It’s Plastic Free July! This month is a time to reflect on how reliant we are on a material that has such severe consequences for our oceans and our natural environment.
Plastic is a material that we all use daily, more than we even realise. It wraps our groceries, we buy our soaps in it, it’s in our food (!) and it’s in our clothes.
There are 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish. Not only does this impact on animals living in the ocean but it is going to impact on us and the most vulnerable people living on the planet. The amount of plastic in our oceans is estimated to threaten 700 marine species, threatening a key source of nutrients that many communities rely on for survival. Plastic is also made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels such as gas, oil and coal. This is a driver of climate change and toxic air pollution, damaging our health and accelerating global warming.
In recent years recycling has become increasingly common practice. However, this should not substitute our efforts to stop using plastic entirely. Often recycled materials are not washed before being chucked into a recycling bin resulting in it having to be incinerated or sent to landfill which is detrimental to our efforts to tackle climate change. This is easy to avoid however it appears that even when we correctly recycle the system is letting us down. A recent report found that our recycling industry is not as effective as we might hope and that actually a large proportion of our recycled waste is exported to other countries. According to Greenpeace, British companies alone have shipped more than 2.7m tons of plastic waste to China and Hong Kong since 2013 equating to two-thirds of the UK’s total waste plastic exports.
This is problematic for a myriad of reasons, not least because it perpetuates a global power dynamic that enables white ‘Western’ countries to continually exploit the ‘global South’. Although our plastic exports to China has decreased by 94% since 2016, other countries such as Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia are receiving unprecedented amounts of plastic waste from the UK. Whilst we like to believe that we can go about our weekly shop without considering plastic usage because it can be recycled, we need to think again and focus on reducing our plastic intake.
Many people have transitioned into using a reusable water bottles and coffee cups, which is a great first step. Yet we shouldn’t stop there as there are many more ways to reduce our plastic intake such as only buying groceries not wrapped in plastic, using Tupperware to bring your lunch in rather than cling film, using plastic-free toiletries such as a bamboo toothbrush and bars of soap and shampoo and buying spices, nuts and the like in bulk. The list is endless and adopting these as habits will take time and commitment as many supermarkets don’t make it easy for us to make environmentally friendly choices. But even making one change a month or setting yourself targets is an effective way to embed sustainability into our behaviours and before you know you’ll be living a zero plastic-waste life.
by Edie Marriner