“Just because you can’t see it; it doesn’t mean it’s not there”.
Have you ever realised how much waste we produce each day? Do you know where your waste ends up? Most of the time we do not think much about our daily consumption of products and the associated waste but if we spend some time thinking about it logically, even though our waste disappears from our sight; it still exists somewhere on the planet.
According to Greyer et al. (2017)1, as of 2015 an estimated 79% of global plastic waste was discarded in landfills or the natural environment, 12% was incinerated and only 9% recycled. Another publication issued by UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)2 in 2015 highlighted that on average 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. These figures are alarming and as a citizen of Planet Earth, is there something we can do?
You might think the developing world is mainly responsible for poor waste practices, but the London average household recycling rate is less than 30%, despite around 80% of what we throw away being recyclable.
As we approach the end of Plastic Free July, I would like to share this shocking video of plastic waste discarded in the Mediterranean Sea: –
Here are a few ideas we can all try to help minimise plastic waste: –
- Identify the types and quantity of plastic you use. Is there more you can recycle? Consider buying products or food in bulk to minimise excessive plastic packing.
- Replace disposable products with reusable ones. For example, using reusable bags when shopping decreases single-use plastic bags but you could also try using reusable drinking straws, cutlery and coffee cups.
- Switch to brands that use planet-friendly packaging and materials. More and more brands are switching to packaging made from recycled and / or biodegradable materials. Try to develop a habit of looking at the packaging / content label and choose wisely to help with reducing plastic waste.
- Shop in a sustainable way. Some stores now provide refill stations of daily essentials for customers to use their own containers to buy and refill produce such as pasta, rice and cereals. There are also corporations providing a reusable packaging system, where consumers pay a deposit for the packaging which they can return to the service provider to clean and reuse.
- Contact your favourite brands by social media or email asking them to reduce their packaging or change to more sustainable practices. You never know, you could be the tenth person to ask the same question that week and that’s how we start to show businesses there’s profit in being green.
Plastic waste reduction requires a shift in both industry and individual practices. We need to make employees and communities aware of the need to adopt the 5 Rs suggested by Bea Johnson (2013)3: –
- Reuse / Repair
- Rot (applicable for compostable plastics only)
We can voice the need to reduce plastic waste to politicians and government who have the power to enact policies to reduce the production and consumption of plastic. For example, imposing bans on plastic products including single-use cups and cutlery and levying a green tax on certain single-use plastics. For any policies put in place, government and organisations should continuously monitor and evaluate the performance and communicate them openly to help curb plastic pollution in the environment.
1 Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782.
2 Jambeck, J.R. et al. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), pp. 768-771.
3 Johnson’s, Bea (2013). Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste