We all know the horrors of plastic: an estimated total of 12.7 million tonnes - from plastic bottles and bags to microbeads - is dumped in our oceans each year. If #PlasticFreeJuly seemed urgent last year, this year it’s taken on even stronger resonances with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet making it tragically clear that the impact, almost irreversible if we don’t act now, on the world’s oceans and its wildlife is cruel and widespread.
Over 2 million people across 150 countries are taking up the challenge to #choosetorefuse single-use plastic. As the month progresses, BEL JACOBS flags up the projects, the people and the initiatives that are making us all think in new ways about plastic.
July 14th. Plastic free online shopping.
Very happy to have discovered jarfull.org, a small Oxford-based environmentally and socially focused business which runs an online brand directory, offering links to a diverse range of plastic-free products: from pantry to bathroom and beyond.
Look for whole foods in paper or home compostable packaging to the Mercer metal razor; from natural toothpaste by Geoorganics (in a jar) to ‘unpaper’ towels (cloth) by Marley’s Monsters. Postage may be hefty on occasion if the company is based overseas - but what a bloody brilliant idea!
Also, look for Harrogate-based www.jarfulluk.com .... (sensing a theme).
July 13th. Abandoned fishing gear.
According to a survey by Ocean Cleanup, at least 46 per cent of plastic in the “Great Pacific garbage patch” is abandoned fishing gear. In amidst our efforts to stop using plastic straws and reusable cups, perhaps what we should really be thinking about is what happens when we eat fish.
World Animal Protection reports that 640,000 tons of gear are lost and pollute oceans each year. And the suffering it causes is immense: in 2016, there were 71 reported cases of whales caught in abandoned fishing gear off the U.S. Pacific coast.
And that’s not to mention the dolphins, the seals, the sea turtles and the sharks - all victims of the commercial fishing industry. According to the National Journal, an estimated 20 percent of all animals caught in commercial trawling nets are “bycatch,” or unwanted animals.
The plight of animals in factory farming and the impact of eating meat on the planet has risen up the agenda; now it's time to contemplate the impact of the fish industry on sensitive, intelligent creatures and on our already beleaguered oceans.
July 12th. A plastic-free aisle.
“We all know the damage our addiction to plastic has caused, we want to do the right thing and buy plastic-free,” co-founder Sian Sutherland told Reuters.“But it is harder than you think, and a clear, no-nonsense label is much needed. Finally, shoppers can be part of the solution not the problem.”
British supermarket giant Iceland, Dutch supermarket Ekoplaza, which launched a plastic-free aisle earlier this year, and British tea company teapigs are among the first companies to adopt the label. Iceland were also the first British supermarket to promise to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-brand products.
To be eligible for the logo, which can be used by manufacturers free of charge, products must have a minimum of 99 percent plastic-free packaging and be approved by experts from A Plastic Planet, in accordance with the organization’s materials evaluation criteria. Petition your local retailers to work towards it, too.
July 11th. #2minutebeachclean
Ever been part of a #2minutebeachclean? Now, most definitely, is the time to start. The campaign, brainchild of the non-profit Beach Clean Network, encourages beachgoers to clean up the beaches they visit, just 2 minutes at a time.
#2minutebeachclean came about when the network’s co-founder, surfer and beach lover Martin Dorey saw the tons of plastic litter thrown onto British beaches by a series of North Atlantic storms in 2013. Using twitter and Instagram, Martin came up with the idea of doing just 2 minutes at a time – every time - and began using the hashtag.
The campaign has since become one of the fastest growing online environmental movements of recent times, with 400 beach clean stations now dotted across the UK. It works: trials in 2015 demonstrated a 61% decrease in beach litter logged. And it’s not just the UK; beach cleans are taking place all over the world.
On World Oceans Day, on June 8th this year, Borey received the Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers whose work is making a real difference to ocean conservation. “Our litter data collecting app, 400 beach clean stations and growing network are already doing so much to inspire change and help clear up, but our ambition is to [leave every open space we visit] better than it was before we arrived,” he said at the time. “If each of us can do that, and can help to stop the flow to the ocean by boycotting single use plastics and changing our plastic habits, then we’re getting somewhere.”
Now the campaign is crowdfunding a beautiful, limited-edition print run of 1000 copies, telling their favourite inspirational #2minutetales. Additional funds raised will help the non-profit continue campaigning for cleaner seas. Support the project here: www.crowdfunder.co.uk
July 10th. Starbucks to change for paper cups
Starbucks announces a 5p paper cup charge across all its 950 British stores, following a three month trial in London in a joint project with Hubbub. The charge will start on July 26th. Proceeds will to used by the environmental charity to fund a range of campaigns - including community campaigns and the expansion of their successful Plastic Fishing initiative - to reduce plastic pollution in the UK.
The charge is designed to further encourage people to bring in their own reusable cups, for which customers already receive a 25p discount. Trial results showed a 126 per cent uplift in the use of reusable cups in participating stores.
The announcement comes hot the heels of plans, released yesterday, by the Seattle-based coffee chain to eliminate plastic straws from its stores globally by 2020, replacing them with straws made from biodegradable materials such as paper and specially designed lids.
JULY 9TH. PLASTIC WHALES
Art continues to provide necessary reflections on the urgency of the planet’s plight. Last year, a 10-metre whale made of plastic bags, bottles and other single-use plastics found in the ocean, on beach cleans and in local recycling plants, was unveiled by Tower Bridge in London today as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign. The sculpture, called Plasticus, was covered in 250kg worth of plastic – the same amount that pollutes the ocean every second - and was carried around the UK to beaches and seas, to bring the problem to life for local communities.
It wasn’t the first plastic whale in existence and it won’t be the last. In May that year, Greenpeace Philippines created an even more moving response when they installed their whale, made entirely out of plastic, at the Sea Side Beach Resort in Naic, Civate. Currently, Greenpeace Italy is protesting plastic pollution with lifesize whales outside the Pantheon. "We collected the garbage from seven beaches," a spokesperson said. "Most of them are single use plastic; 80 per cent of them from just a few companies."
As if to remind us what's at stake, last month, a small male pilot whale was found struggling, unable to swim or breathe, in a Thai canal near the Malaysia border. It later died and a necropsy revealed that more than 17 pounds of plastic had clogged up the whale’s stomach, making it impossible for it to ingest nutritional food. This waste was in the form of 80 shopping bags and other plastic debris.
The suffering caused and the tragedy of the loss is unfathomable and, unless we do something about plastic consumption, ongoing.
July 8th. What really happens to your recycling?
You’ve rinsed your cans, you’ve sorted your plastic - but what actually happens after the council scoops it up? Earlier this year, superb environmental charity Hubbub (read my interview with founder Trewin Restorick here) sent its Hubbub Investigates team down to the Suez recycling plant in Birmingham. The result is thought-provoking. Did you know that people living in flats recycle less than those in houses - and that those black plastic trays used by supermarkets to make meat and fish look more fetching can’t be recycled and really should never have been made in the first place (IMHO)? Or that the broadcast of Blue Planet coming hot on the heels of China's ban on taking our rubbish any more has both shocked us out of our ennui and galvanised us into taking action? Watch this behind-the-scenes video to get a frontline perspective on household rubbish. And for lots more discussion about waste and recycling, including how to make takeaways more eco-friendly and whether a Deposit Return Scheme is the way forward, visit Hubbub itself.
July 7th. Ripple comes to Cardiff.
Coming soon, Ripple will be Cardiff’s first #zerowaste store with a difference: with community at its heart. First step is a punchy social media feed; follow Ripple on Twitter here. Second step? Join the not-for-profit’s @kickstarter launch party on July 16th @bigmoosecoffee, 4-5 Frederick Street, Cardiff to help change the way Cardiff consumes (tickets here). Founded by Sophie Rae, the store aims to sell bulk wholefoods and sustainable homeware.
Twitter: @ripple_living. #therippleeffect
July 6th. Everyday activism.
In the face of the challenges that plastic (and other issues) offer, the role of everyday activism becomes more vital. A friend bought two rolls in the local Co-Op the other day and, reluctant to reach for a clear plastic bag, looked for options. None. So she took the rolls up to the counter, said she’d really rather not use any plastic and that she’d be fine carrying the rolls out of the shop as is.
“The guy behind the till looked bewildered,” she told me. “But the woman in the queue behind me completely agreed. I found the fact that we were having a conversation about plastic in one of the places that where it’s most used really encouraging.” The fact the tone was light and friendly, she says, really helped. From refusing straws in cafes (and explaining why to staff) to, like my partner, returning packaging at the till, we can all do something. And it feels more immediate, more frontline, than signing a petition. The only thing you need is conviction in your ‘cause’ - and, in the case of plastic, who lacks that?
July 5th: Mumbai criminalises plastic.
Impressive news: Mumbai has just criminalised plastic bags in a bid to clean up its littered beaches, becoming the largest Indian city to enforce the ban. It joins a handful of countries including Kenya and Rwanda to introduce jail time for using plastic. Arguably, their problem is more visible - earlier this year, volunteers have removed an astonishing 12 million kilograms (nearly 12,000 tons) of plastic from a short stretch of a Mumbai beach - but that makes ours more insidious; as if we’re rendered blind to the full extent of our plastic habit. Given the extent of the threat posed by plastic to life on earth, criminalisation sometimes feels like the only logical response. To see packaging with the words 'non recyclable' on it feels prehistoric.
July 4th: The 31 Day Plastic Free Challenge.
This graphic by Cleanaway, a waste management and recycling company based in Australia and helpfully tweeted by Mia @CPAbum, breaks down the seemingly gargantuan task of reducing plastics in everyday life into 31 useful bullet points.
Print it out and tick them off here (if you miss a day, don’t fret; just try again tomorrow): www.cleanaway.com.au
July 3rd: Clingfilm sucks.
Clingfilm sucks (as do sweets and crisps wrappers and those black trays designed to make food look tastier). The chemicals that make it soft and pliable mean it can’t be recycled, and only go to landfill or incineration. Every piece I handle feels like dirt. And it’s everywhere. My partner has taken to returning clingfilm at supermarket tills; God knows what happens to it then.
There are options. According to livegreen: “look for fresh ingredients from local farmers markets instead, and buy things in bulk to reduce overall packaging. Use reusable containers and recyclable, sealable bags for things like meats, cheeses, and other prepared foods that are normally wrapped in plastic. If using cling wrap is unavoidable for you, look into compostable alternatives, like BioBag’s cling wrap, which is made from plant resins.”
(PS I’m falling in love with foil again too as it can be washed in a bowl of soapy water and reused.)
July 2nd: Not in my backyard ....
Today, David Wellings, Libertarianism and Austrian economics. Deputy Research Director and Head of Transport @iealondon, tweeted the following in response to the creation of BBC’s Plastics Watch: “Disgraceful that the BBC is now directly involved in political campaigning on green issues. And based on deception too. Nearly all the plastic dumped in the oceans comes from Third World countries, not the UK.”
Are you doing any better at containing your rage at this selfishness and ignorance than I am? Plastics Watch is bringing together the best content from around the BBC including news, documentaries and consumer programmes - to help you discover everything you want to know about plastics and was launched by Sir David Attenborough in June. It’s a collaboration with the Open University and looks pretty good to me, with piles of information on new solutions and practical tips. It’s pretty much exactly how I want a public broadcaster to spend our money.
My reply: “Everything that can be done needs to be done, whether within our borders or outside them. The 'inconvenience' is nothing compared with the damage being wrecked on the planet. Our children will bear the burden of our #apathy if we do nothing #plasticpollution @plasticswatch". I didn’t add “you absolute tosser” - but I wanted to.
July 1st: Supermarkets surveyed.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace UK are conducting a survey of major UK grocery retailers, their use of single-use plastic packaging and their targets to reduce it. The results, due in the autumn, are expected to reveal the volume of single-use plastic packaging each retailer puts onto the market every year, their targets to reduce plastic packaging, and their approach to tackling plastic pollution across their supply chains. they plan to carry out this survey annually to encourage improved performance on reducing, reusing and recycling plastic packaging.