Wherever you look, we are still producing and disposing of thousands of tonnes of plastic. In fact, in a report published in January 2022, the UK ‘consumes’ around five million tonnes every year (https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8515/). Almost half of this is estimated to be packaging – and even if not all of this is ‘disposable’, that’s still going to be a huge volume of single-use plastics going to landfill. Or worse.
It’s no secret that many plastics take hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill (if ever!), and the damage plastic litter causes to animals and marine life is regularly and prominently highlighted. The huge garbage dump of plastics in our oceans damage marine eco-systems and harm many species of marine life, whilst micro plastics find their way into our food-stream and can potentially contain carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals.
So why do we even use plastic? Because it is so useful. There is no question that many of the improvements to our quality of life in recent years have been accelerated and made widely accessible with the use of plastics. Whether it’s insulating electrical cables in your home, keeping your banana’s fresher for longer (https://www.naturespath.com/en-us/blog/how-to-store-fruits-and-vegetables-to-make-them-last-longer), giving your car or bike grip on the road, keeping life-saving medicines sterile or reducing heat-loss as an effective insulator round your pipes; no-one can deny that plastics are doing an amazing job.
Also, don’t forget, some plastics are naturally occurring.
But I thought…?
Yes, it’s true. Not all plastics are man-made. And not all man-made plastics are made from ‘bad’ fossil fuels. Which is why and where it gets really messy (and why there is so much debate!) – because no-one really makes it clear what is good, what is bad, and what is what! We are not any more familiar with the whole ‘plastic’ thing than you are – and maybe even less so, but we are aware of the complications of the whole ‘to plastic or not to plastic’ question.
We do know that natural rubber, which is an inherent part of rubber trees, is a plastic. And it is a key part of the thriving eco-system in the countries it is native to. So, is that a ‘good’ plastic?
And then you can get man-made ‘sustainable’ plant-based plastics. Are they good plastics?
And you can get plastics that bio-degrade. Are they good plastics?
We can’t answer all these questions definitively, and we don’t know who can. But we do know there is a balance, and it can be achieved. That convenience and lifestyle along with promiscuous and wasteful use of disposable plastics must come with a cost, to our health, to the environment, to marine life, and to our planet. How can we prevent this, and find that delicate balance? By reducing unnecessary plastic waste, both at work and at home.
What is unnecessary is still hard to define. It’s subjective. Your opinion will be different from mine, which would be different again from someone else. But hopefully these tips will provide some pointers as to what to look for! And yes, most of these are probably obvious. But sometimes it’s the obvious that is overlooked – that’s why we thought we should include these here!