Our guide to cut­ting down

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Editor’s Note -

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?’


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?


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.’

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