The increasing concerns about plastic pollution, largely highlighted by the BBC series The Blue Planet, are resulting in some positive actions by environmental campaigners, manufacturers and people at home who want to reduce plastic waste and its harmful effects.
At Binopolis we believe in home and office recycling as one way to contribute positively to increasing the percentage of plastic which is recycled and reused. Although different local authorities have different approaches to the plastics they recycle, as a general rule it is worth separating out plastic bottles and packaging from your waste, to give it a chance to go to recycling instead of landfill.
The BBC has created an excellently clear and factual feature which illustrates the scale of the problem. Here are some of the key facts from it:
Why is plastic a problem?
Plastic as we know it has only really existed for the last 60-70 years, but in that time it has transformed everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing.
One of the great advantages of many types of plastic is that they're designed to last - for a very long time.
And nearly all the plastic ever created still exists in some form today. As this chart shows, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced and of this, some 6.3bn tonnes is now waste - and 79% of that is in landfill or the natural environment.
Four billion plastic bottles…
Drinks bottles are one the most common types of plastic waste. Around 480bn plastic bottles were sold globally in 2016 - that's a million bottles per minute.
I went to stay with my brother who is a teacher in Thailand and lives with his Thai wife and her family. Not so long ago, rainwater was still collected in these large ceramic jars for drinking. Now, bottled water is considered the safest to drink and families and tourists alike consume perhaps 10 bottles a day each. In his village, the local council issues collection bags and encourages recycling by giving a small amount of money in exchange for clear plastic bottles.
The Namthip water bottle has been designed to twist and to use thinner plastic than ever before, making it easier to crush and store more bottles before taking them for recycling. Here is one day’s worth of bottles at my brother’s home:
Namthip is a Coca-Cola brand and even though they produce by far the most plastic bottles, at least they are trying to make recycling them easier. But surely a giant corporation such as this must start to contribute to financially to recycling schemes. A plastic bottle is estimated to take a staggering 450 years to decompose, but of course we don’t want them to decompose in landfill or the sea as the particles are now being proved to enter the bloodstream of both humans and animals.
It is true that the majority of plastic waste eminates from China, South East Asia and the US, and so we in the UK may feel that we are not part of the problem. However a recent survey by Plymouth University found that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.
How bad are things in the UK?
The Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100m stretch of beach surveyed during their recent Great British Beach Clean Up. That was a 10% increase on last year and we’ve noticed this increase locally where we are based on the South coast.
Much of this waste is difficult to trace to its origin, but 30% was identified as ‘public waste’ which includes mostly plastic bottles, packaging and glass. A lot of this will have been dropped at the coast, but much of it will also have been transported along rivers and also, importantly, washed away from landfill sites. So while the majority of us won’t drop litter at the beach, we may trust that by putting plastics in our bins that they will be disposed of. Plastic can produce fumes when burnt, so it is more commonly sent to landfill where it then starts to pollute the environment.
Therefore separating out your plastics, at least clear bottles and packs, and putting them into your recycling is a big contribution you can make at home to reducing plastic waste. New products, such as a pair of Adidas x Parley trainers which use 11 upcycled plastic bottles, can be made easily using recycled plastic, so to reduce production of virgin plastic is a worthwhile aim.
Thank you to the BBC for these excellent infographics which sum up the problem so clearly. If you’d like to see this and related articles, go to: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42264788 .