Eco-Friendly Gifts Blog: The Importance Of Reducing in 2020
A key part of tackling the plastic pollution crisis we face is how much plastic we use on a daily basis. If the demand for single use plastic is still high, then plastic manufacturers will continue to meet that demand.
By reducing the amount of single use plastic we use, it will reduce the supply in turn. In this blog, we're going to look at why reducing is so important, and why recycling and landfill are not sustainable options for disposal.
We're going to briefly mention how we are taking action to reduce single use packaging, and waste sent to landfill, by talking specifically about our Gifts For Students. Afterall, there's nothing worse than being a hypocrite!
Is Recycling Plastic Sustainable?
In short, no. Let's go over a few reasons as to why that is.
In developed countries, such as the UK, we don't see where our plastic waste ends up.
In 2018, the UK exported 611,000 tonnes of plastic waste to other countries. It is cheaper to export plastic waste, than it is to deal with it internally.
Countries such as Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia are several of the common destinations for our plastic waste.
Up until recently, China was the highest importer of plastic waste in the world. Due to the amount of exporting taking place in China, huge numbers of shipping containers were being used every year.
The problem is, on the way back to China, these shipping containers were empty. This meant that much of the fuel and other costs associated with shipping containers, was being used for no reason other than to return the ships to China.
Why not fill shipping containers with plastic waste from the destination country? This way, they would be adding profit to each journey, and using shipping containers to make money 100% of the time, rather than just 50%.
From 1992 to 2016, China imported 45% of the worlds plastic waste. This all changed in 2018, when China implemented their National Sword programme. The programme stipulated that they would only import plastic of 99.5% purity.
This meant that much of the plastic waste from developed countries being sent to China, would now not be.
This lead to other countries taking up the slack, and importing the plastic waste that would have previously sent to China.
Countries such as Malaysia began to take in vast amounts of plastic, much of it being dumped or burned illegally. Recently, the Malaysian environment minister stated that Malaysia would no longer be the dumping ground of the world.
Malaysia then started to return plastic waste sent to them by countries such as the UK.
Due to this ban on importing plastic, many illegal recycling plants began to form in rural areas of Malaysia. Because they are so profitable for the owners, the businesses are willing to take the risk and break the law, to import plastic waste.
The Malaysian authorities raid ports they suspect of harbouring imported plastic. Plastic has effectively become a material to be smuggled, due to the newly formed illegality combined with the potential profits up for grabs.
Many of the employees at these plants have to work in appalling conditions, often exposed to toxic fumes being produced by the illegal plastic processing factories
In Canada, a documentary crew tracked several bales of plastic waste sent for recycling. Out of the three bales, only one was actually recycled. The other two were sent to landfill and incineration respectively.
In Canada, there is actually no obligation for recycling companies to recycle. It sounds strange, but it's true.
Recycling was invented by the very same companies who are producing the plastic itself.
As a result of recycling, companies selling vast amounts of single use plastic items such as drinks bottles now can blame the consumer for where the waste ends up.
If a plastic bottle ends up in landfill, the company who produced it can say "nothing to do with us, it should have been recycled." If a plastic bottle ends up in the ocean, they can say the same thing.
Recycling is hugely inefficient. Only 9% of plastic ever created has been recycled. A part of this poor figure comes from recycling contamination.
Recycling contamination is when a type of plastic is incorrectly mixed in with another type. This can result in the processed plastic becoming lower than the quality needed to recycle it.
A specific example of this is PVC being mixed with PET. PET requires high temperatures to soften it, in order to process it for recycling.
At the high temperatures required to mould PET, PVC starts to break down into hydrochloric acid. This acid attacks the PET plastic, reducing the quality of it to a point where it can't be recycled anymore.
This means the whole batch of PET will now be sent to landfill, or energy recovery through incineration.
By reducing the amount we use, we can allow proper solutions to be formed to create alternatives to plastic, and how we dispose of them.
At the current rate of plastic production, estimated to be 300 million tonnes a year, our disposal systems can't cope. This leads to one of the biggest man made disasters in history: plastic pollution.
Reduction Case Study: Gifts For Students
In terms of how we are reducing, and diverting waste that would have been sent to landfill, let's talk about our Gifts For Students collection.
Our Desk Accessories Set uses materials including bamboo, which is a sustainable, fast growing crop. Bamboo is a great alternative to plastic, due to its lowered carbon footprint from its ability to sequester CO2.
Our Gifts For Students range reduces waste send to landfill by using plastic free packaging on many of the essential toiletries, such as the Shampoo Bars.
Our Gifts For Students are designed around making the transition into Uni as easy as possible, both socially and academically.
Plastic pollution is the result of an international failure to dispose of plastic waste properly.
The solution to plastic pollution can be compared to an overflowing sink. If you walked into your kitchen, and you saw that the floor was flooded with water because someone had left the tap on, what would you do?
You wouldn't start to mop up all the water, and start to dry the floor using a towel. You would turn the tap off. The first step in fighting plastic pollution has to be: turn the tap off.
Unfortunately, while the plastics industry is still allowed to produce mass single use plastics, they will continue to do so. As long as the plastics industry continues to profit, there won't be any change in the amount of plastic they produce.
This is why reducing is so important - by reducing the amount of plastic we consume on a daily basis, it will reduce the demand for it.
This will lead to the plastic producers losing profit, which will lead them to reducing the amount of plastic they produce. If the demand goes low enough, they will have to start thinking about alternatives to plastic that are much more environmentally friendly.
This principle of supply and demand shows why reducing really can make a difference.
The marine community has been severely impacted by plastic pollution. With marine animals inadvertently ingesting plastic that they mistake for food, population numbers are being hit.
Whales are one of the species who are facing the consequences of plastic pollution. In 2018, a sperm whale was found with 13 pounds of plastic in it's stomach. Stranded in indonesia, the whale was found full of plastic including flip flops and carrier bags.
Due to the amount of plastic marine animals like whales are consuming, they don't feel the need to hunt for actual food. This is because their stomachs get so full of plastic, they think they are full of nutrition. As a result, they slowly starve to death without knowing it.
In February of 2019, 50 marine mammals washed up on the UK's shores. Many of these fatalities were whales and dolphins, and all of them had their stomachs filled with plastic.
It's not only solid pieces of plastic debris that present danger to marine animals. Microplastics build up in the bodies of marine animals, accumulating at every trophic level of the marine food chain.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm in all dimensions. They can either be produced to be this size, or they can form from larger pieces of plastic degrading.
The former group are known as primary microplastics. These include pellets, nurdles and clothing fibres.
Secondary microplastics can be formed from any piece of plastic that breaks down. Plastic bottles, straws and cutlery are examples of single use plastic that can form secondary microplastics.
Microplastics enter the marine food chain at the bottom, with a common first organism being zooplankton.
When these small creatures are ingested by their predator, one trophic level above them, their predator ingests all the plastic that was in the body of the zooplankton as well. This process is known as the trophic transfer of microplastics.
Near the top of the food chain with large animals such as seals, microplastics have now accumulated on a large scale.
Seals have been found to contain microplastic traces, as well as many other large marine predators.
Humans have also been found with microplastic traces, which could be from eating marine fish such as cod. Because there are so many ways in which a human could take in microplastics, it's hard to say if eating fish containing microplastics is a significant contributor.
Microplastics have been linked to severe health issues, but the verdict is out on the exact risks that they pose. Research is currently underway by several groups to fully understand the risks microplastics could present.
Throughout this blog, we've gone over why reducing the amount of plastic we use is a key factor in providing a solution to the plastic pollution crisis.
We've gone over the dangers of continuing to persevere with the current scale of plastic production, and how it is affecting marine life. We need to turn the tap off before we start mopping the floor.
The motivation behind starting our shop selling sustainable gifts was to reduce plastic entering the natural environment.
We achieve this by our zero to landfill scheme, for our compostable sustainable gifts, LFHP Zero. In the future, we want to have zero waste going to landfill for our entire range of gifts, not just our compostable ones.
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