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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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