Foreign Office first department to announce plastic ban for its global network by 2020

Foreign and Commonwealth Office to remove all avoidable single-use plastics from UK estate by end of year

The Foreign Office used more than 280,000 plastic water cups last year. Credit: Pixabay

By Tamsin Rutter

28 Feb 2018

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has announced a ban on all avoidable single-use plastics across its overseas network by 2020.

It is the first government department to make such a commitment, which the Foreign Office said will make it a global “leader in the fight against plastic pollution”.

In recent weeks the FCO has removed plastic cups, crockery, cutlery, straws and single-use condiment sachets from its London staff canteen and replaced them with re-usable or biodegradable alternatives.

It has also pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics from its UK operations by the end of 2018.


The move comes after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in January launched government’s 25-year environment plan, which featured a Whitehall ban on plastic cutlery and a pledge to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.

Among the plans the Foreign Office is trialling to reduce its use of plastics is a “latte levy” of between 10p and 50p to encourage staff to use their own mugs instead of plastics ones.

FCO is also considering projects to reduce its environmental impact in other areas, such as replacing its cars with electric hybrid vehicles and a global automated energy monitoring and reduction programme. It was shortlisted as a finalist in the British Institute of Facilities Management Awards 2017 for its actions to drive significant reductions in water and energy use across the UK estate.

The department said it will significantly reduce the use of disposable plastics across its diplomatic offices this year, with a full-scale ban to be in force for the overseas estate by 2020.

Sir Simon McDonald, Foreign Office permanent secretary, said that since 2009-10 the Foreign Office had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 39%, waste by 45%, paper consumption by 42% and water use by 12.9m litres in its UK operations.

He added: “But we must do more to reduce our use of plastic. I am confident we can meet the challenge put to us by the foreign secretary.”

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said: “It is time for the world to truly wake up to the damage being done to the environment, and especially by the sheer volume of plastic that is dumped in our oceans.

“If the UK is to turn the tide overseas on this crucial issue, it is only right that the Foreign Office leads the way at home.”

Data released by government earlier this year revealed that a handful of departments had used more than four million disposable coffee cups in just the past four years, with the Foreign Office using over 650,000 two years running.

FCO figures reveal that in the UK in 2017 the department bought more than 100,000 cold drinks bottles, over 650,000 hot beverage cups, more than 280,000 plastic water cups and almost 15,000 pieces of plastic cutlery. The department estimates that last year it used 1.37m items of avoidable single-use plastics in the UK, and 3.45m items overseas.

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