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Plastic, not so fantastic!

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It’s in the news, all over the papers and on the television, on radio and everyone is talking about it, it’s top of the political agenda in many countries, so unless you’ve been living under a rock, then there is no doubt that you will have heard about the harmful effect that plastic is having on our world. But, you may be left wondering why that plastic bottle that you’ve just thrown in the bin is so bad for the environment, or what has the humble plastic bag done so wrong? Well, let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Let’s go back to the basics…

There are two main types of plastic bags. The lightweight shopping bags that you usually find in supermarkets are made from high-density polyethene and the heavy-duty bags that are normally given to you in department stores, are made from low-density polyethene. Polyethylene is also used for making plastic packagings such as plastic bottles and plastic wrap.  It’s made from non-renewable energy sources such as oil and natural gas, which when you think that the average plastic bag is used for a mere 12 minutes before being thrown into the bin, you can see why we should be worried. Not only is a valuable energy source being used for something that has a very short lifespan, but we are throwing plastic away without even thinking where it may end up, or what effect it’s having on the environment.

In October 2015 shoppers in England started being charged 5p for every new single-use carrier bag they needed.  This was an attempt by the government to reduce the waste and litter that is caused by plastic bags and to encourage people to re-use bags.   According to Gov.uk in 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That equates to approximately 140 bags per person and 61,000 tonnes in total. But in the six months after the charge was introduced, that figure fell to 640 million plastic bags given to consumers by the seven largest supermarkets in England. So, it seems that people’s attitudes towards the need for plastic bags are changing, with more people taking bags with them when they go shopping which is great, but it’s not where the story ends.

Sea of plastic

Plastic is durable, easy and cheap to produce which is the reason why it’s such a popular material.  But it’s durability is wreaking havoc on our oceans and the marine life that live in them.  Unlike other materials, most plastic is not biodegradable which means that it can hang around for a very long time. For example, a plastic bag can ‘live’ for around 10-15 years, sometimes even longer.  There is no option to burn our plastics because they release toxic fumes which are equally as damaging to the environment, so a lot of plastic ends up in landfill to then be blown into rivers and oceans or dumped there. The five worst offenders of dumping plastic in the oceans are China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.  

According to Greenpeace, they say that scientists have shown that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans every year which is having a devastating effect on our marine life.  A plastic bag floating on top of the ocean can be mistaken for food by a seagull and if it ends up being swallowed it can choke and kill the bird, or if eaten it will slowly poison it. Small plastic micro-beads that are found in many face scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are being ingested by marine life such as zooplankton, mussels, oysters, seals and whales, along with other species.  These microplastics have now been banned in countries including the UK, US and Canada. 

So, what can you do to help?

Reduce your plastic use

Simple things like taking your bags to the supermarket or taking your travel mug to get your daily takeaway coffee will make a huge impact on the amount of disposable plastic that is being thrown away.

Recycle more

Now that you’ve read this article, we hope that you’ll put your empty coke bottle in the recycle box and not the bin! Unsure about what you can and cannot recycle? Enter your postcode here to find out www.recyclenow.com. 

Dine in more often 

Ok, so we are not saying that you can't have a cheeky Chinese at the weekend, but it's worth thinking about the plastic containers that some of the food comes in.  Some of the containers are not recyclable and will end up in landfill, only to make their way into our oceans. Therefore, by reducing the number of trips to the takeaway, you are helping to reduce the amount of plastic being used (and keeping you healthier). 

Don’t buy bottled water

Around 38.5 million plastic bottles are used every day, but only 19.8 million are recycled, which means that approximately 16 million bottles are ending up in landfill which eventually make their way into the world’s oceans.  Use a sports bottle and fill that up instead.

We are literally killing our planet and if we do not do something soon then it may be too late!

Sources

  • Greenpeace
  • UK
  • The Guardian