To mark the first ever Global Recycling Day, our OS GetOutside Champion David Mellor shares some thoughts on how to reduce your plastic use.
Who’d have thought, a little over a century ago, when plastic was first invented, that we’d need a day to promote recycling? Plastic has become a seemingly essential part of our lives, present in almost all aspects of it. Looking at it positively, many plastic products are wondrous things, outlasting many of their material competitors and doing so at a fraction of the cost. While some plastic has been produced to be used repeatedly, over and over, there are, unfortunately, large swathes of plastic consumption that are single-use. This is the type that we need to work to eradicate. If we don’t, our planet will stand on the precipice of a ticking time bomb of pollution.
So, what can we do to reduce our plastic use? We may not be a large conglomerate or supermarket chain in charge of wholescale policy (go Iceland! Other supermarkets please follow suit!); what we are, however, are millions and millions of individuals who, together, when are ideas and actions are combined, can make a fundamental difference to the way in plastic is consumed and manufactured. We, the little people on the ground, are what drive supply and demand. If you want to make a noticeable difference, pledge to cut your single-use plastic consumption by following these few simple steps…
Plastic straws are a huge problem. A study by Eunomia Research & Consulting found that EU countries use 36.4 billon straws each year! Why? They are single use and, therefore, a danger to our environment. Scotland are set to become the first UK nation to ban them outright, which would be amazing. Individual councils, such as Cornwall on the south coast, are considering similar action.
However, until they are banned nationwide for good, you can do your bit by choosing not to use one when you’re out and about. Remember: it’s a supply and demand thing. If you don’t use them, they won’t make as many. If they don’t make as many, less will end up in landfill sites and in our oceans.
Instead of buying lots and lots of single use plastic water and drinks bottles, most of which end up polluting our planet; buy yourself a multi-use bottle that you can refill repeatedly. This has far less impact on our environment. Some companies are even using cardboard now to package their drinks products. Remember, this is far easier to break down and far less harmful than plastic. The statistics around the recycling of single-use plastic drinks bottles is, quite frankly, shocking. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, less than half of plastic bottles purchased are collected for recycling, and a measly 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. ‘Well, where do they end up?’ I hear you cry. Yes, you’ve guessed it…in landfill or in our oceans.
In fact, the report estimates that between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic finds its way into our oceans every single year. I’m sure many of you have seen programmes such as Blue Planet 2 and therefore don’t need me to tell you what damage this does to marine life. Perhaps the only thing more shocking than any of this is that by 2050, if estimates are correct, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. So, please buy yourself a multi-use drinks bottle and reject this single-use plague of plastic that is haunting our seas and oceans.
Like plastic bottles, takeaway food containers pose a nightmare threat to our planet. Take the humble coffee cup, for instance. As the likes of Starbucks and Costa have grown in popularity, more and more of us enjoy a mocha to go. I certainly do, particularly when I’m on a long, boring motorway journey, driving to my next adventure. A delicious, caffeine-infused pick-me-up makes those miles and miles of tarmac far more bearable. The problem is that virtually all of these coffee outlets and fast-food franchises automatically present their skinny, flat whites in single use cups. A good proportion of these may well be cardboard based, making them far easier to breakdown and reuse but, crucially, certain elements of the packaging is plastic.
Consequently, there are two things you can do to reduce your impact. Firstly, you can buy a reusable flask mug and give them that to serve your coffee in. Starbucks, for instance, will even give you 25p discount on your chosen drink for doing so. Secondly, if you have to have the throwaway coffee shop cup, ask for it without the plastic lid. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to wait ages to drink it anyway! Ask yourself: where will it end up if you take one? Blighting the countryside, being ingested by animals and polluting our waters is the likely answer.
Yet another thing that really riles me about travelling up and down the country using service stations is the number of outlets that sell meals to go complete with single use plastic knives and forks. As mentioned earlier, the only way to change the approach of companies who supply these throwaway plastics with their pasta pots and sushi suppers is to refuse to take and use them en-masse. They pay to have these things manufactured and pass on those costs to us through the price of their food and snacks. If, suddenly, they were left with endless amounts of single-use plastic in their stores and outlets, they’d soon get the message and reduce the number manufactured. Remember: everyone that isn’t manufactured, is another one that doesn’t end up polluting our landscape.
What, though, if you don’t like the thought of tucking into your recently prepared pasta dish with your fingers? Well, you could start by investing in a Spork. As a family of Spork lovers, we all proudly have one. Mine is used daily during the working week to eat my lunches with. We take them every time we go hiking and camping to eat our picnics and meals with. They really are versatile little instruments that will last you an age, meaning they’re unlikely to be found littering our world in any great quantity; unlike their throwaway counterparts.
Let’s face it, many of us enjoy a beer. A perfect Sunday for me usually involves a family hike, with an all-important picnic stop, before driving home to have a bath and enjoy a well-earned, post-hike beer or two and a Sunday roast. So what, you are probably pondering, is the problem with beer? Great British institution! Well, my friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts, the problem lies with the way that it is packaged.
No, not the largely recyclable aluminium can that keeps the hops zingy, the problem lies with the transparent plastic packaging used to connect four cans together. This soft plastic has literally no other use in the world. Its useable life is measured in the minutes until it is thrown, carelessly, into landfill sites up and down the land. Like other single-use plastic disasters, this one also finds its way into our seas and oceans on regular basis where its unique shape and transparent colour make it a mortal danger to marine life everywhere. As a result, buy your beer by the bottle or, if you do prefer cans, choose cans that are boxed or that can be bought individually without this unnecessary environmental hazard.
So, not just on Global Recycling Day, but every day, consider your individual impact on the world we live in and the little things you can do to reduce it.
These 5 things may seem small on their own, but with a combined effort, they really can make a difference. And it starts with YOU making a change. Whether it’s saying no to a straw or taking a re-usable coffee cup to Starbucks, these super easy actions that we can take can really help protect and preserve the beautiful planet we live on, for us and for future generations.
David Mellor has the outdoors running through his veins. From a young age he joined his mother’s rambling group and loved Cub and Scout camps. Now he’s passionate about raising an outdoor family.
He can often be seen hiking in the hills and mountains, paddling on lakes, or wild camping with his wife and two toddlers. As a teacher he’s also passionate about extra-curricular outdoor activities, from yearly ski trips and DofE, to leading a group of 32 teenagers on a month long expedition to Tanzania, including climbing Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.
David also uses his outdoor time to raise money for charity and will be taking on an ultra-marathon and two long distance hiking trails this year.
Find out more about David here.