Plastic Pollution – Where do we start?
Who is really to blame for the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic that ends up in our oceans each year? Is it the consumer, the manufacturers or the oil companies? We believe everybody has a place and a part to play in the overall problem.
Plastic where does it come from? OIL! The vast majority of plastics (apart from the latest technology that comes from plant-based oil) are made as a by-product of refining oil. In fact; there are hundreds if not thousands of different types of plastic – PP, PE, PET, HDPE, PVC and the list goes on and on. So; this is where our first problem lies, the oil isn’t refined specifically for the plastic industry.
The plastic industry has grown and evolved around already functioning systems where a product would have to be disposed of i.e. the ‘waste’ from crude oil refinement! Do we go as far as saying the way to get rid of plastic is to ban fossil fuels? Should we turn to wholly renewables or nuclear? It’s not quite as simple as that. Firstly, our infrastructure isn’t in place to solely run from non-fossil fuel-based sources, the technology just isn’t advanced enough to allow a fast switch to these methods, it WILL take time. Gradually we will phase out fossil fuel use and bio-plastics will become the norm.
However, In an article by ‘The Guardian’ it would seem that the US market has funded the plastic industry to a tune of $180bn! Which means they can make even more plastic over the next decade for a fraction of the price. This WILL have an environmental impact!
Big businesses produce large profits for their investors! Why would they want to pay to develop new materials when the old ones are cheap and can earn a fortune? The reason is exactly that, business is business and making money is the founding stone behind any business model. Plastic has become a very cheap, reliable and safe product to use in a multitude of uses, but has this come from a consumer need or want? Consumers have become ‘lazy’ and accepting of the new methods, taxes and the cost of living have increased, so for many these products are a way of life.
Businesses have now started to adopt change and are looking at better business models with a better environmental policy, again the ‘The Guardian’ have written another piece on the circular plastics economy – based on Coca~Cola. The circular economy is a project founded by round the world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur.
Can consumers make a difference to plastic pollution problem? Yes! Of course, however it will be a lot trickier than we think. Various people have tried reducing, living without, zero waste trial periods – one such article here. We can all make a conscious choice to carry a reusable water bottle, ask for a coffee in a reusable cup. We can all choose to dump our plastic waste at the supermarket checkout or refuse to have a straw in our drink. But how much of a difference does this make? If we all do it then it will revolutionise the plastic problem, however we are not all doing it. Like we said before the poorest of people may not be able to have as much of a choice, and its certainly these areas that seem to create much of the waste.
But coincidentally it is these nations that have long been importing and recycling plastic from the rest of the world. To have a positive effect the governments need to take charge and force a change. Deposit return schemes, banning single use plastics, higher taxes on non-recyclables are just some of the ways that we can adopt change. Luckily some supermarkets are starting to listen to their consumers by allowing reusable packing boxes for meat or taking the plastic out of deli bags – Morrison’s in the UK are doing just that!
The clothing industry is the second biggest polluter of the planet, yep you guessed it after OIL. The production methods of making clothing can be horrendous to the planet. Cotton is grown with all kinds of pesticides and nasties, sent to workhouses to be processed, mixed with polyester strands and made into clothing in huge factories paying peanuts to their workers in terrible conditions.
The issue of microfibres has become more prolific over past few months. These are tiny fibres that are released from the fabric every time the clothing is washed. These microfibres get into the food chain eventually and we don’t know how much damage they are doing.
There are some better fabrics than others, for example it is a balancing act. Not all organic fabrics are as eco friendly as we may think. These fabrics still have to be woven, dyed, spun etc. There are still un-eco practices in some of the processes. There is also recycled fabric, organic cotton and recycled Pet bottles are the most common. The water consumption to make these are much less intensive than growing new organic cotton. It is a choice the consumer has to make.
Beach cleans, urban cleans have gained momentum very quickly as more and more people are becoming aware of their surroundings. Do they help? Of course, they do, any small change will have an impact on the overall effect.
Unfortunately, cleaning up after everybody else only equates to something like 0.3% of the rubbish needed to be collected. But by refusing, reducing and reusing everybody can make a small difference. As well as potential well-being benefits, beach cleans may also increase individuals’ knowledge or awareness about marine litter
So, what is the answer to our plastic pollution problem? We believe that everybody has a continuing responsibility. The big companies need to change and have to fast. A lot of companies are releasing statements that they are banning straws or single use bottles etc by 2020. This is too long a timescale, it needs to happen very soon.
We can all put pressure on the big companies by refusing to use their products and telling them why!
What can we do to stop the influx of waste? We need to all think more considerately, we have to put pressure on the conglomerates, stop using so much fossil fuels. We need to carry on doing our beach cleans, we need our governments to invest heavily in resources such as deposit return schemes, recycling methods and plants, banning companies using certain materials.
Don’t forget we put these people in power, lets tell them what we want.