As I imagine you are aware by now, our earth is in crisis. We use too much plastic. This is a simple fact, and the sheer amount of media coverage this topic is getting should be a clue as to how important this is. The heart-breaking scenes of Blue Planet 2 are still fresh in our minds, but do you really understand the issue? Or know how you are contributing to it?
If you take a look around you as you read this, a huge amount of what you see will be made entirely, or partly, of plastic. Though it is true that some plastic can be recycled much of it can’t, and what can be is turned into plastic of lesser quality that often can’t be recycled again. This means that lots of the things that surround you right now – crisp packets, water bottles, face glitter, will eventually end up in landfill. Or the ocean.
Plastic that ends up in our seas will more than likely end up in the stomachs of the creatures that live there leaving no space for actual food, and the chemicals from plastic leach into the water and poison wildlife. If neither of these factors affect an animal, it is common for animals to become tangled in discarded fishing nets: it is estimated that this has been the fate of several million sea turtles in the last 20 years.
Authorities at home and internationally are slowly starting to create policies regarding the issue: you’ll remember the introduction of a 5p carrier bag charge back in 2015, which is credited with reducing the use of plastic carrier bags by 80%. Alongside this the UK government have also recently banned microbeads (tiny balls of plastic used in items such as exfoliator), though this took them over two years, and are also looking into the use of plastic straws. Many companies, for example Morrisons, are making their own pledges to begin moving towards using only recyclable/compostable plastics.
However, no matter how useful these changes are and will be, they are happening very slowly, so what can we do in the meantime? All this can feel overwhelming: if this is such a vast problem, how can just one person make a difference? There are actually lots of small and easy changes you can make to reduce your daily use of plastics.
Invest in a reusable water bottle (metal is best), and a thermos/coffee cup (there are hundreds of different ones available). Carry a set of cutlery in your bag– these don’t have to be posh travel ones, just take a spare set out of your kitchen drawer. Refuse plastic straws in pubic places, use paper ones at parties, and if you really want them when you’re out can buy a pack of metal/glass/silicone straws which can be found online for pretty reasonable prices. Most things in your house that you use on a frequent basis can be found in a non-plastic version, even your washing up brush. There are so many different options out there that it’s definitely possible – even on a student budget.
Aside from replacing things you already own, you can also make changes to your lifestyle that can have a big impact. Most of the fruit and veg in supermarkets will come in a plastic films/packets that you can’t recycle, so try shopping at markets. Take your own bags, grab what you need plastic-free, and you’ll probably find you save a little money. For items like pasta and rice that always come in plastic bags, find out if you have a local Zero Waste shop: Leicester has recently gained one in the form of NADA.
Even simpler than all these options is getting involved in your local community. Many towns/cities now have groups that volunteer to collect litter whether run by schools, churches or community centres. Our students union have numerous groups focussed on these issues of plastics and pollution, including but not limited to new society Plan-It Change. Find out if there is volunteering group that helps maintain your local landscape. Sign simple petitions asking authorities to make a difference. This is a big issue, and it does come with some scary facts, but we can help even in small ways.