Much of the plastic that ends up polluting the oceans gets there via streams and rivers. And the plastic that ends up in the streams and rivers is either litter that has been thoughtlessly discarded or plastic that has fallen or been blown out of recycling bins. We can help in three ways – firstly not thoughtlessly discarding plastic (which I am sure we wouldn’t). Secondly by picking up litter and disposing of it safely. Thirdly by ensuring that the plastic in our recycling bins is flattened as much as possible and packed (eg stacking similar sized pots or trays together) so that there are no loose pieces that can easily be dislodged. Aim for a neat and condensely packed bin.
Pollution of our water system can begin at home. Only three things should go in the toilet – pee, poo and toilet paper. (Other paper, even things like paper serviettes shouldn’t be thrown down the loo – they are not designed to break down quickly and can cause blocked drains). Wet wipes, cotton buds, sanitary products, sticking plasters, dental floss etc should not be discarded via the toilet. NB You can biodegradable dental floss which can go into the compost bin.
In the kitchen what goes down the drain should be limited to waste water and appropriate amounts of soap and cleaning fluids. Fat and oil (wipe excess up with a paper towel or piece of news paper) and food waste, including coffee grounds, should go into the food waste bin. Food waste and fat can block drains, and chemicals such as white spirit can cause pollution.
‘Air pollution can impact every organ in everybody – not just those who are vulnerable. Even though we can’t see it, air pollution impacts our health from our first breath to our last’ – Larissa Lockwood, Director of Clean Air at Global Action Plan. The simplest thing we can all do is to cut out short car journeys and walk instead – better for both our health and our environment. The focus of this year’s campaign is on contacting our local authorities to tell them what actions they can take to make walking easier in our own area. https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/news/clean-air-day-2022-theme-confirmed
If only 44% of plastic packaging waste is recycled, what happens to the other 56%?
Some will litter the streets and pavements, before being blown into hedgerows and trees, into waterways and out to sea. There it will break down into smaller and smaller bits until it is small enough to count as micro plastic (less than 5mm in length). Micro plastics have been found in the ice at both north and south Poles. They have infiltrated the food chain. They have even crossed the placenta from the mother to the foetus.
Some of this litter will be eaten by animals and birds almost certainly causing premature death. Some will go via domestic dustbins, public waste bins and commercial waste bins, into either landfill where again it will break down over time into micro plastic particles, or it will be burnt in an incinerator further adding to air pollution.
Bees or sugar? Warmer winters, a result of climate change, encourages aphids to thrive. Aphids can spread yellow virus that can damage sugar beet crops. Where sugar beet is not grown organically (which would be the better option for our own health and that of the soil) farmers can choose to spray their crops with pesticides. This year British Sugar has again been granted permission to spray sugar beet with Cruiser SB, a neonicotinoid that is known to be harmful to bees and which is banned in Europe. Is the loss of some of the sugar beet crop, sufficient reason to knowingly harm bees and other insects, as well as polluting rivers and damaging the soil?
Recently Londoners we’re given health warnings about air pollution: the elderly and those with breathing difficulties were advised to listen strenuous exercise and to stay inside. A spell of high pressure weather mean that the air over London had remained static for several days: no winds had been moving the air on and bringing in fresh. As the air wasn’t moving nor were the noxious chemicals and small particulates moving. Instead concentration levels of these pollutants were rising.
Where do these pollutants come from in the first place? Exhausts from vehicles, dust from brake blocks and tyres, smoke from wood burning fires, exhausts from gas and oil boilers, dust from construction sites, exhausts from waste incinerators and from industrial plants. Of all the sources of pollution generated in London, over 50% comes from vehicles! It would seem that we Londoners are the cause of much of the problem. Can we drive less? Can we become less reliant on polluting vehicles to deliver goods and services? Can we encourage active travel – walking and cycling?
Organic September, Movember, Veganuary, No-Mow May and now, Plastic-free July. Most months have a focus on changing habits to create a better future. Plastic-free July advocates remove all plastic from our daily lives – from the tooth brush in the bathroom, the plastic fruit packet from the supermarket to the once ubiquitous plastic carrier bag. The use of the latter has fallen by 85% since the introduction of the plastic bag tax! Why is it desirable to get rid of plastic?
Plastic is made from oil, one of the main sources of carbon dioxide emissions causing global warming. Producing one tonne of plastic generates up to 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (Material Economics, 2018). As the world’s use of plastic rises, so does its consumption of oil. In 2014 we the world produced 311 million tonnes of plastic. This figure is expected to triple by 2050. (World Economic Forum)
One way of reducing the carbon footprint of plastic is to reuse existing plastics. Some items such as PET bottles, widely used for soft drink, can be recycled repeatedly. This is closed loop recycling meaning that the plastic is recycled to create an identical replacement item. (Open loop recycling recycles plastics but produces a lower grade plastic for which an alternative use must be found). To be effective closed loop recycling depends upon consumers ensuring that they do put their plastics – washed and clean – in the correct recycling bin and upon manufactures using exclusively that recycled plastic. In the UK only 30% of plastics are recycled!
Plastic rubbish pollutes our streets, rivers, woodlands, and oceans. It doesn’t naturally decay and instead remains intact for 100s of years. Plastic that does tear and break down into smaller and smaller pieces still doesn’t decay. Micro plastic particle have been found polluting glaciers and icecaps, and polluting oceans where it is being ingested by sea birds and fish. Micro plastics are also found in the air we breathe and in the water we drink!
Current estimates suggest that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year adding to the 150 million tonnes already there. Projects are now being set up to remove plastic waste from the oceans. In 2020 a 48 day expedition by the Ocean Voyage Institute removed 103 tons from the Great Pacific Garage Patch. Other projects are being developed to process such waste into reusable plastic based materials: Patagonia uses recycled marine polyester in its clothes, Parley Ocean Plastics supplies material for Adidas shoes and Waterhaul in Cornwall uses marine plastic to produce sunglasses.
This is till only ‘a drop in the ocean’! The better solution is not to use the plastic in the first place. Hence Plastic Free July! Why not start now?
Plastic Free July’s own web site is a good starting point as is that of Friends of the Earth and City to Sea. You will also find plenty of web sites looking to sell you plastic-free products – and possible more than you need! Our own personal experience of shifting to a – largely – plastic free lifestyle began by collecting all the plastic that came into the house over a two week period. Then for each item we looked to see if there was a plastic free alternative for the product itself or of buying the same product without the plastic packaging, or whether we actually could manage without the item altogether. Over the next few months we looked for tried different ways of shopping – going to farmers’ markets, refill stores, buying in bulk, taking our own washable box to the butchers or coffee jar to the roasters – until we found the best fit for our lifestyle. Even today we are still making adjustments as new options become available. We have also written to suppliers asking them to use plastic free packaging. Whilst I don’t often have anything positive to say about Amazon, they have developed a simple straightforward cardboard packet for their deliveries!
Our own shift towards plastic-free and zero waste living has reduced both the amount that goes into our recycling bins as well as what goes into our dustbin. The latter is currently needs emptying twice a year.