Video: Independent Newspaper/Caroline Power Photography
The PM this week announced a 25 year plan for the UK to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042¹. Plastic waste such as the carrier bags, food packaging and disposable plastic straws that litter the country and pollute the seas would be abolished. Much was made of supermarkets stocking plastic-free aisles (and interviews with retailers complaining about damaged food and odours; the primary functions of the plastic trays and coatings).
“In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.” – Theresa May
Can we really be prepared to wait 25 years for legislation and compulsory action? The shocking video from The Independent (see above), BBC’s Blue Planet II and environmental studies featured elsewhere illustrate a vast sea of plastic pollution but what about the hidden plastics buried in land fill sites? A manufacturer on Radio 4’s Today programme was challenged on his production of single-use plastic; his response was “We’ve tried to make biodegradable products. They don’t look as good and they’re expensive.”
So it is a consumer and economics issue? Do we really need to pay more or are we bothered by blue rather than black plastic trays protecting our giant Italian pears? If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills. That amount is 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building (source: National Geographic²).
You may be interested in the attempt by my family and I to live plastic-lite for a month (read about it here). We attempted the plastic challenge (encouraged by the Marine Conservation Society #plasticchallenge) for the whole month buying only packaged goods in HDPE, PP or some PET plastic that my local curb-side recycling will take! Our five supermarket shops during the month took place at different stores and we pledged not to buy rather than compromise from the very start. The rationale is that consumers can insist on packaging that is widely recycled, then big corporations can be forced to adapt to our (and our planet’s) needs. You may be interested in trying something similar, so here is my advice…
|Multiple use shopping bags||Jute shoppers||Unicef – includes funding for 2 measles vaccinations for children per bag|
|Plastic for loose vegetables||Paper bags||Amazon – various sizes about 40p each|
|Plastic toothbrush||Bamboo toothbrush||Ethical superstore UK – eg. medium bamboo|
|Single-use water bottle||Washable/reusable multi-use bottle||Three value 1L Tritan bottles from Amazon|
|Toilet rolls/packaging||Recycled paper and compatible plastic packaging (no, not reusable paper!)||This was difficult to source but Suma produce this which can be acquired through Amazon|
|Storage for berries, meats and cheeses||Glass, metal and other jars and boxes||Often jars/metal storage comes with a plastic lid which you would take to loose produce sections, deli counters or traditional butchers. These have a BPA free lid and use a small amount of plastic but are reusable and washable.|
Greenpeace’s solutions for plastic packaging:
- Prioritise reusable packaging and develop systems based on reuse
- Make sure packaging is 100 percent recycled, as well as recyclable or compostable
- Share information about the plastic they use, reuse and recycle, so progress can be measured
- Support bottle deposit return schemes, where a small deposit is added to the cost of packaged drinks, which can be reclaimed when the container is returned.
This problem isn’t simply going to disappear. We cannot wait 25 years for legislation to force retailers and manufacturers as change is only one decision away.
¹The Independent – Theresa May vows to eliminate UK’s plastic waste by 2042, 10th January 2018
²National Geographic – 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled, 19th July, 2017
BBC News – UK faces build-up of plastic waste, 1st January 2018
BBC News – What are supermarkets doing to fight plastic? 14th January 2018