Time for a plastic purge?

Last month many of our clients and people around the world celebrated World Environment Day. Set up by the United Nations, it encourages awareness and action on environmental issues. Each World Environment Day is organised around a theme and this year it was about beating plastic pollution.

Since Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, the terrifying reality of our plastic pollution hit home. Up to 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year damaging our wildlife and environment. It’s time to take action!

The Plastic Problem

On World Environment Day the UN published the first ever global plastic report “Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability”, which outlined the problems with plastic and revealed several shocking facts about the current state of plastic pollution.

Since the 1950s the production of plastic has overtaken almost any other material, and with the development of a single-use convenience packaging, our planet is no longer coping with the vast quantity. Plastic is currently a by-product of our ‘throwaway culture’ most commonly used once in the form of packaging.

The majority of plastics do not break down in the environment, they slowly disintegrate into microbeads, which are incredibly difficult to remove from our ecosystems. As well as land and ocean pollution, as seen in many horrific photographs, plastic in the oceans leads to a loss of biodiversity.

Many toxic chemicals also end up in our food chain after being ingested by animals; and in many countries plastic blocks waterways and enhances the spread of diseases through stagnant water and water contamination.

Key findings from the UN report:

  • 9% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic produced has been recycled.
  • If the growth in plastic production continues at the current rate, by 2050 the plastic industry may account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption
  • 1 to 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every-year. If tied together, 5 trillion plastic bags would cover an area twice the size of France

As seen in the chart below, the most common plastics found in the environment come from packaging in the form of plastic bags, straws, bottles and take-away containers, all items that can easily be eliminated from your daily routine.

Success Stories

Our environment will recover if we all make slight changes to our habits. Public awareness is the the common factor in the success of any plastic removal initiatives and behavior influencers.
Following the success of World Environment Day, more than 60 countries have introduced bans and levies to curb single-use plastic waste. Here are some examples of what individuals and countries are doing:

Ireland

Assessment in 1998 revealed retailers gave out a shocking 1.26 billion plastic bags every year. In 2002 the government introduced a tax of €0.15

After a year the use dropped by 90%.

Rwanda

Concern over plastic blocking waterways and drainage systems, the government banned manufacturing, use, sale and importation of all plastic bags.

In 2008 UN Habitat nominated Rwanda as cleanest country in Africa.

China

In 2008 the government introduced a ban on bags thinner than 25 microns.

The distribution of plastic bags in supermarkets fell by 70%.

United Kingdom

Plastic Pact – this brings together the entire plastics packaging value chain to innovate new business models.

By 2025, 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recycled or compostable.

 

How can you make a difference?

Many of Carbon Credentials clients are taking the brilliant step of reducing their plastic consumption:

  • Saga plc have started a ‘purge against plastic campaign’ removing cups from water coolers and encouraging staff to carry re-usable bottles
  • KPMG aim to phase out plastic cups and cutlery in the UK by the end of 2018 – find out more here
  • In true ‘practise what you preach’ fashion, here in the office many of us are also participating in ‘Plastic Free Friday’ either purchasing lunch from plastic-free stores or bringing it in from home.
  • In our office, we are also saying goodbye to single-use plastic bottles for our cleaning products and will now be using refill pouches. We have also invested in reusable coffee cups to stop our single-use takeaway coffee habit.

To fight the wave of plastic pollution we need leadership and intervention, so what can you do to ‘purge against plastic’?

What can you do at work?

  • Carry a re-usable coffee cup to get 25p off at Starbucks, Costa and 50p off at Pret a Manger. Many independent coffee shops also offer this.
  • Purchase a plastic-free lunch – actively check the packaging to ensure it is recyclable.
  • Bring your lunch from home in a re-usable box.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle
  • Upcycling – Promoting these approaches and adopting reusable products will reduce the overall demand on the Earth’s resources and provide an alternative to their plastic equivalents.

What can I do at home?

  • Purchase a reusable bag – the average use of a plastic bag is 12 minutes, but it won’t disappear in the environment for up to 1,000 years
  • Pick up your fruit and vegetables without the packaging
  • 1 million plastic bottles are bought worldwide every minute. Download the Refill app and say no to single-use plastic waste.
  • Strike out on straws, refuse a straw when you are going out for a drink.
  • Watch out for plastic in your bathroom. Many people forget to re-cycle the products in their bathroom.

Remember, the most common plastics found in the environment are plastic bags, straws, plastic bottles and takeaway containers, all items that can easily be eliminated from your daily routine.
So exercise your power as an individual, make a simple small change and have a big impact!