Sorry plastic it’s not me, it’s you
Hot on Plastic?
Plastic has received a lot of bad press over the last few years, and about time too! This versatile synthetic material, while it is undeniably convenient short term, has and will continue to have catastrophic repercussions on both our environment and our health.
What makes plastic so harmful to us, the environment and plants and animals is that it is very difficult to degrade (almost impossible some scientists argue) when buried away from the light like the process implemented in landfills. According to a report from the Guardian, since the 1950s an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced. The majority of all this plastic has still not degraded, and is a long way off! To make matters worse, when plastic does actually begin to break down into smaller pieces via the sun, it seeps toxic chemicals into its surrounding environment, i.e. oceans, rivers and land. This has devastating effects on the ecosystem - which includes us!
During the festive period, an extra 30% of rubbish is first produced (which has a significant carbon footprint itself) and then discarded. This surplus will equate to around 3 million tonnes, the equivalent weight of 230,800 Big Bens. Christmas is a wonderful time of year: festive fun, warm fires and gift-giving, to name a few. Don’t get us wrong, we love Christmas, and we’re not writing this or wanting to be Christmas-Scrooges but instead as an encouragement that it doesn’t have to be like this. We can have a sustainable Christmas and along the way, spend quality time with the family and help instil environmentally friendly values with our children in a fun way! For you busy bees out there, jump straight to our download sheet for plastic free Christmas tips.
How plastic affects the Four States
First, let’s go into a little more detail about how both the production and discard of plastic affects the Four States.
As previously mentioned, when plastic is heated up, the composition of chemicals begins to break down into even more harmful substances. This is particularly prevalent in our oceans where plastic has regular and intense exposure to sunlight. It is estimated that around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste are washed into the ocean every year. As if gigantic floating garbage patches like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch weren’t bad enough, this breaks down into microplastics (estimated at 51 trillion in the ocean already) which in turn are ingested by seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and fish the latter which end up in our supermarkets and on our plates.
Check out this great infographic by One World Ocean for more information:
Plastic is made through fossil fuel extraction of oils. This very process of drilling down into the earth releases toxic emissions into the air. In fact, the fossil fuel process is one of the biggest polluters of the planet. Ultimately this means before any plastic has hit our shelves, it already has an unjustifiably large carbon footprint.
What about after plastic has lived out its short life as our razor or sandwich packet?
Well, most of us recycle. In fact, it has become so ingrained in our everyday habits that it is difficult to imagine not recycling! However, although it is a step in the right direction, it is not as full proof as we would dream, waving goodbye to it as it heads off the recycling centre... Plastic’s painstakingly slow rates of degradation mean that landfills are rapidly filling up. In bids to combat this, some plastic (researchers believe around 40%) is burnt. Burning plastic and other wastes release dangerous substances into the air, which in turn have been linked to the development of asthma, endocrine disruption (e.g. immune and sexual dysfunction) and cancer. This toxic release moves around in wind currents, which means that plastic burned in France could easily affect the air quality in Spain. Although this is not a blame game, we share the atmosphere: it is all of our responsibility.
We’ve already covered the overflowing landfills, slow rate of degradation and the harmful chemicals that are produced in this process. How does this further affect the land?
Well, just like in the ocean, these toxic chemicals and microorganisms contaminate the surrounding environment. This is the soil and the water. Data estimates that ⅓ of ALL plastic waste ends up in our soil or freshwater which enter into our food chain in micro and nanoparticles. Although so far little research has been done into the effects of nano plastic on humans, research has shown that when these particles can pass the blood-brain barrier in fish, it does have behaviour changing effects.
Beyond accidentally and unavoidably ingesting plastic and breathing polluted air, plastic affects humanity individually and globally, presently and for future generations to come.
Human exploitation is rife in the plastic production line. People who are working in plastic factories (most commonly impoverished) are subjected to the toxic materials that constitute plastic daily. One study reports that women working in plastic factories are 400% more likely to suffer from breast cancer. In plastic producing factories in China, workers operate in terrible conditions. Not only are they working with toxic chemicals in the heat of a factory which can get as high as 31C but they tend to average a 68.3 hour week in these conditions — resulting in a monthly paycheque of around £337. This is something we would not stand for in the UK. So why are we letting it happen overseas for our plastic pleasures and conveniences?
Above all, I think it is important to ask what future do we want our children to live in? Of course, our everyday lives are busy and full of stresses. It is easy at times to not take environmental actions simply because we ‘don’t have time’. Heck, it’s an ongoing mental battle for us all! But at the end of the day, they are the ones that have to live through all of our consequences much longer than us. Do we want our children to live in a world where their Christmas toys were made at the detriment of somebody else’s life? Or a world where they can’t swim in the ocean because it is too toxic?
So if plastic is so bad, why do we still have it?
In short, one of the main reasons is that petrol usage in the plastic making process equates to 5% of national petroleum consumption. Oil companies are the most powerful in the world; it’s reported they spend 153mil a year to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.
So how do I make the change?
Begin by looking for plastic! Start training your eye to spot it. You will begin to notice how widespread it is in produce/products, supermarkets, cafes, parks etc.
Then realise YOUR power to make a difference. Understand that we have a choice. Every time we buy something with plastic, whether it is covered in plastic or made of plastic, we cast a vote of approval. Every time we decide to make a different choice, even if that means walking 10 minutes more to go to your local greengrocer, we cast a vote for change. We cast a vote for a better and cleaner future. Do not underestimate the power of your purchases! These oil cats’ language is money. They will go where the money flows. And if enough money starts flowing towards plastic-free or plastic alternative produce and products, they will follow the trend.
Above all, remember that it is about progress, not perfection. We don’t all have the same resources, whether that is time or money. Do your best in every way that is possible for you and don’t feel guilty about the things you can’t do - that doesn’t help anything!
Please see our download sheet for further tips on how to reduce your plastic footprint this holiday season.