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THE PLASTIC PROBLEM

Plastic is a revolutionary invention. It’s lightweight and virtually indestructible. Despite the world being in a plastic crisis, it’s demand is increasing year upon year and by 2050 there is expected to be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Scroll down to the 'Recap: What Can We Do?' section at the bottom if you just want a brief summary of the actions you can take to help solve the problem.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down. This is a massive issue because of the way we use it. We buy a water bottle, use it for a day and throw it away. If not disposed of correctly, the bottle could take up to 500 years to break down and even then it doesn’t disappear completely and can still cause problems.

 

Even if disposed of responsibly, plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times. So unlike other materials, such as glass and aluminium, there is a very short shelf life to recycling plastic. When it can't be recycled, in the 'best' scenario it'll end up in a landfill site where it'll be contributing to pollution and global warming which is not a great solution at all!

If plastic does end up in your recycle bin then there are still problems. Firstly, lots of local councils don't actually accept some plastics which are labelled as recyclable, for example frozen food bags. Secondly, lots of our plastic waste actually gets shipped to countries such as Indonesia to be sorted. Not only do these transport emissions contribute to pollution and global warming but often these countries can't work their way through the vast quantities of plastic we're sending and they end up in their water systems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Plastic particles have entered our water supplies and even the food chain. Studies show that we could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card in microplastics every week! We don’t yet know what health implications this could have. It’s safe to say that wildlife is already having major health problems with many creatures suffering due to plastic digestion problems. Sadly it has become common to find seabirds, turtles, dolphins and even whales who have suffered and lost their lives to plastic.

It’s now difficult to step out the front door without seeing plastic littering the floor. Plastic pollution is found everywhere from the countryside to rivers and beaches. Around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year and this figure is set to double by 2025. There are even discoveries of plastic in the deepest and most uninhabited parts of the world such as the Mariana Trench.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Finding a solution is no easy matter. Plastic has become one of the most popular materials worldwide for so many things we use due to its convenience and indestructibility. 

Switching to other single-use alternatives can also come with problems. For example, paper bags are heavier than plastic and so transporting them can use more fuel emissions, contributing more to global warming and air pollution. The idea of ‘zero waste’ is a certainly a good solution. This means moving away from our throwaway society and opting for reusable items to create less waste of any material.

Single-use plastics are a good starting point. Bottles, cling film, sticky tape and even chewing gum are all examples of items only used once and then thrown away. Thankfully these have reusable alternatives available. Take a look at our 22 Easy Plastic Switches to find tips for reducing plastic waste. 

 

Zero waste shops are another brilliant idea. You bring your own container, weigh it, fill it up, weigh it again and pay for your goods. The process repeats when you run out of the item and there is no packaging waste involved. If you're UK-based you can find your nearest zero waste shop here. What if we could change to this system on a worldwide scale? What if big supermarkets could apply this idea or every town had its own zero waste shop? The reduction in the plastic we consume could be extraordinary.

If you don't live near a zero waste shop then the same goes for using your local green grocers, bakery, butchers or farmer’s market. Whilst all these places may not be encouraging less packaging, it's certainly much easier to purchase packaging-free food from them. Take lunch boxes or produce bags to put your goods into, request no packaging where possible and you’ll create much less packaging waste. You’ll have the added bonus of fresher, tastier food too.

If you haven't got a convenient zero waste shop, and shopping in local businesses isn't practical for you, then there are still ways to avoid plastic packaging in supermarkets. You could take your own produce bags or lunch boxes for loose fruit, veg, baked goods, fresh fish and deli counter items instead of using the plastic or paper bags provided.

For other items, try opting for glass or aluminium packaging when available. Both of these materials can be recycled endlessly and so are much more eco friendly, if recycled afterwards. For example, opting for peas in a tin instead of frozen peas in a plastic bag is a much more sustainable choice. 

Cardboard/paper packaging is less eco-friendly than glass and aluminium; however, it is still a much better alternative to plastic. Providing that it hasn't been coated with plastic, it can also be recycled afterwards.

When shopping, it's also much better for the Earth to take your own bag instead of buying plastic bags in the shop. Plastic bags-for-life may be better than single-use plastic bags however they are still not a sustainable choice compared with other materials.

The zero waste concept doesn’t just apply to food. Cosmetics from shampoo to shower gel and even shaving bars are now gradually being made available plastic-free. Getting ourselves into the habit of taking our own bag or alternative to put these in also reduces paper bag waste. 

Buying things second-hand where possible is also a good way to cut down on plastic waste. So many of the items we buy are not only made of plastic but also come packaged in it. Buying second-hand extends the life of items and can also avoid extra plastic packaging. 
 

Disposing responsibly of what plastic pollution is already out there is also very important. Picking up litter in the street is a good place to start. It may not be your responsibility but it is a good habit to get into and it sets a great example for other people. It's better not to think of it as just cleaning other people’s rubbish. Instead, try to think of it as making your local area more beautiful for you and others to enjoy as well as protecting the wildlife that we share the environment with. It’s actually a very satisfying way to spend time with family, friends or new people! 

You could take this a step further and take part in an organised community cleanup or even organise your own. It’s a great way to get some fresh air, spend more time with family and friends or even meet new people!  

Supporting charities which organise beach and ocean cleanups is another great way to stop plastic polluting the oceans.

RECAP: WHAT CAN WE DO?

Dispose of any plastic you use responsibly, recycling as much as possible.

Assess what future plastic purchases you can cut out of your life.

Try out our 22 Easy Plastic Switches

Support zero waste shops to reduce packaging waste.

Try zero waste shopping in your local green grocer, bakery, butchers or farmers market, taking your own produce bags or lunch boxes to fill up.

Try zero waste shopping in the supermarket by taking your own produce bags or lunch boxes for loose fruit, veg, baked goods, fresh fish and deli counter items.

Where zero waste shopping isn’t an option opt for items made with glass, aluminium and paper and remember to recycle them afterwards.

Take your own bag shopping instead of buying plastic bags in the shop.

Try purchasing goods second-hand; giving plastic items a longer life before going to landfill.

Try picking up plastic litter you see and dispose of it responsibly.

Join or organise a litter pick. We need to turn the plastic tap off but it’s equally as important to dispose correctly of what plastic pollution is out there.

Support charities or purchase goods that support beach and ocean cleanups. 

Environment Pollution