Anyone that watched the 4th episode of Blue Planet 2, the Big Blue, was most definitely affected by the scene with the mother carrying her deceased calf. The cause of death was assumed to be due to plastic contaminating the milk and thus poisoning the baby whale.
It was a heart-breaking scene that brought our excessive use of plastic to the spotlight for millions to see. This harsh but necessary message sparked a social media wave of pledges to reduce or stop the manufacturing and use of single-use plastic. It may be a distressing scene to watch but these images are necessary to truly understand the impact we are having on the ocean and instil within us a sense of responsibility. The issue with plastic pollution is that when we are sitting at our desks and throw away our plastic coffee cups in the bin, we cannot see the far-reaching impacts it may have on our seas.
Although I mentioned in the previous blog that I would focus on land emissions of plastic to the sea, I think that focusing on ways we can reduce plastic waste is a more important issue to address following Blue Planet’s message.
No excuse for single-use: quick and effective changes that make a difference
We need to stop buying or using unnecessary single use plastic. This includes straws, coffee cups, disposable plastic cups, plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, disposable cutlery.
We can easily make these changes by saying no to straws. Similarly, we should aim to always have a reusable coffee mug or bottle at hand and asks shops to fill that instead. Finally, having a carrier bag placed in your car/office/handbag ensures you always have one at hand when you go shopping.
There are also many easy and cheap alternatives to all of these products. Vegware is a company that produces compostable packaging. Here at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton for example, we have recently substituted all coffee cups and cutlery with Vegware products.
Reducing the need for plastic packaging
When you go shopping, try to by as little plastic packaging as possible. This involves trying to buy products that come in paper bags or no bags at all i.e. bread, vegetables, fruit. It is also a good idea to buy in bulk rather than many individually packaged items.
It is a good idea to get to know the recycling regulations in your neighbourhood, as they are all slightly different. An overarching requirement however is that most recyclable items need to be rinsed before being thrown away. This doesn’t mean you need to put them in the dishwasher, but a light rinsing of containers to remove food waste can go a long way. Finally, it is also helpful to squeeze/flatten plastic bottles and containers to remove as much air as possible. All of these quick and easy steps help streamline the processing of products at the recycling plant and result in a more energy efficient process.
Plastic pollution is often out of sight and out of mind, which limits the drive to reduce plastic consumption as we are not exposed to its effect on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. It is however never too late to have a positive impact! We are now aware of the issue and can actively help to reduce its impact on marine life. If you are interested in learning more about plastic waste, the following organisations have plenty of useful information on how to get involved!
5 Gyres institute
The great Nurdle Hunt