Plastic Fantastic? Part 1

Or not… I think finally our love affair with plastic may be coming to an end… As always in life, the end of a toxic relationship always heralds better days 🙂 My #1 pledge this year: to explore ways in which to reduce my personal plastic consumption.

Bye Bye Plastic

I call it ‘Our Plastic Problem’ because it is not big corporations that hold all the blame, but you and me too. Though they have been in the news a hell of a lot recently….. The bottom line is that if we buy plastic tat/anything covered/packaged in plastic tat or if we fail to speak up and make a stand then we too are central to the problem and just as accountable as the big fish if not more! Power in numbers.

A Mountain of Mess… literally!

To start with.. a scary visual, do a search for ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ located somewhere between the pristine shores of Hawaii and California. A floating iceberg of plastic mess. Or how about ‘Trash Island’ a mass of waste burning away on the idyllic tropical paradise we know as ‘The Maldives’. This is what we humans have been doing for a very long time, except that now the problem is getting a little harder to ignore. Can’t just sweep this mess under the carpet anymore and no, it isn’t making a mountain out of a mole-hill…. Literally mountains of plastic are growing and growing and growing….. so where does it stop we have to ask ourselves?

Mess in the Maldives: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2009/jan/03/maldives-waste-turns-paradise-into-dump

Oceanic Garbage Dumps: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

Upping my Game

Now I’m not just committing to this now because it has been in the media so much lately… but by being in the natural health world you invariably pick up a lot in regards to environmental issues, so for years now I’ve had an uneasy awareness of the vast scale of our waste problem… However, despite this, to say I’ve found it a challenge to reduce my use of plastic is an understatement… so yes, I do think I have to up my game in 2018! Admittedly this is no easy task and you soon realise that plastic has become so entrenched into every aspect of our modern world – surrounding/contained in nearly everything in the name of convenience! Habits are also hard to stick to. So unless you live in a utopia growing your own food and having the time to preserve your produce and cook everything for yourself – it isn’t so easy to avoid in this urban world we call ‘modernity’.

I also work in an industry which is notorious for producing HUGE amounts of plastic waste. This doesn’t sit comfortably with me, and seeing this has at times also left me a bit sceptical as to whether me choosing to drink my water out of a re-useable bottle or using my cloth shopping bag will even make the slightest dent in this astronomical problem. Why even bother then?

Like Eating an Elephant… or a Whale… One Bite at a Time…

OK I’m not telling you to literally eat our lovely elephants and whales but I’m here today telling you today that your efforts DO make a dent in this mammoth problem – in the long run! So long as enough of us commit to making a few little changes and stick to our commitments…. As you’ll see in this series of article, our disentanglement with plastic is no quick fix and our attempts to fix the problem are often littered with a cascade of other issues. For now, back onto the prime suspect for plastic pollution:

Or would that be 1 Bottle at a time…


So.. getting back onto the plastic problem…. Lets start with Toxic Relationship number 1: Our love affair with the single-use plastic bottle. Alongside margarine one of the WORST post-war industrial inventions ever.

Consider this…

Each MINUTE that passes, around the world millions of bottles of water alone are consumed and then chucked away. Then consider how many soft drinks are consumed and this gets even more depressing. In the UK alone we get through billions of plastic bottles EACH YEAR – enough to fill many hundreds of Olympic sized swimming pools. Where does this go? (especially now that China no longer take our plastic waste) and how/where/what will we do with it in the future? Alongside being unsightly and destroying our lovely natural spaces, plastic has a few other red flags going for it…

Destroyer of Wildlife

Goes without saying that plastic litter/waste causes immense suffering for our wildlife – especially our marine wildlife including sea birds, turtles, dolphins and wales. Not only is plastic physically dangerous due to consumption/entaglements, it is also slowly poisoning our wildlife. Toxic chemicals are constantly leaching from plastic and accumulating in the ecosystem. Earlier in 2017, the most toxic ocean mammal ever was found washed up on the shores of Scotland. This particular Orca had the highest levels recorded for toxic PCB levels in her blubber (where the plastic toxins love to accumulate) – over 100 times higher than the minimum toxic amount which is known to be harmful. Marine biologists say that the entire pod in this region is suffering from ill health and an inability to reproduce – thought to be directly due to the hormone disrupting PCB’s from our plastic waste. Tragic.

The Tip of the Iceberg when it comes to Human Health

This begs the question… what about human health? If chemicals from plastic such as BPA’s and PCB’s is causing ill health in marine mammals, is it doing the same to us right now? Well in short, YES. These chemicals are accumulating in the food chain and we already know that they have strong links to infertility, hormone dependent cancers and other health problems. The extent of which BPA’s/PCB’s affect our health is not yet fully understood but it’s agreed that it’s a ticking time bomb and eventually the full extent of the damage will surface. These pesky chemicals in plastic mimic our own hormones – interfering with bodily functions on every level. The water we drink, the seafood we eat, the plastic-packaged foods/bevs we eat… all are sources of these nasties.

Collective Effort – Solutions

But blah blah blah I could keep going on and on. We can keep seeing pictures of the heap of plastic mess on this planet. News articles to scare us senseless. But, what really matters is solutions. What can we do? Well, luckily us humans as creative as we are destructive and so… there are solutions aplenty washing up. I’ll share some of these with you in this blog and the next – from ingenious innovations to community projects to DIY home-hacks. So let this year and the years to come be an experiment in progress…. Right now, here’s what some of the big fish are doing or should be doing…

Bottle Deposits

Bottle deposit programs can increase recycling by up to 30% according to ‘SUM of US’ (fighting for people over profits) But we desperately need more! Soft drink/Bottled water companies need to invest their money in bottle deposit schemes. Just recently, more than half a million people signed the Greenpeace petition before it was handed to Cocoa Cola last week. https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/coca-cola-petition

More Efficient Recycling

But it’s not enough simply collecting bottles and putting them into refill now is it? We need a solid recycling culture. Coca-Cola sells billions of bottles every day, most of which ends up as litter or piling up in landfills, but it has done little to date in terms of supporting recycling schemes around the world (infact they have been outwardly opposed to them). Luckily as you’ll see below – a bit (or a lot) of public pressure can change the way big business runs the world.

Monetary Incentives?

Money-back schemes… Us humans are creatures of reward… maybe it will take some sort of financial incentive to accelerate change? Or simply charging more for plastic consumption, in the same way that supermarkets charge for plastic bags now?

Smarter Packaging

We need more packaging made from post-consumer plastic. We evidently need to use the plastic waste we have accumulated rather than making new. If Lush can do it…

Recycling… Post-consumer plastic packaging

OK recycling helps. However what about companies actually using these recycled plastics for their packaging? Yes it costs more and yes the plastic is not as shiny as regular plastic.. but I think you’d agree it’s a small price to pay. You will have probably seen in the news lately.. Coca Cola and the other big soft drink companies (major polluters) only use around 5%-7% recycled plastics in their bottles?! The answer.. Keep putting the pressure on the drinks giants to do more. This tactic does work…. As of a few days ago, Coca-Cola says its bottles will be composed of 50% recycled plastic by 2030. Another giant, ‘Evian’ has gone further by pledging 100% by 2025.

Transforming and Re-using Plastics

Some companies are exploring ways to make actual products out of recycled plastics, not just the packaging. We are seeing more and more items made from recycled plastic material, from fashion accessories (sunglasses, flip-flops) to building materials. Surely we have to find a way to close the loop when it comes to using the plastic waste we’ve created… As an example, a few months back I paid a visit to the Earthship eco-build in Brighton. Those of you who haven’t heard of Earthships you have to google them! An ingenious way of building self-sustainable, eco-friendly homes whilst tackling the problem of human waste – er the plastic kind not the organic kind 😉 The walls of Earthships are made up of tyres encased in you guessed it… earth & limestone finish. By encasing the tires and protecting them from light, the toxins remain locked up in the tyres rather than leaching out into the environment and you also make good structural use of a waste product that would ordinarily sit in landfill.

Social Schemes

Building on from the above points… what about tackling both plastic waste and poverty at the same time? Take ‘Plastic Bank’ as a glowing example: https://plasticbank.org. Founded in 2013 by David Katz and Shaun Frankson, this simple but revolutionary project does just that. I first found out about it on a work trip to Lima, when I stopped to take a photo of a street art mural on the wall (see pic above). I got chatting to a local chap who told me about the scheme. You see the ‘Plastic Bank’ scheme was a pilot trial in a deprived area of Peru, where local residents were given financial incentive to collect plastic bottles. Residents were able to earn a decent living, streets and public areas were cleaned up and plastic was efficiently collected and processed for another use. A similar project is currently running in Haiti, one of the most deprived areas on earth. You see ‘Plastic Bank’ creates what they call ‘social plastic’ – little pellets made from all the plastic collected. This is sold on to companies who are encouraged to support the scheme for social/environmental reasons. Sure, it costs a bit more but what a worthwhile cause which will help to improve the lives of thousands of people, all whilst providing a viable solution to plastic pollution. The natural beauty brand ‘Lush’ have committed to using this very plastic in some of their products 🙂

Exploring Alternatives

We need better biodegradable options for packaging etc… because as it stands now many so called ‘biodegradable’ alternatives are still leaching toxins into the environment and are not all that eco-friendly. There are many other good options aside from biodegradable plastics, some of which I’ll discus in the next post.

Come back soon for part 2… where I’ll share some more humble aspirations, everyday things we can do at home.

There is a Message of Hope in this next Bottle

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