What can we do about plastic? How you can live with less
It’s the global issue that’s shot to the top of everyone’s agenda. andréa Childs shares what she learned by going plastic free for a week
When i was asked to live without plastic for a week, it was as if my (single-use, nonbiodegradable) contact lenses fell from my eyes and i saw the world in an entirely new way. my bathroom shelves, the supermarket aisles, my favourite cafés and clothes shops, all revealed as sources of planet-wrecking plastic. it’s everywhere. and worse, it’s not going away. since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide, and because none of the most commonly used plastics are biodegradeable, they accumulate in landfills and the environment, where they take up to 400 years to degrade. only 14% of plastic is currently recycled and 30% of the plastic that could be reused isn’t because it contains multiple materials or is simply too small to collect and sort. “it’s estimated that eight to 12 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter our oceans annually,” says Hugo tagholm, chief executive of environmental campaigning group surfers against sewage (sas.org. uk). by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. “Plastic pollution is killing millions of marine animals and birds annually, and breaking down to enter the human food chain,” explains tagholm.
“i went to the location of The Island with Bear Grylls in aid of stand up to Cancer two years ago and was horrified at the huge amount of plastic covering the remote shoreline,” says GP Dr Dawn Harper (drdawn.com). “Chemicals such as bPa and phthalates in plastic leach into our food from packaging and via the environment. these toxins are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, fertility issues and even behavioural difficulties in children.”
Dr Clare morrison at medexpress adds: “some testing has shown that over 92% of people tested had detectable levels of bPa and other plastic chemicals in their bodies – including babies.”
Call it the Blue Planet II effect (the iconic series’ images of albatrosses feeding their chicks with plastic has arguably done more to raise awareness of the issue than any eco-campaign or political pledge), but change seems to be happening. the government aims to limit avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and consumer power is forcing brands to rethink their plastic use.
“it feels like a tipping point and legislation is really important to push a quick move away from plastic, but ultimately it’s down to individuals,” says Georgina WilsonPowell, founder of sustainable lifestyle magazine pebble (pebblemag.com). “taking a reusable cup to the coffee shop has a big impact. We need to reprogramme ourselves to think a little less about convenience and a little more about the impact of our decisions.” it’s one reason the #plasticfreeweekchallenge has been such a success on social media; it forces us to be conscious every time we shop or order a latte, and helps to break our plastic habit one purchase at a time.
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