By Holly Barry, @HJBarry
It is no exaggeration to say that our world has been taken over by plastic. Life in plastic is anything but fantastic. The rapid escalation of plastic use has been happening for many years but only recently has plastic pollution become such a hot topic as people are shocked and therefore compelled into taking immediate action.
Plastic pollution critically affects land and water across the globe. Living organisms can be seriously harmed or die through:
- Mistaking plastic for food and ingesting it
- Becoming entangled or trapped in plastic
- Exposure to plastic chemicals
The sharing of heart-breaking images on social media recently has included the tiny seahorse grasping the cotton bud taken by Justin Hofman – a particularly poignant photo. There are numerous others, including turtles trapped in plastic beer rings where their shell has grown around the rings and become severely deformed, sea creatures trapped in plastic bottles and elephants treading hesitantly over watering holes covered with plastic waste.
Then there are those images shared for their absurd nature – which may be laughable if they weren’t so depressing – including shots of supermarkets with fruit and vegetables with natural shells and skins for ‘wrapping’ that have been unnecessarily wrapped up in plastic – including single coconuts and bananas wrapped in cellophane.
Sometimes the natural protective encasing has been removed and replaced with a plastic alternative – in the case of the peeled oranges wrapped up whole and individually in cellophane. Many councils ask you to keep cellophane out of recycling bin as they can’t recycle it, so it goes straight into your waste bin.
Eunomia estimated that the top UK supermarkets are creating a plastic waste problem of more than 800,000 tonnes each year. To illustrate the vastness of this amount, this could cover the whole of Greater London to a depth of 2.5cm, or fill enough large 10-yard skips to extend from London to Sydney.
David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II also made an impact on audiences by highlighting the effects of plastic pollution. Image is powerful and the reality of plastic pollution is continuing to shock – let’s hope we don’t become numb to it.
Not only is plastic bad for the environment but it can be bad for humans. Plastic chemicals such as BPA have been shown to mess with our hormones, with children being said to be especially sensitive to the effects. This is especially worrying when giving a baby a plastic bottle, so make sure any you use are marked as BPA-free.
Get ready for the figures. Stats show that we produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic rubbish globally every year in 1950. That figure had risen to 320 million tonnes every year by 2016. 88% of it that is not recycled goes into our oceans at the rate of around eight million pieces a day. Greenpeace say the equivalent of a truck full of rubbish ends up being dumped in the sea every minute.
The EU is waging war on this declaring aiming to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030.
All this makes depressing reading, so how can we help turn it around? What simple actions can we do as part of our lifestyle as consumers to reduce plastic waste? Don’t feel overwhelmed – the good news is that there is plenty that you can do:
Do a plastic audit of your home
Start by taking a walk through your home, room by room, jotting down all the uses of plastic that you can see. Then in a column next to this list, write down possible alternatives. Think of glass jars and ceramic containers and bowls rather than plastic.
Stop buying bottled water!
200 billion bottles of water are bought globally each year of which 176 billion end up in landfills or the ocean.
A simple way you can help is to use reusable bottles and you will also save money. There is even an app which will tell you where you can refill your bottle for free.
Ditch the plastic straws
Plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups so get into the habit of saying no to straws. If you are ordering your drinks from a table, tell the server before they take your order. If you have to use a straw make sure it is bamboo or paper. You can even chat to the owner of your local pub or bar to see if they would consider switching their plastic straws for paper.
Carry a plastic-free living kit wherever you go
Create a plastic-free kit for when you are on the move. Make sure it includes:
- A reusable bag
- A water bottle and cup
- Reusable utensils
- A container with a lid like a Mason jar
Take your own bags to the supermarket – it’s the norm for many people now, but it always needs repeating until plastic bags are extinct.
Here’s the thing – reusable specially designed trolley bags that you hook inside the trolley actually make shopping much quicker as you can separate your goods while you shop into the different coloured bags instead of faffing around at the till and scan-as-you-shop as you whizz through.
Use the Zero Waste Home App to find out which stores near you offer refills if you take your own containers.
Bring your own food container for meat and cheese. If you can’t buy items without packaging, unwrap them at home and transfer them to avoid prolonging the food in plastic chemicals. Try DIY food wraps with cotton and beeswax. Get into the habit of using stainless steel containers for liquids.
Bulk buy liquids and then decant into your own container to cut plastic down, or you can make your own cleaners and put in glass spray bottles with ingredients you can find in the cupboard – cheaper and safer!
You can also buy soap and shampoo bulk, or make your own. Alternatively, seek out the products with less packaging, for example Lush makes shampoo bars that you can store in a reusable metal tin. Lush also make deodorant bars with no packaging. Avoid plastic razors by getting an old-fashioned metal or wood handled razor where you only have to replace the blade.
Use a spork!
Popular in the military, a spork is a stainless steel foldable spoon and fork combo. Take one wherever you go and refuse disposal plastic cutlery. Those plastic bendy knives never work anyway!
Choose clothes with natural fibres
Choose natural fibres, such as cotton, bamboo (bamboo socks are great!), wool or silk. Synthetic fibres can release microplastics which go into waterways and are eaten by wildlife from birds to plankton.
Avoid normal glitter and microbeads
Steer clear of face washes which use plastic microbeads to exfoliate the skin as they end up in the sea. Instead, choose natural exfoliators like ground coconut or walnut. The festival scene has made glitter art fashionable but make sure you use environmentally-friendly glitter.
Next time you see a disturbing image highlighting plastic pollution, remember that you have the power of choice as a consumer. Not only can you reduce the plastic waste in your home, but you can also join the anti-plastic campaign effort – everything helps. Hopefully, in future these images can be relegated to the pages of the history books.