Emily Moore spoke to Joel Richardson, commercial director of Mercury Distribution
ASK many people to name an environmentalist and it is likely that Sir David Attenborough would be on the lips of many.
And there is little doubt that his narration of Blue Planet II in the autumn of 2017 brought into sharper focus than ever both the extent, and impact, of plastic pollution.
Yet, despite the progress that has been made since, particularly where single-use plastics are concerned, the impact of plastic waste on our environment remains devastatingly high.
Indeed, figures provided by the States of Jersey show that, globally, 3.5 million tonnes of plastic is generated every day, of which 40% is single-use. In Jersey alone, Islanders use between five and six million plastic bottles each year and only 8% of these are recycled.
Faced with these worrying statistics, one local business decided it was time to do something to help.
‘At the end of 2019, we were in conversation with the government’s eco active team and, at that point, only 6% of plastic bottles sold in Jersey were ending up in the recycling chain,’ explained Mercury Distribution’s commercial director Joel Richardson.
‘While there are three core strands to Mercury, the distribution arm is a key supplier to many of the Island’s hospitality businesses. Indeed, we deliver everything from laundry and cleaning products to catering supplies, of which a significant quantity comes in plastic bottles and containers.’
Conscious that many of the bottles and plastic containers they were delivering to these outlets were ending up in the incinerator, the company launched a service to collect the empty receptacles so that they could be recycled.
‘The government has an agreement with Abbey Waste who transport plastic bottles back to the UK for recycling so we set up a similar arrangement, whereby our team collects the used bottles and delivers them to Abbey. Since launching this service just over a year ago, we have collected more than 100,000 bottles from our customers who include Randalls, Dolan Hotels, Longueville Manor and numerous hotels and restaurants,’ added Mr Richardson.
Putting these figures – which equate to 25% of all plastic bottles that are recycled in Jersey – into context, the team’s work has kept 3.6 tonnes of plastic out of the waste system and prevented almost 24 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions.
‘It has given our team a huge amount of pride to know that we have recovered 20% of all the bottles we have sold and we are committed to doing everything we can to boost this figure,’ Mr Richardson continued. ‘As Jersey aims to become carbon neutral by 2030, it is essential that we all play our part to reduce the number of plastic bottles that end up in the incinerator. At Mercury we believe that it is important for us all that we do the right thing.’
And this recycling scheme is just one of the initiatives which Mercury – which also comprises an engineering and medical division – has introduced.
‘The focus on sustainability runs across the company and we are making changes to our practices and investigating innovations in technology that can help both us and our clients to operate in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. As well as switching to hybrid vehicles across our fleet, we are also contributing to the government’s climate-change conversations and looking into eco solutions such as solar-panelled bins, glass crushers and aerobic food-waste digesters,’ Mr Richardson added.
‘The latter of these is brilliant for tackling the issue of food waste in restaurants. At the moment, most of this waste, which can equate to 100kg a day, goes in refuse sacks and is thrown away. However, the aerobic food-waste digester is a machine that breaks down these leftovers during a 24-hour period and turns them into water, which can either go down the drain or be purified for use in dishwashers.’
With sustainability at the heart of Mercury’s business practices, Mr Richardson is keen to challenge other companies, organisations and individuals to adopt a similar approach.
‘For us, it is important not to get bogged down with bureaucracy and to implement change now,’ he said, ‘and this is a message which needs to come from the top. I find it quite shocking that, while many people are keen to recycle, the facilities are not always available. Some parishes, for example, are still without kerbside recycling schemes.
‘I think that Joe Public wants to see widespread recycling and to be able to choose products that come in recycled materials, and it is really down to the government to not only encourage recycling through awareness campaigns but also to make the infrastructure changes needed to make it easy for people to do this.’