There is no denying that plastic is an enormous problem in our society and in our oceans. Every single day, around 8 million pieces of plastic pollution enter the ocean. (Jenna Jambeck/University of Georgia.) That means up to 12.7 million tons of plastic ends up in the sea each year (Science journal).
That’s bad news for oceans and marine life. The good news? There is plenty we can do about it. A report by the BBC estimated that 30.4% of the waste found on UK beaches comes from the public. Of that, 225.3 of the items found within a 100m stretch are made of plastic and polystyrene. These figures are huge – hard to imagine, even. But if so much of this waste is coming from the public, then we can all play our part in reducing the amount of plastic that enters oceans and ends up on beaches.
Want to know some even better news? Much of what you can do is so incredibly simple. We have put our heads together to come up with some of the top ways to reduce plastic usage, which is one of the most effective ways to ensure plastic isn’t disposed of incorrectly. Here is our advice, helping you to help our oceans:
There are lots of preconceptions about cigarettes and many smokers still think their waste will just decompose. This couldn’t be more wrong. People simply don’t realise that cigarette filters are made up of particles of cellulose acetate, which is a plastic. Plastics do not decompose, they only become smaller and smaller particles. Just one cigarette butt can release thousands of these plastic particles into the ocean when disposed of irresponsibly. Always make sure you put cigarette butts into a designated bin or ashtray, rather than leaving them on the floor, on a beach or throwing them into a drain.
15m plastic bottles a day are not recycled in the UK. (UK Household Plastics Collection Survey) A deposit refund scheme would see the use of reverse vending machines (RVMs), which give money back to people who return plastic bottles. 38 European countries use schemes that work along these lines, with great success: Germany introduced one back in 2003 and now, 99% of plastic bottles are recycled! (Zero Waste Europe).
Write to your MP to let them know you support this kind of scheme and keep it on the agenda in your local area. You can also support us, as we lobby for a deposit return scheme to be introduced in the UK. Donate directly to us via PayPal to help support our campaigns.
As a consumer, you are so empowered because you can vote with your money. If you have an independent plastic-free shop in your area, support it and use it. When it comes to the big supermarkets, Morrisons is leading the way as a plastic-free place to shop, allowing customers to bring their own containers when they buy meat and fish and giving them more points, as well as providing paper bags instead of plastic bags for their fresh fruit and vegetables. Iceland have said they will make all of their own-brand packaging plastic free within 5 years, so we certainly hope they deliver on their promise and we’ll be monitoring the situation closely.
You can also reduce plastic usage without having to change your supermarket. Avoid buying pre-packaged fruit and vegetables, instead buying options that are loose, and don’t use the plastic bags that are available when you’re just buying individual items that you don’t need to weigh.
Find alternatives to single use plastics.
Reducing overall plastic usage is one of the best things you can do to help – you can’t recycle all types of plastic in all areas, so cutting down is a positive step that everyone can take. Invest in a water filter, rather than drinking bottled water. In fact, this is the safer way to drink water as well – it’s strictly regulated by The Drinking Water Inspectorate. Bottled water plants are much less regulated and are simply watched over by local authorities.
You can also buy a reusable coffee cup to take with you to coffee shops, rather than using takeaway cups, which can’t be recycled due to the plastics in their lining.
When you do use plastics, make sure you look out for the recycling symbol on the packaging, and check what exactly can be recycled in your local area so that you are sorting out your waste correctly – you can do this by checking your local authority’s website.
Straws are one of the items that are most frequently found during beach clean-ups, and it’s such an easy change to make – simply say no to plastic straws. Many companies are leading the way by banning plastic straws, including McDonalds and Wetherspoons. There could even be a plastic straw ban on the horizon for the whole of the UK. In the meantime, ask your local pubs and restaurants to use compostable straws instead of plastic, and buy your own reusable metal straw instead (top tip: a toothbrush case is the perfect size to keep one in, so you can pop it in your pocket or handbag).
It might well be more than you think. You may also discover that you have been sorting your recycling incorrectly, or your local authorities don’t take certain types of plastics. Look at the information on your local authority’s website, and if you have any concerns about the recycling services they offer, write to them and let them know.
Support our BinForGreenSeas Project.
Want to make a difference on a larger scale? Help us to launch our BinForGreenSeas, a newly-designed bin that prompts people to dispose of their waste responsibly. These bins will be placed near beaches and around coastal areas, and they really are made to stand out – with bright colours, stats about waste disposal and a prompt to ‘throw marine life a lifeline’, it’s difficult to ignore them! The idea is to instigate behavioural change, encouraging people to put rubbish in bins and making sure they can easily identify bin locations. Find out more here, sponsor our bin, or ask us about installing one in your local area.
No doubt we have a long and difficult battle ahead of us on behalf of our oceans. Please remember – don’t lose heart. This is so important, because it can sometimes feel like the world is against us. How can one individual make any difference at all? It’s not easy, but that makes the fight against ocean plastics even more important. The smallest changes add up to make the biggest difference: change your habits, one at a time, then tell others and help them change their habits too. We can change the fate of our oceans, one drop at a time.