USING LESS PLASTIC
Our guide to cutting down
The environmental impact of plastic is making headlines again and real change is afoot. But is enough really being done to stem the flow of plastic bottles, packaging, cotton buds and coffee cups? We look at the bigger picture and the small changes that can make a difference
Last December, over 10 million of us watched the final episode of Blue
Planet II. It took an uncompromising look at the impact of human activity on marine life. Heartbreaking footage showed albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and a pilot whale carrying her dead newborn calf, which was believed to have died from plastic pollution. In the final moments, David Attenborough delivered a call to arms for all of us to do more to protect our planet. It was a watershed moment. Of course, we’d all known for years that our excessive use of plastic was having a negative impact on the environment but the programme made real the effects of those little daily decisions we all make – ‘shall I make the effort to wash and recycle my plastic yogurt pot or just chuck it in the bin?’
WHEN FISH ARE OUTNUMBERED
This public surge of interest means unprecedented attention is now focused on the flotsam of plastic in our oceans and the environmental damage it causes. It also means that everyone, from government to big business, is looking for solutions.
It’s estimated that there are currently 150m tonnes of plastic in the world’s seas and more than 100,000 sea mammals die each year from eating or getting tangled up in plastic waste. Shockingly, it’s predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, by weight.
BUT A CHANGE IS COMING… The scientific solution to eliminating existing waste plastic from the environment is some years away but strides have been made. Earlier this year, scientists created an enzyme that ‘eats’ polyethylene terephthalate, the material used in plastic bottles, within a few days. Researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.
More than 40 companies, responsible for over 80% of plastic packaging on products sold via UK supermarkets, have joined The UK Plastics Pact. All the major supermarkets are also signed up to the pact, organised by waste charity Wrap. One of the pledges it has made is to eradicate unnecessary single-use plastics by 2025.
Theresa May announced in April that the Government had committed £61.4m to fight plastic pollution and vowed to eliminate avoidable single-use plastic by 2042. Plans in progress include a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles and drink cans, a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds, plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastics,
a levy on disposable coffee cups and plastics-free supermarket aisles. This follows on from the banning of plastic microbeads and the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge, a hugely successful move that has seen a massive reduction in use. But is this enough?
FACING THE FUTURE
Plastic is, without doubt, a wonder product: versatile, malleable and light. But now is the time to stem the flow – and we can all do our bit. If every one of the 1.3 million GH readers pledged to do one thing, whether it’s swapping takeaway coffee cups for a reusable one or avoiding clothes made from polyester and nylon, it could make a huge difference. As David Attenborough says, ‘Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, now depends on us.’