Polyco helps Waitrose nip plastics pollution in the bud

Polyco has long been a pioneer in the development of products that improve the safety of people – but the well-being of the planet has also been a constant consideration for the business.

Always keen to make a positive impact through responding to customer requirements, Polyco recently worked with a key client on a product redevelopment that will help tackle one of the world’s biggest environmental polluters: plastic. And specifically: plastic-stemmed cotton buds. These little sticks are used by millions of people around the world every day to clean their ears, or apply make-up, before being flushed away and left to enter the marine ecosystem, where the plastic stems cause untold damage.

This threat to marine life prompted leading supermarket Waitrose to take action. Well-known for its commitment to sustainability and ‘treading lightly’ on the environment, the company has had a strong relationship with Polyco for many years, and it was to the UK-based manufacturer that it turned for a solution to the cotton-bud problem.

Core to both companies is a belief in doing the right thing to prevent unnecessary harm so, together, they agreed to produce their cotton buds with biodegradable paper stems. Polyco, through its cotton suppliers, was able to provide FSC-certified2 paper stems that are as strong as the plastic alternative. Consequently, Waitrose made the decision to change the stems of its own-label cotton buds to paper. From September, the company will only sell its paper-stemmed cotton buds, thus taking around 21 tonnes of plastic a year out of its health and beauty business.

Polyco is delighted to have been part of this effort to protect the environment. Said national account manager – household, Karen Wigglesworth: “At Polyco, we aim to offer a service that goes beyond product. Our client came to us with a concern and, together, we came up with a response. We have done this first project with Waitrose, but we are also talking to other retailers about doing something similar.

“More and more of them are, like us, becoming increasingly concerned about the environment and we have found that, as soon as we talk to them about this, they are keen to get on board.”

Dr Clare Cavers, research officer with environmental charity FIDRA, commented: “We are delighted that Waitrose has taken a lead on the issue of plastic cotton buds. FIDRA’s Cotton Bud Project aims to see brands and consumers changing plastic cotton buds for paper ones as part of a solution to this problem, while still emphasising that even paper cotton buds should never be flushed down toilets.

“Companies often claim that a core reason for not making the change is the lack of biodegradable alternatives available that are of a comparable standard to the plastic stems. Polyco’s work on the development of an alternative stick has been of huge importance in making this significant step of Waitrose possible. We hope that other companies will follow the lead of both Waitrose and Polyco in working towards reducing plastic in our seas.”