The impact of single use plastic in our lives
Nathalia Fisher and Luke Douglas-Home |

Using single-use plastic can be convenient, but it comes at a huge environmental cost to our planet and lives.

Consumption of plastic has increased dramatically in the past decade and has become an essential product in our modern lives.

According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic (by weight) than fish. Studies also found that tiny particles of plastic are already in our food chain and an average person who consumes seafood ingests 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic per year.

Evidence suggests that 30% of tested market fish contain microplastics, and 100% of blue mussels tested on European coasts.

Is our current economic model sustainable? The yachtswomen, Dame Ellen MacArthur, is campaigning to promote a different mode, a circular economy, where raw materials are not just taken from the environment and then disposed of. Instead, products are used, then reused and recycled, repeatedly.

“Shifting to a real circular economy for plastics is a massive opportunity to close the loop, save billions of dollars, and decouple plastics production from fossil fuel consumption” - Dame Ellen MacArthur .

Most of us know about the 3R’s - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - but doesn’t our responsibility start before that? Statistics show that 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, so separating our plastic to get recycled, doesn’t mean it actually will be. We think another ‘R’ is needed: ‘Re-think’. Re-thinking is the pre-cursor to reducing, reusing and recycling.

Most of the plastics we use, we don’t need, and our environment pays a high cost for that. Scientific research is not yet out, but we might be paying hugely with our own health. For example, BPA is used in the production of many plastics, from food containers, drinks bottles, infant feeding (baby) bottles, plates and mugs and storage containers. Recently, BPA-laced plastic was declared safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): “prematurely”, according to Environment Health News. The FDA says that the results of a test into BPA plastic, showed "minimal effects"- at the same time as also declaring that most Americans’ exposure to BPA resulted inincreased mammary cancer and chronic inflammation of the prostate. They were also aware of a previous study that showed BPA was “consistently associated with reported heart disease in the general adult population of the USA”.

Single-use plastics have a high environmental impact.  After incurring huge production and transportation costs they are used only once, mostly for a few minutes or seconds, then thrown away. We are starting a campaign regarding this in a few weeks, called #StirCrazy. Follow us on twitter @clearpubspace and post the hashtag #StirCrazy to follow.

“Britain disposes of enough single-use plastic waste in a year to fill the Albert Hall 1,000 times” – Theresa May, UK Prime Minister

There are a few single-use products that can be easily ditched from our lives and replaced for reusable and durable products. We have put together only a few of them below:

Plastic Bottles

Most people reading this, have used a plastic bottle in the past week or even in the last day. Statistics show that worldwide, a million plastic bottles are purchased every minute.

Plastic bottles are normally made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is highly recyclable plastic. But when loose in the environment  they could take about 400 years to degrade naturally. Plastic has only been used for less than a century so we just don’t know more about this indestructible material's longevity. The problem is that consumption of plastic is increasing. It is estimated that in 2020 over 500 billion bottles will be sold in the world. If these bottles were placed next to each other, end to end, it would extend more than halfway to the sun.

You can easily reduce your plastic bottle consumption by:

  • Installing a filter system in your house or purchasing a filtering jug
  • Getting a reusable water bottle
  • Drinking tap water when possible

Going travelling? You can avoid purchasing bottled water by taking with you a filtering water bottle.

Coffee Cups

A lot of us like a coffee to get us up in the morning, and many of us will purchase one in a coffee shop to take away. Even if we only purchase one takeaway coffee a week, it is already 52 disposable cups going to waste every year.

Only in the UK,every day,  7 million disposable cups  are used. This is 2.5 billion cups every year. Technically, these cups are , in fact, recyclable. What makes it difficult to recycle them is that  they are lined with polyethylene (a plastic)  to be waterproof and contain the liquid.  So, there are only three recycling facilities in the UK that are able to separate the plastic film of the paper cup to be recycled,which makes it economically challenging for this problem to be solved in this way. Cropper paper mill have invested millions into technology to be able to do this.

More immediately effective in reducing this problem are the schemes of a few coffee chains, like Pret A Manger, who introduced a discount of 25 to 50 pence if you bring our own reusable mug. They hope this incentive may help change consumer habits.

Besides saving in your morning coffee expenditure, you will also be helping to reduce wastage sent to landfills. Feeling good and acting toward a future without rubbish can be a perfect start to your day. We, at ‘A Future without Rubbish’, recommend ordering filter coffee in a re-usable cup from Pret a Manger– that works out as 49p a cup of coffee. Or you could slow down, and have a proper cup of coffee in Caffé Nero.

Plastic Bags

According to Environmental Protection Agency, around 500 billion to 1 trillion disposable shopping bags are used around the world each year. On average, a plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes, but it will stay in landfills, oceans and the environment for centuries.

While in the environment, these plastic bags can contaminate the water and land, kill wildlife, and gather rainwater, offering a perfect spot for mosquitoes that transmit diseases to reproduce.

In England, a 5 pence charge for bags was introduced at the end of 2015. Since the scheme was introduced, the number of bags used have dropped by more than 80 percent. This means that 9 billion fewer bags were used since the charge was introduced.

Next time, rethink and refuse plastic bags! There are many alternatives to plastic shopping bags, like canvas bags, reusable bags, backpack, or even cardboard boxes. Try to always carry a reusable bag with you and try to avoid plastic bags next time you go shopping.

Below are a few items to have with you to reduce your plastic consumption:

If you want to learn more about reducing your waste at your house, click here. Follow us also on Facebook for updates on projects we are currently carrying on.

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