Plastic pollution headlines make for pretty difficult reading at the moment.
In October 2021, researchers from Kyushu university in Japan published the report ‘Twenty-four trillion pieces of microplastics in the ocean and counting’
Plus, only this year, The OECD’s report, “The Global Plastics Outlook” has found that the production of plastics has doubled in volume between 2000 and 2019 to 460 million tonnes.
There are many contributing factors to these alarming stats including population growth, higher disposable income, and globalised throw-away culture.
But with this bleak outlook, are there things we can do at a micro and macro level to influence change?
Before we can answer that, let’s rewind a little…
What are microplastics?
Microplastics are pieces of degraded plastic less than 5 mm in size, while nanoplastics are tiny fragments of plastic invisible to the naked eye. Such plastics are harmful. Very harmful. Not only do they affect the ocean’s precious wildlife, they also have made their way into our food chain and the air we breathe. Plus, microplastic particles cause damage to human cells.
While plastic bags can take around 100 years to decompose, disposable nappies take up to 500 years, and many microplastics can take 1000 years to fully break down.
Recently, an international team of scientists identified nanoplastics in both the North and South poles for the first time. This is devastating. What’s more, some of the polluting material they found dated back to the 1960s.
These tiny and harmful plastic particles have been found from the summit of Mount Everest to the depths of the ocean, and now at both of our planet’s poles.
What’s the impact of plastic waste?
A huge consequence of plastic production and waste is the impact on the oceans and marine life. By 2050, it is predicted that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. This is terrifying. Wildlife population decline is the reality of plastic in our oceans. Sea animals and birds ingest plastic, which kills them. Around 600 species are believed to be affected, and 90% of the world’s seabirds have fragments of plastic in their stomachs, compared to 5% in 1960.
The knock on effect of this is that plastics ingested by small animals make their way up the food chain and end up in the human gut too. While the full effects of this on humans isn’t completely clear at the moment, we do know that microplastics can carry pollutants like pesticides into our bodies, and damage our cells.
There’s a financial impact of plastic pollution too. Damage to marine ecosystems is estimated to equate to some 13 billion dollars per year. The fishing and tourism industries are of course heavily affected by plastic in our waters. Many countries rely on fishing or coastal tourism, making them especially economically vulnerable right now.
So what can we do now?
The WWF thinks that with drastic changes, we can change the plastics trajectory we are on. They’ve set the goal to have no plastic in nature by 2030, counting on circular economy models and system solutions. “The plastics crisis in our oceans was created in a single lifetime and can be ended in a single decade. If we act now, together.”
Here are some small (and big!) ways we can all make an impact on the plastic crisis the earth is facing.
Cut down on single-use plastics
Use reusable items- water bottles, cups, shopping bags, packaging, and so on.
Opt for secondhand items
We don’t need new clothes, toys, and house items. There’s a growing movement towards buying secondhand options. Charity shops, regifting, and sharing with friends are all great ways to avoid more and more new items coming onto the market through demand.
Seek out packaging free options
Whether in the supermarket, or when shopping online, avoid packaging waste, especially plastics, which are usually single use.
Ultimately…reduce, reuse and recycle. In that order!
It’s a handy mantra to live by. Starting to introduce this mentality becomes a habit quickly!
Prepare more food at home
Not only does this mean you eat lovely, fresh homemade food, it also means you avoid takeaway containers and plastic food packaging, like supermarket sandwiches etc.
Support plastic-reducing policy
Follow environmental charities like Greenpeace and WWF to keep up to date with campaigns. Attend peaceful protests. Write to your MP to make legislation happen.
Put consumer pressure on the big corporations and manufacturers
Collectively, we have a lot of power as consumers. Where we choose to spend our money is one of the most impactful ways we can show big companies how we expect them to operate.
Boycott dangerous products
Collectively, when we refuse to buy products like microbeads, their production will decrease or even stop completely.
Small changes you or I can make in our day-to-day life may not make a huge difference to the global crisis, but what they do is change habits. And mass habit change puts pressure on the market, policy makers, and industry to make the big improvements that our planet needs.
Twenty-four trillion pieces of microplastics in the ocean and counting - Kyushu University
World-first Good Morning Britain and University of Portsmouth microplastics investigation - University of Portsmouth
Global Plastics Outlook - OECD
Plastic: The Problem And Its Impact - Impact Hub