5 Reasons Not to Wrap up Plastic Free July
Every year, Plastic Free July sees millions of people and organisations globally take a stand against plastic pollution. With the month now drawing to a close, we decided to pull together some of our favourite tips for reducing personal plastic consumption alongside some research, to remind us why it makes sense to permanently adopt these lifestyle changes.
In the UK, it’s estimated we generate about 3.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste a year. Much of it is not managed in an environmentally friendly way, with a substantial proportion ending up the natural environment. There is also plastic hidden in many products that people may not be aware of. Annually, 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enters the marine environment around the world, causing huge harm to oceans and damaging animals and plants. Plastic harms wildlife in multiple ways including ingestion, toxicological impact and habitat damage.
Plastics hiding in plain sight:
Follow these simple tips to reduce the amount of plastic you use from less obvious sources:
1) the clothes we wear
Washing synthetic textiles can release microfibres from clothing. These plastic pests are tiny, some as small as 1/8th of the thickness of a human hair, making them practically impossible to extract at water treatment plants so they arrive in natural water courses. Our work for the European Commission estimated that between 18,400 and 46,200 tonnes of plastic fibre are released into the seas from clothing in the EU every year.
Wash your clothes at lower temperatures and less frequently. You can also buy a ball that collects microfibers from your washing machine. To help reduce demand for new garments, buy second-hand or get creative with your existing wardrobe to repair and refashion clothes.
2) the journeys we make
Perhaps the most obscure microplastics source, a contributor to air pollution and the biggest contributor to microplastics in the ocean, are vehicle tyres. They wear away over time, leaving rubber on roads, which is then washed or blown into water courses. Our report on Microplastics in the marine environment estimated that we produce 270 thousand tonnes of vehicle tyre dust globally every year. In five years, that’s the weight of all the blue wales in the ocean!
Make sustainable transport choices. Car-pooling, walking, cycling, or using public transport avoid unnecessary carbon emissions and reduce plastic and air pollution.
3) the food we eat
Much of the food packaging designed to extend shelf life and protect food in transit is single-use plastic although there is no need for it to be. Often not recyclable, it ends up in landfill or is incinerated.
Sign up to a local fruit and vegetable box delivery for unwrapped fresh, seasonal produce without the air miles, or try to buy loose fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. Locate your nearest packaging-free shop and buy in bulk – cheaper and better for the environment. Packaging-free shopping is set to get easier. In one of our reports, we predict the sector in Europe will grow to €1.2 billion by 2030, as major supermarkets begin reducing plastic packaging and introducing reusable packaging. You could try the reusable containers trial for online shoppers recently launched by Tesco and Loop.
4) the way we clean
Wet wipes are not recyclable and are often made entirely from woven plastic fibres so definitely don’t flush them down the toilet – they can cause sewage blockages or end up in the sea. They need to be binned or, better still, avoid using them altogether.
There are lots of reusable alternatives including cheeky wipes for baby’s bottoms and toddlers faces and reusable makeup remover pads. You just collect them up and wash them with your laundry; they’re really effective and will save you money.
5) the way we socialise
During the pandemic, restaurants and cafes switched to serving takeaway meals and some have retained this model since lockdown was eased. Unfortunately, many of them still use plastic cutlery and containers, polystyrene trays single-use plastic lined coffee cups. Our work for the European Commission on single-use plastics found that plastic takeaway containers and cutlery are amongst the top ten products found littered on beaches. In evidence we provided for the Environmental Audit Committee’s enquiry into the UK Latte Levy, we estimated it’s likely 500,000 of single-use cups are littered on a daily basis. The levy is still under consideration but will involve a tax on single-use cups, similar to the plastic bag charge, to incentivise products that can be reused.
There’s a simple alternative – bring your own tupperware and cutlery when buying takeaway food. There is also no reason not to use your favourite reusable cup, despite the pandemic. More than 100 scientists have supported a statement that they are safe to use and do not increase the spread of coronavirus and some outlets offer a discount if you bring your own.
Is there a positive plastic role in the future?
The future of plastics isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a hugely adaptable material and polymers can be lightweight, strong, flexible and waterproof and therefore useful for a huge range of products. What we need to do is work out how to manage the way we use and dispose of plastics to stop them from damaging the environment.
At Eunomia, we’re working to develop policy measures to reduce plastic pollution in the United Kingdom and Greece. We have also researched microplastic pollution in Scotland, mapped single-use plastics in Norway, and reviewed deposit return programs for plastic bottles in California. All of this work aims for the same goal as Plastic-Free July – to reduce plastic consumption and make the plastic we do use environmentally responsible.