Yesterday, the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas joined the prominent voices opposing the world’s dependence on plastic.
She joins ex-CEO of Asda, Andy Clarke, who last week called for supermarkets to stop using plastic packaging.
There have been numerous attempts at reducing our use of plastic of late, the most prominent being the plastic bag tax that was implemented last year, resulting in reducing our plastic bag consumption by 83% in 2016-2017, compared to 2014. Although the plastic bag tax was met with it’s critics, the results are impressive, and demonstrate the beginnings of the creation of a world that doesn’t depend on single-use plastic.
There has also been moves attempting to limit our casual use of plastic, single-use straws – and our very own the Tempest Bar on the seafront has led the way, banning plastic straws last summer, and offering metal straws for those who can’t go without, with a small deposit cost.
Coffee shops have also come under fire, with the revelation that only 1% of the 2.5 billion disposable cups thrown away in the U.K. are recycled. Caroline Lucas, again, has been a prominent voice on this issue, calling for more incentives to encourage the use of reusable cups. The disposable coffee cups that are currently used contain plastic, amongst other materials, and so cannot be recycled. Brighton, again, seems to be at the forefront of tackling this problem, with Bagelman announcing their switch to completely recyclable disposable coffee cups this past summer.
However, all these moves are merely small steps towards the goal of a plastic-free world. In our day to day lives, we are surrounded by plastic. Societal norms have created a ‘throw-away’ culture, and food and drink on the go has become a necessity, rather than a last resort. Plastic becomes the easiest material for this purpose. Everything is wrapped in plastic, in a plastic container, or with a plastic label on it. We, as consumers, consume plastic alongside everything else.
The majority of plastic used within Europe is for packaging, and 39.9% of the plastic produced goes on to be used in packaging. For comparison, the automotive industry uses 19.7%, and electrical uses are only 5.8% of the European plastic market. In 2015, EU plastic demand stood at 49 million tonnes.
The amount of plastic produced in 2015 stood at around 322 million tonnes, making it around the same size as the entire weight of humanity.
These huge figures seem absurd.
However, having worked in coffee shops and supermarkets, I can vouch for the incredible amount of wastage we produce from something that seems as simple as the way our products are packaged. In supermarkets, everything seems to be packaged in plastic. And in our fast-paced lifestyles, many of us need to be able to drink our coffee on the go – some of us even seem to prefer disposable plastic cups, due to their ease.
But with plastic use so ingrained within our society, is it possible to change behaviours that are so natural to us?
With plastic making it’s way into our oceans, into the food we eat, into the air we breathe; this issue transcends environmental issues.
Now this issue is becoming more and more unavoidable, we, as a society, need to address it.
But first, as individuals, we can work to reduce our plastic consumption. Although it is virtually impossible to completely boycott plastic, due to it’s unyielding prevalence, we can still make small steps. Buy a flask. Take a water bottle out with us. Pack a lunch. Buy whole fruits rather than pre-packaged packs.
What will a future without plastic look like? It seems so incredible distant. For now, perhaps it’s enough to actively acknowledge and try to limit our plastic consumption.