THE BIGGEST PLASTIC POLLUTION CULPRITS and their solutions
In the 1980s, the plastic bag became ubiquitous around the world for ease of carrying and packaging items when shopping. The trouble is you can’t get rid of them. They take decades to degrade and even when they do, they never degrade completely, they just become smaller bits of plastic which work their way into the environment and kill wildlife. Also, as they do break down, they leak toxic fumes, contributing to climate change.
Reusable shopping bags. The only issue is remembering to take them to the supermarket. But once you get into the habit, you’re sorted. They’re easier to carry than plastic bags, you can usually fit a normal-sized supermarket shop in two or three of them (no more endless trips back and forth to the car while unpacking) and you’re not killing any sea creatures by using them. Plus there is such a huge variety of different patterns available now, they’re almost becoming a status symbol at the checkout. Even better, Countdown has introduced affordable $1 reusable bags!
Coffee has become a way of life for so many of us on our morning commute or as we head into work. But all those single-use cups are clogging up landfills all over the world; it’s estimated that in Australia, coffee drinkers are throwing out a billion takeaway cups a year, and in New Zealand, it’s almost 300 million annually. Even if you’re doing your bit and popping your cup in the recycling bin, it’s still not a foolproof process; a lot of New Zealand recycling plants don’t have the technology to separate the main materials of the coffee cup, and even with compostable cups, the majority of our compost sites can’t accept them for the same reason. Overseas coffee chains have started charging for single-use cups, with Starbucks in the UK charging 5p per cup, resulting in a 150 per cent increase in people bringing their own reusable cups.
Reusable cups have all the carryability of a takeaway plastic cup, with none of the plastic pollution side effects. Plus, many coffee stores offer discounts for bringing your own cup.
Around the world, a staggering one million plastic water bottles are bought every minute. While the bottles are more easily recyclable than other single-use items, the sheer amount being used means the rate of recycling can’t keep up. Less than half the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling, with only seven per cent turned into new bottles – most end up in landfill or in the ocean.
Invest in a metal or glass reusable water bottle – better for the environment and better for you: a study of 250 water bottles from 11 different brands found microplastic particles in 90 per cent of them, which we then ingest. And that can’t be a good thing.
Yes, those things you’ve probably never thought twice about are insidious little offenders when it comes to plastic pollution; they take more than 200 years to biodegrade and in the UK 8.5 billion straws are thrown away annually.
When you go out for a drink, say no to a straw. If you’ve got kids and this isn’t practical, buy reusable bamboo or stainless steel straws to take with you.