Following a highly revealing BBC documentary that ran throughout June 2019, people across the UK are being encouraged to take up Plastic Free July. If you are finding the sheer scale of the problem overwhelming – you can find 5 simple changes you can make to reduce your single use plastic waste at the end of this article.
‘War on Plastic’ hosted by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and television presenter Anita Rani highlighted the enormous amounts of plastic we discard in the UK alone each year. In an exercise set in East Bristol – not far from the SustainIt head office – Hugh and Anita asked residents of a nationally-representative terraced street to lay out all of their single-use plastic on the pavement in front of their houses. By assuming every house in the UK is using broadly similar quantities of plastic, their calculations gave a national figure of 19.5 billion pieces of throwaway plastic.This is a shocking amount of plastic waste, but we can be forgiven for our complacency as consumers.
The problem appears to be solved – we have recycling schemes run by most local authorities in the UK. The labelling on most plastic bottles and packaging would suggest that they can easily be recycled. However – as the BBC programme revealed – the story doesn’t end at the recycling depot. Many of the plastics we put out in good faith as recycling – are deemed as substandard. In this case, our waste then gets sent halfway round the world to illegal landfill sites.
China, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the worst ocean plastic polluters in the world, according to a 2015 Ocean Conservancy report. But it’s not just their own waste they are swamped with. In Malaysia, on a visit to one of these sites that Hugh describes as a “dystopian nightmare”, he finds mountains of recycling that’s come straight from the UK. He identifies British branded products – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Flora. There are also council recycling bags from Wales, Essex and Milton Keynes. There is so much of it here, that our recycling is spilling into the waterways. Hugh finds that it is also being illegally burnt, which is causing serious respiratory problems for local people.
This shocking insight into the global impact of plastic consumption has motivated us to change our habits. By following a plastic free July, you could reduce your household waste on average by 76kg per household per year (7.6%).
Hugh and Anita concluded the BBC series by encouraging viewers to take the power back into their own hands. They have spoken to leading organisations and have proposed 5 simple changes that we can all make at home. You can follow these throughout Plastic Free July and see what a difference you can make. Of course, this is only a short guide, and there are many other things that we can do to reduce the amount of plastic that we use on a daily basis. What other changes will you make?
1) Buy a reusable bottle, and use it!
The average person uses 150 single-use water bottles a year. This is bad for the planet and our wallets. With plastic free re-usables starting at around £20 – if used consistently – they are certainly an investment worth making. Bristol based company ReFill helps you keep your bottle full, for free. Their aim is to have a Refill Station on every high street and through social change, they’re making it the norm to carry a reusable bottle, so you’ll never have to buy a plastic bottle again.
2) A bag for life
Since the plastic bag tax was introduced in the UK in 2015, the demand for single-use bags has dropped by 86 per cent. There are many alternatives offered on the high street. Some fold away to fit in your pocket, so that you don’t forget to bring it with you to the shop.
3) A reusable coffee cup
Shockingly, only 1 percent of single-use takeaway cups are recycled. Many people assume that cardboard takeaway cups are recyclable, however most are lined with plastic to stop them disintegrating. Including production costs, a reusable coffee cup only needs to be used 15 times before it is better for the environment than a single-use cup. This is even better than a ceramic cup, which has to be used 50 times.
4) Re-Usable Straws
Dentists recommend straws for protecting your teeth against decay and staining from sugary or acidic drinks, they are sometimes used for medical reasons, or for fun! They needn’t be plastic though, with re-usable alternatives starting at just under £1 per straw.
5) Your own container for a take-away (or a packed lunch)
The UK government is now considering banning the sale of single-use plastic cutlery and plates, with Defra recently announcing a study into the “significant negative impact” such items are having on the environment. Arm yourself with a re-usable set of cutlery and a lunch box. Bristol based foodie company Wriggle are offering one for £5. It’s made completely from bamboo because it’s a renewable resource, biodegradable, 100% food safe, super strong and dishwasher proof.
By Jess Knights, Creative Marketing Assistant