Could you go plastic free for the oceans this July?
MCS, a charity campaigning for clean seas, sustainable fisheries and the protection of marine life, has run its Plastic Challenge for the past four years, with more than 5,000 people getting involved in 2017. With public awareness about the problems posed by single-use plastics at an all time high, and a number of global environmental campaigns choosing to focus on this issue (including both World Environment Day and World Oceans Day), 2018 could be the Challenge’s most successful year yet.
The facts can be overwhelming: there are around 300 million tonnes of plastic manufactured across the world each year, and it is estimated that 8-12 million tonnes end up in the oceans. Minute microplastics have been found in creatures living thousands of metres below the surface of the sea. Data from MCS’s Great British Beach Clean, an annual beach litter-pick and survey held every September, shows a shocking 180 per cent rise in the amount of plastic litter found on UK beaches in the past two decades.
TV presenter Simon Reeve is supporting the venture as an MCS Ocean Ambassador. He commented: “Our planet is becoming poisoned by plastic. The vast amount in our oceans has become an environmental emergency as a direct result of our throwaway society. That’s why I’m supporting thousands of people living without single use plastic this July as part of the Marine Conservation Society’s Plastic Challenge. Don’t just get depressed about plastic - stop using it!”
The Plastic Challenge hopes to not only draw attention to the scale of the problem, showing how we have come to rely on plastics in nearly every aspect of day-to-day life, but to inspire people to take action. “The support we had last year was amazing,” said Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Technical Specialist. “We know, from the comments we received on social media, that for many, this month is the start of a lifestyle change.”
'Easy steps' for an 'uphill climb'
Giving up all single-use plastic is not an easy task, but a growing number of businesses have been pledging to make the prospect easier, with more than 40 signing up to drastically cut their plastic use and production as part of the UK Plastics Pact, a cross-industry environmental agreement.
Supermarkets across the UK have stated they will cut down on levels of plastic packaging: frozen food specialist Iceland has pledged to make all its own-brand products plastic-free within five years, while in Glasgow, a new store has opened offering a range of products completely free of plastic packaging. The concept of a plastic-free aisle in supermarkets was even mentioned in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which committed the UK to ‘zero avoidable plastic waste by 2042’.certain plastic products - such as straws, cutlery, plates and cotton buds - have been proposed by the European Commission as part of the wider European Plastics Strategy.
But while this large-scale action is at a very early stage, MCS wants to encourage individuals to make small changes to their everyday lives. To this end, the charity has produced a book, titled ‘How to Live Plastic Free: a day in the life of a plastic detox’, which provides practical advice on how to cut back on unnecessary plastics. The charity will also be offering tips throughout July to anyone who signs up to the Challenge.
Kinsey continued: “This is a challenge that you can make as easy or as hard for yourself as you like. But however you choose to do it you won't fail to realise just how reliant on plastic we’ve become. Some things are really tough to replace however much you want to give up single-use plastic.
“Reducing plastic litter will certainly be an uphill climb - but there are some easy steps to take and if we can all cut down the amount we use there’s no doubt our marine environment will be a healthier place. People taking on the Plastic Challenge are often shocked to find out just how much single-use plastic is used every day. Have a go and even if you can only manage a single day, you’ll never look at your shopping in the same way again!”
The Plastics Challenge is being sponsored by water filtration company BRITA UK, which has been vocal in its support for waste-reduction initiatives. In April, the company published a survey along with environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy which asked over 2,000 people about their attitudes to single-use plastics, finding that there are still a number of barriers to reducing the consumption of plastic water bottles. More recently, BRITA also surveyed the sustainability targets of UK hospitality businesses.
For more information or to sign up to the Plastic Challenge, visit the MCS website.