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Plastic – time to throw it in the landfill?

It is time to discuss the world’s use of plastic; cups, bags, bottles, pretty much everything that is made of plastic. Is enough thought been given here, or is it all going towards diesel and petrol cars?

It is time to discuss the world’s use of plastic; cups, bags, bottles, pretty much everything that is made of plastic. Has enough thought been given here, or is it all going towards diesel and petrol cars?


Exhausting our options?

Often, there is much debate about the environment and how to improve it; the air we breathe, and the drilling of fossil fuels receive their fair share of attention. Just recently the City of London have announced their Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). This is on top of the congestion charge, so drivers either have to own cars that meet these new tighter exhaust standards or pay a daily charge. With congestion charge this can result in costs of approximately £24.00 per day for just a normal diesel. In just three years, this new charge will expand to the North and South Circular roads too.  Clearly the City of London has the right idea in reducing this impact.

Mumbai, India – One of the rivers in Dharavi, riddled with waste, mostly in the form of plastic, primarily caused by single-use items such as packaging for food and drink.

But what is done about plastic? Why is water still sold in bottles with water fountains only now to be reintroduced in London after years of being defunct? Why does Coca Cola still use plastic for their bottles? Why are sandwiches wrapped in a horrible plastic film only be discarded 3 minutes after purchasing? There are huge taxes on gas guzzling cars, so shouldn’t something similar exist for plastic? Something to not only reduce our usage of plastic, but to also change our mindset and improve our understanding of the impact of plastic.


Plastic or paper?

Well in actual fact, such an approach does exist: many countries around the world have set tighter regulations for the use of plastic bags. Hundreds of commercial and independent coffee shops endorse ‘bring your own cup’, which would entitle a 10-20% off your drink when you use a reusable cup, with some even charging more for using disposable cups. Pret in the UK actually lead the way with a huge 50p off your drink when you bring your own cup, a great step in the right direction (although their lack of instore mugs is of some controversy).

Although Coca Cola have not directly addressed the issue of plastic in their 1.9 billion servings of drinks across 200 countries every day, they are moving towards a brighter future. Through their campaign ‘World without Waste’ they aim to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can they sell globally by 2030. This is an industry-first step and is one firmly in the right direction.

However, the completion of Coca Cola’s campaign is nearly a decade away, so is it too late? Is it really possible to live a life without plastic?

Small steps to giant leaps?

From the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep you come into contact with hundreds of plastic objects, from the credit cards you use to purchase water bottles, right through to the plastic coating on the treadmill at the gym.

How can you get away from this? Well the truth is, a lot of it isn’t bad, it just depends on how it’s used: the plastic on the treadmill will be used for years and will be recycled, water bottles can be re-used, credit cards last over 5 years before expiring (and if that wasn’t enough you can always use it as an ice scraper during the winter). As for the sandwiches and crisp packets, Michael Gove is working with big corporations in the UK to ensure they meet their goals to reduce plastic waste, although this is a slow process. In addition, Walkers (a major UK crisps manufacturer) plan on giving up their plastic for recyclable, compostable or biodegradable packaging by 2025.

The current situation suggests a slim choice if you, as a consumer, wanted to make a conscious choice, with bakeries and the independent chains to fuel your lunchtime hunger, or bringing in your own food. You may be thinking there isn’t much luck for actually making a stance, despite the inspiration for ‘saving the planet’ after watching Blue Planet II.

The problem with coffee cups is the polyethylene lining on the inside, which makes it a massive nuisance to recycle.

But there’s always a way. Recently, I was at a University Café and was upset to see they did not endorse customers using their own recyclable cups. After sending them a quick email they responded that this is something they are working on. This just took one email, and maybe a follow up later this week, the importance here is that this small conversation wasn’t undertaken by a group of engineers and scientists.

And that’s the take away from this; whilst the engineers and scientists in the big corporations are working on changing the way they produce the trillions of plastic bottles per year, we can be doing our bit, making these changes on a societal level. And that all points the world in the right direction – heading to the bakery to avoid plastic use, bringing your own coffee mug, you could even go towards using e-tickets. As I discovered this week, doing your bit can come in many weird and wonderful forms.

We only have one planet , let’s do our best to save it from the mess we’ve put it in.

So where is the future with plastics? We are really in the middle of some big changes, but for the masses a world without plastic is some years away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your bit, we can bring our own sandwiches to work, and recycle drinks bottles. Just remember that one coffee cup is one coffee cup, and if a million people act on just this, we have made enough of a difference to save another million coffee cups – the chain reaction begins. In time, we may find plastic is left behind in history, to rot on the landfill.


Further Reading

London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone

The Real Cost of Coffee

Pret Reusable Cups

Coca-Cola Plastic Waste

Coca-Cola ‘World without Waste’

10 Brilliant Uses for Old Credit Cards

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