Say “No” to single-use plastics

By Steven Allain

Image Courtesy of Wix

We have all heard in the news recently how plastic straws and microbeads have been removed from the shelves to reduce their environmental impact. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, there is still got a long way to go if we are to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we use each year by a significant amount.

Recent events such as Greta Thunberg’s selfless drive to save the environment through school and global climate strikes, as well as the strikes and acts of civil disobedience organised by Extinction Rebellion, demonstrate how we as individuals can make a positive impact. It is all about the choices we make at both the individual and societal level. With this in mind, let us jump into some research to see how you can help save the planet and reduce your plastic footprint in the process.

Researchers from the McGill University in Canada recently analysed the effects of placing four different readily available tea bags into boiling water. The scientists found that a single tea bag can release billions of microplastic particles into the cup, which is thousands of times higher than the amount of plastic previously found in other food and drink items, such as plastic water bottles.

At this moment in time, the potential health effects of drinking these particles are unknown and further study is needed to investigate any possible health impacts. What is clear is that by making your morning brew, you may be inadvertently releasing billions of microplastics into the environment and into your body. This can easily be remedied by moving to a brand of tea that uses plastic-free bags.

The relatively recent surge in public awareness about the damage caused by single-use plastics has not escaped the political sphere. In September Canada’s Green party admitted to photoshopping a picture of leader Elizabeth May to show her holding a reusable cup with a metal straw, rather than the single-use paper cup she was photographed holding. More recently, at the Conservative party conference one of Boris Johnson’s aides was filmed passing him a coffee in a single-use cup and another aide, after realising what has happened, snatches it from him declaring: “No disposable cups.”

The government has pledged to ensure that all disposable coffee cups are recyclable by 2023, so whilst you are waiting for that to happen why not buy a reusable coffee cup? They are relatively inexpensive and most coffee shops offer a small discount for bringing your cup. You can also buy a reusable drinks bottle, not only does bottled water contain microplastics, but the bottles also tend to end up in the environment, even when we think we have recycled them.

The next one is another surprising area that not many people think of when it comes to reducing their plastic footprint. Fast fashion is a huge source of plastic pollution, without most people even realising. Most cheap and affordable clothes are made from synthetic fibres which slowly break down over time when they are washed or exposed to UV light. An average-sized load of synthetic materials can release over 700,000 fibres in one wash. This then leads to microplastics and fibres entering the environment on top of the fact that worldwide a truckload of clothes is sent to landfill every second.

This problem can be lessened by avoiding synthetic fibres such as acrylic and polyester for natural fibres such as cotton and wool, even these fibres have their environmental issues, as they require a huge amount of water in their production. The most effective thing you can do is not to buy into a culture of fast fashion. When you are out buying clothes – be it at Primark or Selfridges – maybe it is time to start making a conscious decision about whether you need a certain item of clothing and where it is going to be in a couple of months.

Plastic is all around is. Our modern day societies are tied to the petrochemical industries. Current estimates suggest that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean by weight than there are fish. This is a scary thought for both us and the health of the world oceans, which depend on fish stocks to survive and prosper. It depends on us and the decisions we make to reduce our impact on the environment.