Sustainability Challenge: Plastic Reduction

In honour of World Oceans Day, throughout June we’re running sustainability challenges every week, themed around different positive environmental changes you can make in your everyday life. This week’s theme is plastic reduction. Be sure to send in videos and photos of ways you’re reducing your plastic waste to be entered into our competition to win over £500 worth of awesome eco brands!

It’s no secret that single use plastic is one of the biggest environmental problems our world faces. Although it’s not the only one, it’s one of the most evident in day to day life. You can spot discarded food wrappers and water bottles from the beaches to the streets and, as many of you know, in our oceans too.

Many of us might think of plastic pollution as a purely aesthetic problem. Plastic bottles towering up in landfills, plastic bags floating around in our oceans and cigarette butts littering the streets are unsightly – but is it really that big a problem? And surely, it’s a problem somewhere else (far away from me), right? Unfortunately, we are way past the point of plastic pollution only being an aesthetic problem. Plastic is now an integrated part of our ecosystems, whether we like or not.

Plastic pollution is an increasing problem, especially in the marine environment: Plastic constitutes up to 80% of marine debris and it is estimated that 5,250 billion pieces of plastic with the combined weight of 268,940 tonnes are floating around in our oceans.

Infographic source: The New Plastic Economy – Rethinking the future of plastics (World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, 2016).

One of the biggest, and until recently most underestimated, problems concerning plastic pollution is that rather than just degrade plastic disintegrates turning into microplastics (particles <1-5 mm). Big pieces of plastic might be unattractive, but at least they are fairly easy to clean up. Microplastics on the other hand are a completely different matter: While microplastics might be out of sight, they are most certainly still there. Or rather – they’re everywhere.

Odds are you ingested microplastics today: Did you drink water? – microplastics. Did you put salt on your food? – microplastics. Did you eat fish or seafood? – most certainly microplastics So yes, plastic is definitely a big problem – and it’s your problem. No, the water bottle that you just binned won’t end up on your plate straight away, but once it has been broken down into microplastics it will eventually find its way into your food or water without you being able to pick it out. Seems surreal? Well, eating (micro)plastics is unfortunately becoming an everyday event, not just for us, but also for the majority of the world’s wildlife.

Current research shows that 86% of sea turtle species and 44% of all seabird species either become entangled in or ingest plastic debris, and it is estimated that 99% of all seabirds will be eating plastic by 2050 if nothing is done to change the current trend.

Eatting plastic is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. It leads to malnutrition or starvation: Plastics simply fill up the stomachs of wildlife preventing them from ingesting proper food items, slowly killing the animals by starvation.
  2. It bio-accumulates: Once microplastics have been ingested, they rarely (if ever) leave the body again, which means the concentration of plastic increases the higher an animal is in the food chain.
  3. It acts as a vector for toxins and persistent organic pollutants: Toxins, such as PCB, that are known to have adverse effects, can easily be introduced to the organism through ingestion of microplastics. Combined with the effect of bio-accumulation, microplastics have the potential for introducing high concentrations of toxins and persistent organic pollutants.

Filter-feeding megafauna, including the humpback whales, manta rays and whale sharks that we at Love The Oceans are working to protect, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of microplastics. Manta rays, whale sharks and baleen whales ingest anywhere between 100 pieces and several 1000 pieces of microplastics a day, depending on how severe the plastic pollution is in the feeding ground.

So, that was the big WHY. Now, all that is left is – HOW? Here are a few suggestions on how you can get started:

  1. Reduce your consumption by swapping to plastic-free alternatives:
    • – Bamboo toothbrushes – these are cheap! And you can just order them online
    • – Go back to your milk man. We used to be more sustainable and promote job creation through this! Find your local milk man and put your order in today.
    • – Avoid plastics, save money and cut food waste all at the same time with OddBox.
    • – Swap to a re-usable water bottle. Buy yours here.
    • – Swap to a re-usable coffee cup and look stylish, save the planet and save money on your daily coffee with R-Cup – made of recycled coffee cups.
    • – Switch your beauty products to plastic free, vegan products, like those at Green Planet Beauty.
  2. Reuse: Only 14% of all plastic packaging is recycled – do your bit to make sure it’s recycled and not just burnt.
  3. Sign up for a beach clean near you.
  4. Pay someone else to do it: At Love The Oceans we’ve removed over 1000kg of marine debris (the vast majority of it plastic) from our local beaches – in addition we also commit to removing 2kg marine debris for every item you buy.

At the end of the day, we’re not asking you to go completely plastic free (although please do if you can!), but we’re asking you to make small lifestyle changes that will change what suppliers sell us as ‘convenient’ and will combat ocean plastics. Whether it’s shopping from ethical brands that use eco-friendly packaging or swapping your plastic bag for a paper or tote bag, all these small changes make a big difference if we all do them.

Get your thinking cap on and send us what you come up with to reduce your plastic consumption! You can tag us, or direct message us on any of our social media platforms.

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