simple things such as buying crockery rather than disposable plastic plates and forks. In a sense, timing was really fortunate in that it all came off the back of Blue Planet II, and David Attenborough’s highlighting of the issue.
 

Were there any challenges in reducing the use of plastic throughout your operation?

Inevitably, overseas there are different social attitudes – to the extent that they may not even know there’s a problem – whereas in the UK we are in a primed state of readiness. One challenge in the UK was the ability of industry to provide alternatives. We were very fortunate with our service management people – the majority of plastic provision was in catering. Individuals were positive, proactive and open-minded. The main challenges were difficulties from a cost perspective. Because we spend taxpayers’ money we can’t just throw money at things – but over time, it become more affordable and more possible. So it’s a constant watching process as well.

“The level of engagement has been the most satisfying thing about this”

What were the ultimate successes of the programme?

It was the extent to which people, not just in the UK, but also around the network, wanted to do it. The level of enthusiasm and engagement, and people going the extra mile has been the most satisfying thing about this. 
 

What are the plans for the taskforce, and what are its future goals?

In the UK we still have work to do with our supply chains and through our procurement people, to set out the improvements they make in a way that’s tangible for the layperson. The main target is wrapping up the global network with a big degree of success by the end of 2020. 

We have a number of posts with good progress, but because of coronavirus we have been involved with repatriations and arranging charter flights, so the project has dropped down the list of priorities. There’s also the question of whether attitudes may have changed – we will see what public and individual attitudes will be when it comes to things like perceived hygiene and cleanliness. People need time and space to get back to it properly, but I’m optimistic. One of the main objectives all the way along has been to make sure this is embedded behaviour, not a one-off.
 

What did you think of last year’s awards ceremony?

I thought it was super. It was particularly interesting to see the scope and the range of other things people were doing – some were amazing! It was in a great place with good company and good food – I look forward to the next one. 


Highlights:

  • In just 10 months, the FCO achieved a reduction of 97% of its baseline figure of 1.56m items of avoidable single-use plastic in the UK
  • With help from Interserve (its facilities manager and catering supplier), the FCO removed 655,000 plastic disposable coffee cups, 285,000 plastic water cups, 303,000 disposable take-away items and 100,000 plastic drink bottles from its waste stream
  • Overseas, embassies have saved more than 1m items of single-use plastic each year, with 32 having committed to dates by which they will have declared themselves free of avoidable single-use plastic
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