Plastic Free July® is a global movement designed to help millions of people work together to contribute to the solution of plastic pollution. In honour, of the month here’s some simple tips and swaps you can make to make a difference…
What is the scale of the problem?
Official UK Statistics state that the UK generated 43.9 million tonnes of commercial and industrial (C&I) waste in 2018, of which 37.2 million tonnes (85%) was generated in England.
One of the largest issues to biodiversity and conservation is plastic waste. The modern plastics industry relies on fossil fuels for its raw material meaning the production of plastic effects climate change and contributes to global CO2 production.
Not only that but plastic’s ability to survive environments without deteriorating is leading to it destroying important wildlife ecosystems.
Plastic waste ends up in oceans and the natural environment
5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris litter our oceans, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while approximately four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometre pollute the deep sea.
It’s not just the sea that’s suffering from waste
Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year. Many animals consume plastic including not only birds, fish and other marine organisms but also land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals. Nearly 700 species are known to have been affected by plastic waste in their environment.
Can we recycle our way out of this?
Recycle: The UK recycling rate for all household waste was 44.4% in 2020, decreasing from 46.0% in 2019.
Plastic is one of the most poorly recycled waste. According to the Science Museum, this is due in part to the need to accurately different types of plastic waste. An accurate, economically sound way of doing this has not been found.
Even ‘bioplastics’ derived from natural, biological material such as corn starch are only recycled if they end up in adequately compostable waste.
Recycling is vital for dealing with waste, but it is not the ultimate solution.
How can we fix this?
- Moving away from single-use plastic altogether
- Invest in durable, reusable items
- Designing out plastic from commercial products by supporting research into natural, alternative packaging
Five plastic alternatives to activate!
Switch to cans, glass or reusable water bottles & coffee cups– metal and glass are some of the easiest materials to recycle. When looking at DEFRA packaging waste statistics, metal has a 66.0% recycling rate and glass has a 72.5% recycle rate.
Despite most single use containers being plastic, plastic has one of the worst recycling . That means a whopping 1,331 thousand tonnes of plastic packaging in the UK ends up in . Next time you pick up a supermarket meal deal, pick up a can or a glass bottle, not a single use plastic bottle. Better yet, use a reusable bottle or cup when you’re out and about.
Upgrade your home supplies
There are a few simple swaps you can make to reduce waste in the home:
- Reusable fabric bags for produce
- Reusable/ refillable containers, bottles and jars
- Beeswax wraps instead of foil and clingfilm for keeping food fresh
- Compostable bamboo straws and cutlery
- Soap bars rather than liquid soap
Clean up your cleaning regime
Ironically, cleaning up your home can create a lot of mess for the planet. The chemical compounds in many cleaning products end up in our waterways and affect aquatic life. Thankfully, some small companies are investing in creating environmentally friendly products with minimal waste too!
- There are many companies investing in the creation of eco laundry tablets, dishwashing and cleaning tablets you add water to and plastic free packaging.
- Wooden dish brushes or natural sponges are a great alternative to plastic brushes or plastic sponges.
- Make your own cleaning products using vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, soap nuts or lemons. Friends of the Earth have some simple recipes to try here.
Travel back in time to make some great eco-swaps
Before plastic became the container of choice post 1960, groceries were weighed out in paper bags. Drinks came in glass bottles and food was either fresh and seasonal or preserved in cans.
Hit your local plastic-free shop (through Zero Waste locator) or loose fruit and veg market with re-fillable containers and ask your older relatives or friends what they did before plastic.
Repurpose and reuse
Why not give unloved or broken items a new lease on life and repurpose rather than buying new! Repurposing is a great way to keep items out of the dump and gives you a chance to flex your creative muscles!
Have a look at websites such as Pinterest which has some great ideas on turning broken ceramics into planters or mosaics, broken teacups into bird feeders and old dressers into shelving.
Play your part and think twice before you pick up single use plastic this July and share these handy tips with friends.