Plastic Knowledge

What’s all the fuss about plastic pollution? And what you can do about it…

June 25, 2020
Plastic Pollution on the Beach - Sustainable Vibes

Lets talk about the plastic pollution problem… Plastic pollution is a very common topic at the moment, we are all starting to become more aware of the dangers of plastic to our health and to our environment. 

In any one minute, 2 million plastics bags and 1 million plastic bottles are used around the world, yet just 7% of bottles sent for recycling are actually recycled into new bottles, with the rest ending up in landfill sites or the ocean. 

But it’s not just plastic bags and drinking bottles.

Plastic has become omnipresent in our lives. It is now everywhere. In clothing, beauty products, kitchenware, packaging. 

It is the wrapping that so much of our food arrives in. It’s in the bottles of shampoo and cleanser that we use in the shower. It is in every kids’ party bag, every fun fair amusement stall, every takeaway chip shop and posh coffee stand. Every day the average person touches dozens and dozens of items that are made of, or contain throw away plastic. 


What is plastic pollution?

It’s plastic where it shouldn’t be. It’s in the sea and on the beach, in our waterways and in our natural environment – and it’s causing harm. 

But what is the problem with that?

As we know, plastic is strong, flexible and durable and it has many incredible uses. Arthritic patients have it for their replaced hips, construction workers use it to protect their heads; We use it to make mobile phones, computers, cars. 

But the problem is the single, or low use plastic and the quantities in which it is used. Because it is so durable, it never really breaks down. 

For example, a plastic bag is used for on average 15 minutes, yet it could take 100-300 years to fragment.

Plastic Bag Floating in the Ocean

A plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the marine environment, slowly fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces which eventually end up microscopic but never truly go away. This means that every piece of plastic that has ever been produced is still with us, in some form – with approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic currently lie on our planet. 

According to the United Nations 90%of all birds and fish are believed to have plastic particles in their stomach! This is because plastic breaks up into tiny pieces in the sea, which are then consumed by fish and other sea animals. 

And it’s not just the animals who are ingesting it, we are eating it too!

  • 72% of tap water in European nations, including the UK, Germany and France, now contains contaminating plastic according to investigative journalist Chris Tyree
  • 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption now contain plastic. In seawater, plastic absorbs chemicals like PCBs and DDTs. These substances have been linked to endocrine disruption and even some cancers. And they become more powerful as they work their way up the food chain, so the problem is becoming increasingly potent.
  • The average person eats around 70,000 pieces of microplastic each year. That works out to about 100 bits of microplastic over the course of just one meal.
Beach filled with plastic pollution

Yet there are so many areas where plastic could be replaced with something more environmentally sustainable or better for our health.

Luckily, there are a new wave of consumers who are catching on to the fact that we need to change our ways. And if you are reading this, then you are probably one of them – woohoo!

What can I do right now?

Well, one great initiative that you can get involved in to make a real and meaningful difference, is Plastic Free July – a project that originated in Australia in 2011 and has now spread across 177 countries and 250 million participants!

“Plastic Free July isn’t just about buying a reusable cup or bag, it’s giving people the tools to change their habits, to pause and think about how we as individuals can make an impact for the better and reduce our reliance on plastic” Erin Rhoads, Author ‘Waste Not’

With people making pledges to remove plastic from several areas of their life through the month of July, Plastic Free July encourages a conversation. Take this thought process with you into the office, to the park, to the next kid’s party that you plan, take it with you when you go shopping, when you go on holiday. When you start to examine the areas in your life where you rely upon the convenience of single use plastic you start to realise the impact that you, as on individual, can really have.

But what do I need to do? Where do I begin?

A great place to start is a bin audit. This might sound yuk, but it’s a great place to be really honest about what you consume and how. Look at what is in your bin today. How much have you thrown away? How many of those things gave you value or joy? Or how many of them just facilitated a quick and easy process? Like some packaging or wrapping that was only used for a few seconds. How much is waste – things that were never used at all? Could the items be recycled? Could they be reused or repurposed? What will the impact of this waste be once it is out of your sight?

Once you realise what you are throwing away, you can start to make a plan to reduce your consumption of these things. And before you buy something new, think about these 5 considerations

  • Do I need this? Or at least, do I need this much?
  • Is there a better alternative?
  • How is it packaged? Is it laden with plastic packaging? Can I buy it loose or in paper packaging?
  • Am I going to need to replace this quickly and thus is there a reusable option? Ceramic, stainless steel and glass are all better than single use items.
  • Who am I buying this from? Are they likely to have sustainable practices? (Has it just been taken out of it’s plastic packaging to make it look more eco friendly – like the Sainsburys bedding we highlighted recently)

Shop Smarter

Smarter purchasing decisions can really have an impact on your plastic footprint and reduce the amount of ‘forever plastic’ you put in the bin. Choose to shop somewhere that you know supports plastic free products and sustainable business practices. Find a store where all brands are committed to making – and sending – their products without plastic. Such as Plastic Freedom or It Wont Cost the Earth

Have you already ditched the single use? We would love to hear all about it and take inspiration for our next step in plastic elimination!

Want to read more about plastic pollution and what is being done about it? Read our Guide to What Happens to the Plastic in our Oceans

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Thanks for reading!


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