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The plastic pollution revolution

Posted on Sunday 25 March 2018

The plastic pollution revolution

By Charlotte Hawkins, Volunteer Contributor

A large part of True Food's ethos is to reduce all waste, including plastic. Our quest to reduce waste was featured in the Get Reading online newspaper.

True Food does many things to reduce plastic waste:

  • Using recyclable paper bags where possible.
  • Actively encouraging shoppers to use their own containers for both food sold loose in bins, and liquid household products.
  • Selling most of our fresh fruits and vegetables loose rather than in plastic wrapping.
  • Selling most of our store-cupboard ingredients in glass jars rather than plastic bottles.

True Food reduces waste

75 years of plastic pollution

Supporters of True Food are only too aware that our world-wide obsession with using plastic is destroying our planet. Although plastic has only really been in use for 75 years, it is now ubiquitous in our environment, both on land and at sea. The ecological ramifications of our unrelenting reliance on plastic from everything from food containers to manufactured consumables is becoming increasingly more apparent and, tragically, the problem is getting worse. 

1950: The world's population produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic annually.

2015: 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic produced. 6.3 billion tonnes of that is now in our environment, with only 9% having been recycled or incinerated.

2016: 320 million tonnes of plastic produced annually...

...2034: Above figure set to double

2050: Estimated 12 billion tonnes in landfill or our natural environment.

Where does all the plastic waste go?

Greenpeace Plastic BottlePlastic biodegrades extremely slowly, and it is debatable whether trace elements can completely biodegrade at all. A plastic styrofoam cup will take around 50 years to biodegrade, and a plastic bottle 450 years. Some types of plastic, for example that used in fishing nets, is estimated to take around 600 years to biodegrade. As it does so, it releases methane, which is a potent contributor to the mass of "greenhouse" gasses which we all know are the major contributor to climate change.

 

Photo source: Greenpeace

Much of the plastic produced ends up in our oceans, either directly through dumping or spillage, or it is carried in the water that flows from the land to the sea. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and one million seabirds are killed each year by plastic pollution - either by ingesting it, or getting caught up in plastic bags and fishing nets. It is estimated that plastic waste can be found in all sea turtles, who mistake plastic bags for jellyfish that are part of their natural diet, and also 59% of whales and 40% of the world's seabirds.

Microplastics

Plastic in the oceans slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, known as microplastics. These are consumed by sea life and the toxic chemicals within the plastics, such as PCB's, accumulate in the flesh of the fish which we then eat. It is well known that long-lived species of fish, such as tuna and swordfish, that inhabit the most polluted areas of our seas are Micro plastics Natural Blazeonly safe to eat in small quantities. This is due to the high level of contaminants which impact on our reproductive capabilities and are believed to increase our risk of developing certain cancers. Even those who choose not to eat fish are not protected from consuming these microplastics: around the world, 83% of tap water samples have been found to contain plastic pollutants, and airborne microplastics are inhaled with the air we breathe, which makes our consumption of them inevitable regardless of how much we try to avoid exposure.                                    

Photo source: Natural Blaze

The tides are turning

However, there is some good news! The tide appears to be turning, at least in the UK and in many parts of the developed Blue Planet IIworld. Concerns over plastic pollution have been mounting over recent years. Reports of the dangers of plastics which contaminate our environment are appearing with increasing frequency in the media. Riding on the crest of a swelling wave, the BBC's Blue Planet II series broadcast before Christmas last year, which highlighted the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans, has spurred many people in the UK into taking action - including becoming members of True Food!

Photo source: BBC's Blue Planet II

Government policies are slowly but surely beginning to change, for example the introduction of the 5p plastic bag tax, and other policies aimed to reduce plastic pollution as well as our overall carbon footprint are being hotly debated. On a corporate level, supermarkets are making commitments to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use (although many would argue that this doesn't go far enough, quickly enough). Coffee shops are also beginning to offer financial incentives for people to reuse their own cups, and technology is being developed to manufacture biodegradable consumables such as coffee machine capsules.

The change in attitude on a governmental and corporate level is down to the mounting number of people who are voting with their feet and wallets, so to stay electable or successful as a business, policies are having to be reviewed and changed.

Improved local recycling policy

Since 12th February, Reading, Bracknell and Wokingham councils have all changed their policy on what will be accepted for recycling, with many more products being accepted.

What can and can’t be recycled:

Reading Recycling

Unfortunately, there are still many plastics which are possible to recycle, but our local councils do not yet have the facilities to do so. Several of the items below which are intended for single use can be reused many times within the home, but our local councils still won't accept them in our recycling bins. In addition to the items mentioned above, they also still can't recycle plant pots, plastic toys and plastic furniture.

What can I do to make a change?

Earth Day 2018Clearly, we all need to take steps as individuals to reduce our own plastic waste, but the biggest changes will come from working together. The 22nd April this year marks Earth Day, where the campaign is to end plastic pollution: Sign up to their campaign or make a donation.

Also, by shopping at True Food - and better still, becoming more involved - we can make our collective voice louder. We might not be able to change things as quickly as we would like, but we have strength in numbers.

By working together, we will make a difference.

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