Plastic eating fungi and innovative technology to prevent fishing nets being lost at sea are among projects proven to have made a real difference in the fight against plastic pollution, nearly two years after being awarded funding from Waitrose.

The progress made by five diverse and groundbreaking projects is in a new report we have published today detailing their positive impact on the environment.

We launched Plan Plastic – The Million Pound Challenge in 2019 to support projects which tackle plastic pollution or rethink how we use and dispose of plastic, with an aim of creating real impact and long-lasting effects.

The £1 million fund, which originated from the sale of 5p carrier bags, was used to provide grants ranging from £150,000 to £300,000. Environmental charity Hubbub worked with us to support the five chosen projects and to measure the impact of their work.

What’s been achieved?

  • MUSSEL POWER – Plymouth Marine Laboratory demonstrated the potential of mussels to help stem the flow of microplastics from polluted estuaries and coastal water, paving the way for this nature-based solution to be deployed and for further research into nature-based solutions to the problem of microplastics.
  • COMMUNITY BIO-RECYCLING – Onion Collective and Biohm created a bio-recycling facility to carry out research into ‘mycelium’ (the root-structure of mushrooms) to break down and digest plastic. The new bio-recycling facility also created jobs and helped to regenerate an old paper mill in Watchet.
  • ENVIROMENSTRUAL – Wen (Women’s Environmental Network) and City to Sea delivered taboo-busting education to thousands of students, including the training of 724 teachers and nurses to deliver workshops exploring the social and environmental issues of menstruation; while raising awareness about sustainable period products.
  • SAFEGEAR – Blue Marine Foundation developed a cost-effective beacon for fishermen to stop fishing gear becoming plastic pollution in the marine environment. The Blue Marine Foundation has now trialled over 100 beacons at sea with fishermen in the south west of England which has proven to be a simple-to-use solution to ghost gear.
  • MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE – Youth Hostels Association eliminated the need for half a million single-use plastic bottles per year by providing publicly accessible water fountains to enable anyone enjoying the outdoors to refill their bottles.This is expected to make a real difference when Covid restrictions can be relaxed.

Marija Rompani, Director of Ethics & Sustainability, Waitrose, said: “It is essential we continue to eliminate single-use plastic in our business, but also support progress made by other organisations in the wider world. All these inspirational projects have proven their ability to create real impact in tackling environmental issues and encouraging behaviour change. Action on a larger scale is now needed to make a significant difference in our collective fight against plastic pollution.”

Saskia Restorick, Director at Hubbub, said:  “The response to the Waitrose Plan Plastic fund was overwhelming. It is so encouraging to see how many people are trying to make a real difference to reducing plastic pollution in the UK. It has been incredible to watch the five chosen projects develop over the past year and we truly believe the impact they can have is instrumental in tackling plastic pollution. Each project has long-term legacy beyond the grant fund and it has been a privilege to have been a part of the start of that journey. We wish them all the best of luck as they expand their projects further.”

The winners were chosen by an expert panel made up of representatives from academia, industry, non-governmental organisations and business. 150 projects applied for the fund, eight were selected to present to the panel,  five organisations were awarded grants.

We are committed to reducing and removing unnecessary plastic wherever possible and are on-track to making all our own-label packaging widely recycled, reusable or home compostable by 2023. 

We recently ranked first in Greenpeace’s annual league table, for the second year in a row, which looks at how supermarkets are reducing their use of single-use plastics. We also launched a pioneering refillable range in some of our shops in 2019 with ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ to test demand from consumers for packaging free shopping. 

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