Earth Overshoot Day: Over 80 per cent of Britons want plastic phased out

A PlasticFree poll reveals that over 80 per cent of UK citizens want plastic replaced this Earth Overshoot Day (2 August).

Plastic wasteEarth Overshoot Day refers to the date in which humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the Earth can regenerate within a year.

This year’s Overshoot Day is five days later than the previous year’s 28 July date, though Global Footprint Network stress that this is due to the integration of improved datasets and that progress on planetary impact equates to around one day.

Critics have argued that this progress is still too slow. Achieving the UN’s IPCC target of reducing carbon emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels would require pushing the Earth Overshoot Day back 19 days annually for the next seven years.

Country-specific overshoot days also differ worldwide. In countries like Jamaica, Ecuador and Indonesia, the day falls in December, whilst in Qatar, Luxembourg, UAE, USA and Canada, the day comes before the end of March. In the UK, overshoot was reached on 19 May.

To determine the Earth Overshoot day each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days that the Earth’s biocapacity is sufficient to provide for humanity’s ecological footprint. The remaining days in the year correspond to overshoot.

Steven Tebbe, CEO of Global Footprint Network, commented that: “Persistent overshoot leads to ever more prominent symptoms including unusual heat waves, forest fires, droughts, and floods, with the risk of compromising food production.

“This underscores the interest for cities, countries, and business entities to foster their own resource security if they want to prosper. The world would benefit as well.”

Pushing the Earth Overshoot date back by reducing plastic waste

The Power of Possibility platform stresses that Earth Overshoot Day can be pushed back significantly by reducing plastic waste.

In the UK, it is estimated that in total households dispose of around 100 billion pieces of plastic – over half of which is packaging – each year. This is worsened by the fact that just 51 per cent of plastics were recycled in the country in 2022, a figure that represents a reduction from the two years prior.

The UK also exports a significant amount of plastic waste. According to Recoup, the country exported to the most is Turkey – with 31.5 per cent of the waste exported from the UK for recycling being sent there. This includes over half of the UK’s mixed plastic waste which is far more difficult to recycle. A Greenpeace report highlights the low recycling rate in Turkey and cites issues regarding illegal dumping or burning of plastic waste. Therefore, UK plastic waste is not only an issue within its own borders.

Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned: “Plastic is made from fossil fuels – the more plastic we produce, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the worse we make the climate crisis. But we have solutions.

“We must work as one – governments, companies, and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste, and build a truly circular economy”.

Notably, a PlasticFree poll released this Earth Overshoot Day has highlighted that moving beyond plastic is popular within the UK. The poll finds that approximately 81 per cent of Britons welcome the shift from plastics to innovative solutions.

Speaking on the need to move beyond plastic waste, Co-founder of A Plastic Planet and PlasticFree, Sian Sutherland, said: “Our planet gives us so many genuinely renewable materials. We simply need to borrow them from Nature, keeping them toxin and plastic free so they can go back to nature safely. Nature is of course a perfect circle, with no waste whatsoever. Plastic simply destroys that circularity.

“We work closely with industry on solutions because business is the lever of change. There is no consumer goods company in the world that doesn’t want to reduce their use of plastic. Plastic is the old economy, and we focus on helping them create for the new economy.”

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