War On Plastic - Plastic Pollution Update

Originally Posted 30th Jun 2019

Like many other people, we've been watching the recent BBC series War on Plastic with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and a few of our customers have asked us for our views.

Thinking about these programs and our recent blogs on the subject we think the plastic issue can be summarised as follows :

Disposal of plastics

The problem of plastic waste and pollution is nothing new, but it really got the attention of the media, and then the public, when China announced a couple of years ago that it was no longer going to import other country's plastic waste. As with most public awareness campaigns, the impact was made because of the visual; pictures and films of the waste on beaches and oceans around the world and the damage done to wildlife.

Nearly all plastic waste pollution is caused because people, and local authorities, did not dispose of it properly. If every single piece of plastic waste had been disposed of properly, none of it would have caused environmental pollution. (We say nearly all plastic pollution because even if all waste had been disposed of properly, micro fibers from synthetic fabrics would have found their way into the environment when washed and micro plastics in cosmetics products like exfoliators, which do not have natural exfoliants, would have also been washed into the environment). We've all been on a beach holiday in the UK where plastic waste is blowing around because someone didn't bother to put it into a bin, and we've all seen bins overflowing at peak times, because local councils didn't empty them with sufficient frequency or provide more capacity. The problem is exponentially greater in Asia, because people do not understand the need for responsible disposal and they are more likely to be more concerned about their daily survival than global environmental issues.

The disposal problem can only be resolved by people taking personal responsibility and local and national governments having a responsible and organised approach to education and fulfilling their part regarding disposal. When it comes to disposal there seem to be three options; recycling, landfill and incineration.

Recycling of plastics

The plastic we dispose of has to be recycled to the greatest extent possible. This requires governments (local and national) and industry to co-ordinate to make sure that packaging is designed to maximise recycling potential. Consumers can play their part to increase this pressure by avoiding products with packaging which cannot be recycled. You can see our page on packaging here. At Handmade Naturals we use packaging that is not just recyclable in theory, but which is actually mostly recycled because it's non-coloured and which is white or clear HDPE and PET plastic.

With the best will in the world we are not yet at the point where all plastics can be recycled. So if plastic waste does have to be incinerated or put into landfill for the time being, it should be done so with minimum environmental impact (eg. "clean" incineration and responsible landfill).

Reducing the Amount of Plastic for Disposal

Both of the above will be a whole lot easier if there is less plastic to be disposed of in the first place. We think this revolves around two things :

Buying recyclable items and not buying single use items : There's now alot of traction in reducing single use items; supermarket bags have reduced dramatically, the EU is introducing widespread bans on single use in a couple of years and the UK is starting to look at measure like banning plastic straws. There's a good article and guide regarding this here

Reducing Overall Consumption : If we want to reduce overall pollution and environmental stressors, including those created by plastic, then a good start point would be to consume less stuff ! We talked about this in our blog here and the point is very well made by that other BBC program Live Well for Less. If people just bought bought less unnecessary stuff, then there would be less waste to be recycled or disposed of in the first place. The point was made in the second show from War on Plastic when a family was noted to have got rid of a whole load of shower and hair products from their bathroom. 

But just throwing away stuff isn't the point, the point is not to buy unnecessary stuff in the first place,and if stuff is going to bought, particularly when it is for personal care, make it good quality and natural. Perhaps the best example of unnecessary consumption is the MacDonald's Happy Meal toys. How stupid are they and why can't people stop buying Happy Meals today until the pointless toy is removed ?

The Existing Problem

If all of the above was fully implemented as of tomorrow, no more waste and plastic waste entered the environment because it was disposed of properly and there was less of it anyway, because more was recycled and people bought less stuff, we'd still have the current mess. Unfortunately, we just have a massive clean up operation to get on with....

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