Peter Simpson, chief executive, Anglian Water Company strategy, Customers, Strategy & management, Water, Opinion, Peter Simpson, Anglian Water

"We’ve all seen the huge impact single-use plastics are having on our environment"

We’ve all seen the huge impact single-use plastics are having on our environment. We know a truckload of plastic is entering our oceans every minute, with rivers and watercourses acting as the highways for plastic waste pollution out to sea. And the public will and desire to do something to address the problem has never been stronger. We want to help everyone in our region do their bit. And that’s why Anglian Water is stepping up to lead the way in how we make, use and dispose of problem plastics across the East of England.

It’s an ambitious commitment: to rid the East of England of problem plastics by 2030 and we recognise that we can’t do it alone. But as one of the largest water companies in the country, serving a tenth of the UK population, we see first hand the problems caused by plastics in our equipment and our environment. From blockages in our own pipes caused by people flushing the wrong things down the toilet, to litter washed onto our much-loved beaches; meaning we’re centrally placed to bring the right people together to tackle the issue at its core.

And while, of course, we’ll be looking at our own business to rid it of any plastic which cannot be reused, recycled or composted; right from those used in our company offices to across our extensive supply chain, we also know we need to look much broader to really make a difference outside of our business, in the environment.  That’s where it really matters. It’s a tall order which goes beyond simply saying we’re not going to use plastic cups or cutlery anymore.

Our plastic coalition will be made up of big business, manufacturers, retailers and suppliers from across the region to tackle problem plastics across their whole life-cycle; from manufacture to disposal. The scope of this taskforce goes beyond what people might traditionally think of as being the responsibility of a water company, but it’s an important issue to our customers and the right thing to do for the environment and future generations.

We want to trial things like working with clothes manufacturers on how we might be able to design better materials that don’t shed plastic fibres, or with white goods companies about developing better filters on washing machines that capture plastic particles from our clothes.  The group will even look at finding new ways of reusing discarded plastics or those filtered from the water treatment processes to make them into a valuable commodity once again.  We may not have all the answers, but if we can start to shift how we manufacture plastics and give plastic waste a viable, economic value, we stand a fighting chance of turning the tide on this battle.

While this work takes shape over the coming months, we’ll continue to work with others like City to Sea on the roll out of free water refill schemes for the public in numerous towns and cities across the region; and support our wide volunteer network of RiverCare and BeachCare groups in partnership with Keep Britain Tidy who work tirelessly to help remove plastics from our rivers and beaches.

Bringing the right people together is vital; only together can we better understand and tackle the problem from beginning to end.