Why is Plastic such a Problem?
The news, recently, is 'littered' (couldn't resist!) with the issues surrounding plastic pollution. But what exactly is the problem?
The main way that plastic gets into the seas is via the world's major rivers. Research suggests that 95% of plastic is transported in this way.
Although the majority of the plastic in the oceans comes from China, other countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are also major polluters. US citizens produce around 120kg (264lbs) of plastic waste per person every year. The UK produces around 76kg (167lbs) of waste while in Sweden, it's around 18kg (40lbs). So it is a global issue and we all have our part to play.
There is NO Away
You will no doubt be aware that plastics are not biodegradable, so won’t break down and rot naturally over time in the same way that food or even wood does. Nearly all of the plastic ever created still exists somewhere on the planet today. Since it’s invention nearly 70 years ago it is estimated that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced and 79% of that has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment (approximately 35%!!). We love this clear cut infographic from the BBC.
Plastic can be recycled right?
You might be thinking we should perhaps recycle more efficiently but that’s not actually the answer. Some plastics can be recycled, but only a few times. Each recycling process downgrades the plastic until it is eventually not suitable for recycling. It’s also worth pointing out that the recycling process itself requires a lot of energy, energy that is often produced by power stations operating on fossil fuels.
Glass however, can be recycled infinitely and does not downgrade in the process, making it a much more attractive option to plastics. Most metals also benefit from being robust enough to be recycled indefinitely too, so cans and glass containers are definitely your friends in the fight against single use plastics.
What’s more, as plastic deteriorates it breaks down into tiny pieces known as microplastics, which are increasingly finding their way into the human food chain as fish and other animals mistakenly ingest them. The chemicals used in plastics leach out into the animal which in turn gets eaten by us, so it’s not as simple as making sure there’s no visible plastic chunks in your fish fillet. Plymouth University recently conducted a study that found plastic is present in over a third of all UK-caught fish, including family favourites such as cod and haddock.
So, while recycling is a very sensible option to deal with existing plastics, it is by no means the answer to the global plastic crisis. Every eco-warrior's mantra is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - in that order.
Buy in bulk to reduce packaging. Look for package free options.
Take reusable equipment out with you to avoid single-use items all together. Many small businesses, takeaways and supermarkets now encourage you to take your own containers to put fresh counter foodstuffs in, for example. The picture is changing daily as more companies adopt greener policies.
When making purchases choose glass, metal or wooden alternatives to plastic when possible.
Finally, recycle responsibly. Check what your local council accepts in kerbside recycling facilities (Recycle Now), research schemes were you can take recyclables they don't accept (Ideas2Action, Terracycle), and know your plastics as there are over 50 variations! (decode the main 7 in circulation in the UK by reading Not All Plastics Are Created Equally).