The Global Research and Innovation in Plastics Sustainability Conference (GRIPS)

You know you’ve met a true ally when your everyday conversations revolve around your most crazy zero waste plans, such as cutting tubes open so that no product is left wasted (my husband’s “finished” hand cream – me / scraping the ends of your teenage daughter’s lip gloss tubes to make your own zero waste colour blend that you happily wear to work  – Sally). 

I first met Sally Beken, Founder of UK Circular Plastics Network,  when I was asked to speak at RWM in 2019. RWM is the UK’s largest recycling and waste management event. When you’re in such an environment you want to make the most of opportunities to meet other thought leaders and innovators in the waste and recycling world. Sally and I instantly hit it off with an interesting conversation about loo roll – and that was before it was a hot topic thanks to the pandemic –  but perhaps we’ll spare you the exact details of that conversation!

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m working with SESI helping to get Refill to more people, alongside my work as a speaker for Zero Waste Week. Sally asked me if I would speak at a conference she was organising – Global Research and Innovation in Plastics Sustainability (GRIPS). Anything that helps solve the “plastics problem” is right up my street. It’s one of my absolute passions and is, to my mind, one of the most pressing matters of our century, alongside reducing food waste. 

I like the juxtaposition of the word plastic with the word sustainability. Too many people think those two words are arch enemies. I totally believe that the two words will soon belong together. You’ve probably heard me before saying that it is not plastic that’s the problem per se. It is the way we use plastic that’s the huge problem. GRIPS was a brilliant showcase of how we can do things differently – and yes, SUSTAINABLY!

The conference went out to over 3000 people made up of scientists, business owners, people in the plastics industry, those involved with plastics research – basically anyone and everyone who is trying to solve the plastics problem!

I spoke at the Refill and Reuse session, following on from presentations by Dr Rorie Parsons from the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures at the University of Sheffield, Garrath Wilson, Lecturer in Experience Design from Loughborough University and Jo Morley from City to Sea – the people behind the excellent Refill app.

These presentations really showed that Refill is on the up in the UK and around the world. Yes, still very much niche, but it is gaining in popularity and more and more people are appreciating that it could well be a must for businesses to offer in the future.

I did a live informal discussion with Sara Banning, Innovation Lead at UKRI (link). This is my favourite sort of interaction where I can speak really from the heart and get people riled and then inspired to solve problems with me. We discussed some of the difficulties and solutions to bringing refill to the mainstream. The biggest problem, I feel, is that there’s still a lack of access to refill. Until it is easy and local and lots of people can see other people doing it, then it is going to remain niche. We have to raise the profile of refill, to move it from the niche market it still is, even though some of us have been trying to shop this way for a number of years now. It was in 2015 that I set myself and my family the challenge of buying nothing in single use packaging for the entire year. But it is no good keeping Refill as a quirky and awkward practice that only ardent Zero Wasters like me and Sally put up with.  We’ve got to take the plunge, have some faith and get it out there, everywhere.  You can watch the recording of my chat and the panel Q&A to hear more of our thoughts on how to make mainstream part of normal behaviour.

**Spoiler alert**  Only 2% of plastic packaging globally is recycled.

This is an absolutely shocking and inexcusable waste of the earth’s precious resources. We need to be designing for circularity NOW! But we are not going to fix the plastic problem just with recycling. We need to make better use of plastic before recycling it and that’s why I want to see Refill and Reuse available to more people, in more places and at a lower cost.

You can watch the full video on the link below – fast forward to 40 minutes in, to see my segment if you’re in a hurry.

Reuse and Refill: Making it Mainstream

During the talk my LinkedIn feed went berserk with people wanting to connect, thanking me for giving their concerns a voice and yes, even telling me that ours was the ‘best session’ of the conference. 

In fact, it was so successful, it is going to be run again in 2022. If you want to solve the plastics problem put March 15th to 17th 2022 in your diary for next year’s GRIPS conference.

If your business wants to make their use of plastic sustainable then get in contact with Rachelle or myself via our contact form, and together we can find a solution.

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Anna Pitt

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