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Our Plastic Addiction

16 years after his 2001 award-winning natural history programme "The Blue Planet," Sir David Attenborough returned with another breath-taking exploration of the world's vast oceans in “Blue Planet II”. Viewing figures in the UK reached over 35 million (the most watched BBC programme of 2017) and attracted global attention in highlighting the damaging impact single-use plastic is having on the world's oceans and environment. At the launch of Blue Planet II Attenborough called for the world to cut back on its use of plastic in order to protect oceans.

 
Sir David Attenborough
 
Within the context of global warming it is the plastics issue which has been seized upon because, as Attenborough stated in an interview in 2017, “What we’re going to do about a 1.5 degree rise in the temperature of the ocean over the next 10 years, I don’t know, but we could actually do something about plastic right now.”  The War on Plastics – plastic bags and plastic packaging specifically - had begun.
 
There followed a storm of media coverage and government legislation. News headlines appear daily as PR initiatives by supermarkets, coffee houses and fashion brands are launched and TV documentaries abound; a 5p tax on plastic bags; a ban by the Queen on the use of plastic bottles and drinking straws at Buckingham Palace; Costa Coffee vowed to recycle 500 million takeaway cups by 2020; Coca Cola launched its lighter, eco-friendly, Coke bottle in 2017 and pledged to increase their recycling target to 50% by 2020 following pressure from Greenpeace; Tesco announced a commitment, “to reducing the total amount of packaging used across our business”

Delving deeper into these headlines there are many competing views, but little consensus as to how the war on plastic can be won. Reducing plastic use, moving to a closed loop (100% recycling) system, and developing new, non-oil based, “bioplastics” are all options. Each have their advantages and limitations. It might be viable to run both approaches side-by-side but there are risks associated with that in that bioplastics cannot be mixed in with recyclable plastic during waste disposal and the consumer is not being clearly directed as to what waste to put where. 
 
Door step collection schemes vary across the country, and consumers are not instructed to recycle properly. Recycled plastic is more expensive to produce and to use in packaging than virgin plastic. However, the economic incentive for collection and recycling will become more compelling as the marketing advantages of producing recycled and recyclable plastic (being seen to be green) is increased to meet consumer demand. Every other day a major company announces a new green initiative or statistics are published about plastic in our oceans. Some of these initiatives are summarised in the Ellen McArthur Foundation announcement at the January 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos where companies such as Unilever, Danone, Evian, Nestle, Walmart and L’Oréal committed to work towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025.
 
 
Plastic food packaging

So how can we help? Let’s all start by being conscious about the things we buy, and how we buy them. Try a couple of these small changes to get started:
  • Carry a reusable bottle - much nicer than a nasty plastic one!

  • Say no to plastic straws - lots of paper-based and reusable ones on the market now.

  • Take a reusable coffee cup - again.. much nicer than a thin paper cup, and could help keep your coffee hot. Can you believe that only 1 in 400 take away cups are actually recycled!?

  • Avoid excessive food packaging

  • Use refill stations for detergents - ideal for being able to get as much or little as you like!

  • Say no to disposable plastic cutlery

  • Get your milk delivered - milk can be delivered in glass bottles which are then collected and reused.

  • Avoid microbeads when you buy new clothes, or better still, buy second hand off sites like Depop! Then you know you are stopping it from going to landfill.

  • Carry a shopping bag - so easy, but a hard one to remember. This is one I am trying to work on!

Making just a few small changes can have a big impact on the amount of plastic we use on a day-to-day basis. So start small and try to make your new habits last!


Written by Fergus 
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