rubbish

Are you ready for Zero Waste Week?

Every year the UK produces over 200 million tonnes of waste. With less than half of this figure being successfully recycled, we are still seeing an alarming amount of waste going into landfill, incinerators and even our oceans.

Single-use plastics are fast becoming one of the planet’s deadliest pollutants, remaining in our environment for between 400-1000 years. Instead of biodegrading, these plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles – especially in the ocean where they are subject to friction, salt and UV rays. Plastics then cause havoc at every level of the food-chain with even the tiniest micro-plastics being consumed by plankton. Plastic doesn’t just find it’s way into the food-chain from the bottom however, as countless larger animals also accidentally consume larger pieces. It’s worryingly easy to find stories online of whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic – from the beached whale in Spain who died from ingesting plastic waste, to the 13 sperm whales found dead in Germany with a variety of plastic items in each of their stomachs. Of course, it’s not just whales who suffer, as marine debris has been documented to affect more than 267 species worldwide, including turtles, dolphins, birds, fish, sea lions and many more.

Now take into account the tens of millions of barrels of oil used to produce these damaging plastic items in the first place, and we’ve got a serious environmental problem on our hands.

(Article continues below)


More from Ethical Surrey:


 

We all know that recycling is a great way to minimise our impact on the environment, but there is a growing argument that emphasis needs to be put on reducing the amount of waste created in the first place. By making a few simple changes in our daily lives – such as not using plastic bags, plastic water bottles or other single use items – we can have a huge impact on the health of our planet and it’s inhabitants.

This is where Zero Waste Week comes in. Started in 2008 by Rachelle Strauss, Zero Waste Week is a grassroots campaign aimed at raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste in their daily lives. As well as helping householders and businesses audit their waste and recycle appropriate items, the campaign also seeks to encourage people to ditch single-use items, or to re-use them in creative ways.

Now in it’s tenth year the Zero Waste Week campaign is hugely popular all over the world, and for good reason. As more and more consumers are waking up to the damage caused by plastics and other non-recyclable materials, there is a growing desire to do more, and use less. Whilst many retailers are slow to warm-up to this trend, there are at least some forward thinking businesses who are shunning the unnecessary plastic wrapping and going greener for the environment.

Zero Waste Week runs from the 4th to the 8th of September, but it’s not about making changes for just one week. It’s about looking at what we waste – be it plastics, food, clothing or household items – and making positive lifestyle changes for the sake of the planet.

As the oft-mentioned 2050 approaches, bringing with it a raft of terrifying environmental predictions, it’s time for significant improvements to be made. Inactivity will only make things worse, and waiting for businesses or governments to lead the way will not bring positive change soon enough. It’s therefore up to each and every one of us to do what we can to reduce the amount of waste entering our environment, and to control what materials we are using in our homes.

Get Involved

Joining Zero Waste Week is a great way to kick-start your journey into a less wasteful lifestyle. Simply click here to sign up to the Zero Waste Week community, and get daily newsletters throughout the week itself, as well as a free e-book and regular updates and tips throughout the year.

Read More

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.

Plastic pollution: what is it doing to our oceans?

As I settled down to watch the new Netflix documentary ‘Chasing Coral’, the follow up to ‘Chasing Ice’ I was feeling a little apprehensive about what I would learn. I knew one thing for sure, I was very excited to see the acclaimed camera skills, stunning colours of the ocean, and fascinating sea creatures, but what I would discover underneath all that was the very visual realisation of what is happening beneath the ocean, a place that not many of us fully understand.

Whilst the main reason behind the dramatic devastation of the corals in the documentary was due to coral bleaching caused by climate change, another key influence that is destroying our oceans is plastic. And I believe that reducing our plastic consumption is something that each of us can do very easily, which can make a huge impact. So that is what I am going to discuss today.

Like most people, I knew that plastic is rapidly damaging our planet, I knew that we do not use the planet’s natural resources sustainably enough, and I knew that there are many alternatives to plastic that we are not utilising. But until recently I did not fully understand the full extent of the damage that using so much plastic is doing to our planet. And the major factor that makes plastic pollution so damaging is the fact that it simply does not break down, and actually takes thousands of years for the smallest plastic product to decay.

What is plastic pollution?

When many of us think about the word ‘pollution’ we often envisage gas, fumes and smoke; the type of things that are caused by air pollution from excessive use of fossil fuels. But in fact, pollution is officially defined as “the introduction of harmful substances or products into the environment.” This leads us to understand that not only can an accumulation of any given product become pollution, but also that volumes of plastic have become so high on our planet that they are severely damaging our planet.

The recent news that an estimated 38 million pieces of plastic were discovered on an island almost entirely untouched by humans was a serious wake up call. Henderson Island is a tiny, uninhabited island located in the eastern South Pacific, and despite being one of the world’s most remote places, it was recently found to contain 99.8% pollution plastic, which equals to almost 18 tonnes.

Whilst scientists thought that the fact that this island is located in such a remote part of the world would safeguard it from plastic pollution, sadly this was not the case. Although no people live on the island, it is home to many creatures that are essential to the ecosystem, but are seriously affected by the plastic that has washed up in their home. Hundreds of crabs were found to be living in discarded plastic items such as bottle caps, and even a doll’s head.

(Article continues below)


More from Ethical Surrey:


What is plastic doing to our wildlife?

Currently, plastic pollution statistics state that one rubbish truck full of plastic is being dumped into the ocean every single minute. On top of this, when plastic is taken to rubbish dumps and landfill sites, the pollutants that are in the plastics eventually get released into the surrounding earth, which over time affects both wildlife and ground water leading to the ocean for many years.

While we have all seen photos of various fish in the ocean being tangled in plastic rubbish, what we don’t often realise is that every single life in the ocean is affected by plastic pollution. Tiny organisms such as plankton are ingesting plastic, which poisons their system. This then results in a knock-on effect for all of the sea-life that rely on plankton for their own source of food, and so forth down the food chain, even up to the fish that we are consuming each day.

How does this affect us?

Each one of us is dependent on the health of the sea. Our oceans control the weather, climate, and are a source of life in itself. The huge body of water that covers 71% of our planet is what makes our planet unique within the universe. On top of this, our oceans contain 97% of the Earth’s water that is crucial for our survival, as well as being the main source of food for millions of people around the world.  On our planet, just our reefs alone are a source of income for over 500 million people.

What can we do about it?

Many people are under the illusion that because plastic is everywhere, we cannot avoid using it. And whilst there are currently no alternatives to some essential products that we use, there are many small and simple changes that we can all put in place to make a huge difference. Some examples of these are:

  • Use foldable cloth bags when you go shopping instead of disposable plastic ones
  • Don’t purchase items that come with lots of unnecessary plastic packaging
  • Ditch the disposable water bottles and instead purchase a refillable one
  • Be smart, and think ahead. When you decide to get lunch out, ask yourself whether you really need the plastic knife, fork and spoon that they hand out to you. Instead, can you use cutlery from your work canteen or bring in your own?
  • Recycle everything that you can. Look up the type of plastics that your local council allow you to recycle and make sure you stick to it
  • Purchase biodegradable products whenever you can. There are currently many every day items with these sustainable alternatives on the market, from cutlery to toothbrushes.

It is essential that we urgently reduce our plastic consumption, because as Underwater Photographer and founder of The Ocean Agency, Richard Vevers, stated in Chasing Coral, “Without a healthy ocean we do not have a healthy planet”.

Read More

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.

Our Plastic Problem

We have an uncomfortable yet undeniable truth on our hands. We live in a world of plastic. The unfortunate reality is that this man-made material is taking over and is well on its way to drowning the very man that makes it.

We come across plastic in every area of our lives, every minute of every day. It is a convenient solution to allow us to live the fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle we all know so well. But just how convenient has it turned out to be? It seems quite the opposite is closer to the truth. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century and half of this is only used once before being thrown away. We have come to see this indestructible material as disposable. Clever, or not? I believe we have a very serious problem here. Plastic does not break down, it never will. It breaks up. It breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces which are causing havoc in our natural environments and have even made it into our food chain. This is a dangerous reality which is affecting every part of the natural world. Plastic has been found in salt, fish and seafood which most of us consider a normal part of a human diet.

I first came across the magnitude of this plastic problem at university when I became involved in the environmental section of Just Love. I have since been utterly convicted that it is up to every single one of us to sort out this problem we have all had a part in creating.

A small anecdote. I made it into work early one morning and found a coffee shop to do some people watching. I sat in as I thought this way I would avoid the dreaded disposable coffee cup situation. Apparently not. It seems that now, even if you sit in you receive your coffee in a disposable cup! So I find myself in a pickle with this cup on my hands and feeling irritated at the prospect of coffee shops ditching the crockery altogether. On top of this, even as I sat there, 7 full bags of rubbish were carried out and it wasn’t even 8:30am. I am easily frustrated at this issue as it seems clear that we have become so immune to the idea of rubbish. Out of sight, out of mind. Sadly, the reality is not so simple. Having seen the recent documentary film, ‘A Plastic Ocean’ – I cannot recommend it enough – I am no longer ignorant of the truth that rubbish is literally taking over in some places. We are all part of this problem. We continue to demand plastic packaging every time we do our weekly shop of multi-pack peppers and shrink wrapped broccoli.

(Article continues below)


More from Ethical Surrey:


 

My conviction has led me to explore the idea of a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle. Sounds wacky? This is no stylish fad aiming for minimalist white walls and single-stem pot plants. This is a real attempt at combatting a real issue which affects so many people and our planet. It is definitely clear that plastic is chosen for convenience and time-saving. This is hardly surprising as the fast-paced, busy lives which we lead demand as much efficiency as possible and this often leads to packaged items being chosen over homemade zero-waste options. Time is precious, I understand this but our beautiful world is also precious. Therefore, making some homemade brownies, flapjacks or a sandwich to take to work seems like a very do-able step to avoiding the biscuit and crisp packets in the lunchtime meal deal. Also, as a bonus, it’s cheaper too!

I don’t have all the answers and haven’t yet sussed out this alternative way of living,  I’m still walking the walk one step at a time but I would love to share some of the top tips for zero waste living which I have found very helpful. Hopefully this will encourage you to take up the challenge yourself! There are changes we can make in our homes and offices to ditch the plastic for good.

Before you get started, if you’ve yet to warm up to this idea that life is better without plastic why not commit to keeping every piece of disposable plastic for a month. I can testify to what a humbling experience this can be. It certainly opened up my eyes.

So, tip number one: Go for bamboo when it comes to brushing your teeth. Every piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists. So that means every toothbrush is still out there somewhere. Bamboo toothbrushes are easily available, inexpensive and completely biodegradable. Win, win, win. (www.savesomegreen.co.uk)

Take two: …but not two disposable coffee cups. In fact never take one again. They are not currently recycled in this country and we certainly do get through a fair few. Get yourself a reusable cup (they come in bamboo too!) and never look back.

Finally: Take the plunge and go loose when you buy your fruit and veg. Only buy the vegetables you need, none of this multi-pack business and save on the food waste as well as the polymers. Bananas have their own skin, they don’t need an extra plastic one to make it home.

There is a lot of information out there on zero waste living and how this can work practically. Have a browse and get creative!

Together we can make a stand against plastic and the problems it causes and begin to halt the suffocating effect it is having all across the world. Our planet is far too precious and we can all play our small, yet significant part, in showing it some love.

Read More

Got an idea for an article? Click here to find out more about writing for us.