The figures on our plastic waste are truly shocking.
A million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every single minute. In 2016, more than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold around the world. In the UK we use over 38.5 million plastic bottles every single day and only just over half, make it to a recycling unit. The rest, end up either in landfill, are burnt or leach into our streams, rivers and eventually oceans. With plastic production set to double in the next 20 years, this is a major concern. Some experts even predict that plastic pollution will become as serious an issue as climate change.
It’s worth noting at this point, that these statistics only relate to plastic bottles. The plastic problem extends far beyond just bottles. Every year, each one of us will create an average of 150kg of plastic waste and only 14% of it is ever recycled. A staggering 50% of our plastic usage is ‘single use plastic’, plastic cups, straws, cutlery, bottles, packaging etc.
Not all plastic can be recycled. Much of the plastic wrapping our food comes in from supermarkets, cannot be recycled. Plastic takes between 400 and 1000 years to decompose, which means that even the very first plastics that were made back in the 1940’s, are still here, and every single bit of plastic since. Even when plastic does decompose, it doesn’t completely breakdown like organic matter. Instead it breaks down into millions of toxic little pieces.
Much of the plastic we use, ends up in our oceans. Litter finds its way to rivers and streams, which all flow into the ocean. The problem is now so severe, it is predicted there will be more plastic, by weight, than fish in our oceans by 2050. A recent study by Plymouth University reported as much as one third of the fish caught off the UK coast is now contaminated with plastic, and this is a pattern repeated all over the world. Not only are we poisoning our planet, we are poisoning our very own food chain.
What can we do to improve the situation and prevent our oceans as well as our land turning into one giant trash can?
Primarily, we can all try and reduce our plastic usage. Rather than buying bottled water, we can carry re-usable bottles. Say no to unnecessary plastics such as carrier bags and straws. Look for non plastic alternatives.
Reducing plastic becomes very difficult when we shop in supermarkets. Almost everything we buy comes wrapped in plastics. Try to buy fruit and veg lose as much as you can. Put pressure on your supermarket to reduce it’s plastic wrapping and use alternatives instead. If you can’t buy items lose, buy in bulk as much as possible as this reduces the amount of plastic you use. Make sure that you recycle every single item that can possibly be recycled. Next time you walk past a piece of litter, why not pick it up and put it in a bin?
Much of our plastic mess can be avoided. It is entirely possible to make plastic drinking bottles out of 100% recycled plastic, known as RPet. However, the top six drinks companies in the world only use a combined average of 6.6% recycled Pet in their products. Their resistance to increase this number stems largely from cosmetic reasons. The recycled plastic is not quite so shiny and appealing. The British Plastics Federation gave evidence to a House of Commons Committee in which it admitted that making bottles out of 100% recycled plastic actually used 75% less energy than creating virgin plastic bottles. However, it felt that brands should not be forced to increase the recycled content of their plastic bottles.
As consumers, we can all put pressure on manufacturers to change their practices. At the moment, we are allowing a situation where, in order to satisfy their shareholders, big companies are littering our planet, choking our oceans, poisoning our food supply, polluting the landscape and harming wildlife.
Plastic may be convenient, but there is a big price to pay and we all need to be aware just how high that price is. Take the challenge today and start to reduce your plastic consumption, #makeadifference.
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