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Our Problem with Plastic: Tips for a Plastic Free World

30th January 2018

Entering plastic into the news-feed of a search engine makes for woeful reading.  

Greenpeace has shockingly stated that 8.3 biillion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. The BBC unhappily informs me our production rate continues to accelerate; 8 million tonnes enters our oceans each year, offers the latest soundbite. The stark reality of this figure was made all the clearer by the National Geographic recently sharing the uncovering of a garbage patch in the South Pacific; this swirling mass is apparently larger than Mexico. In sum, the danger of plastics is on a par with climate change, according to the Guardian.

A sense of foreboding has been building in 2017. The problem of plastic has been catapulted from a cursory nod in a research seminar to an issue of global importance that, whisper it, may lead to governmental change. Whether punitive action will drive real change is debatable but at the very least there are signs that the issue is beginning to have the backing of the people: on a weekly basis, nearly 10 million people are enthralled by the BBC series Blue Planet II, which has focused on the devastating effect plastic is having on our oceans. An estimated 5 trillion microplastics have accumulated in our oceans (thank you the Guardian), entering animal and human food chains.

London’s World Travel Meeting

Travel awkwardly sits as both a driver and a victim of the plastic problem. And so my heart sank when, a couple of weeks ago, mere seconds into my entry at London’s annual World Travel Meeting, I was juggling several plastic water bottles and laden down by plastic goody bags. Surely, the pinnacle showcase of an industry so intertwined with the future fate of our planet, should be leading on shaking our global plastic addiction and not freely dealing out plastic paraphernalia.

I would not be the last to point out the day’s uncomfortable welcome. However, nor was I alone to guiltily succumb to a mid afternoon swig of bottled-water. Why? Well, networking has quite the mouth-drying effect and I suppose my plastic bottle provided a cheap, convenient and ultimately irresistible solution. I assured myself that I would wash and reuse my empty bottle as I drained its contents.

Take Action

In spite of the earlier hypocrisies, I was heartened by plastic being identified as one of the focus issues for the future of the travel industry.  Change is needed at a societal level: industries and individuals alike must take responsibility and decouple their actions from plastic-consuming processes.  

The Responsible Tourism stand facilitated a talk on the ‘Oceans of Plastic’, during which all five speakers offered insights on how best to address this growing issue. 

Plastic Oceans Foundation: the Foundation is working to challenge society’s perception of plastic as a disposable material.  Most prominently it is carrying out an awareness campaign; available on Netflix, it’s documentary feature film A Plastic Ocean is a must-watch.

Incredible Oceans: the organisation uses charismatic creatures, especially whales, to captivate the general public: most prominently this has been realized through the delivery of the Whale Fest.  As part of a wider educational-outreach programme, social change within the travel industry focuses on stopping the use of four single-use plastic items: coffee cups, plastic bags, water bottles and straws.

WasteAid UK: the organisation recognises that plastic in the oceans is a symptom of a much wider waste issue.  It continues to gather data on waste; develop projects, according to local needs that harness the power of simple technologies; and deliver capacity building at the local level, to ensure that these projects are self-sustaining.

Water-to-Go: identifies single-use plastic water bottles as one of the most pressing global issues.  The organisation has developed a product that has a filtration system with the technology to enable any water, apart from salt water sources, to be immediately drinkable.

The Brighter Group: this travel marketing company seeks to move beyond the the standard PR relationships with a destination: for example, the group is helping Belize to address the problems that plastics are causing to their environment and economy.

How Can You Help?
  1. Start a conversation. Raising awareness and making conscious decisions is the first step in decreasing your use of plastic and helping those around you make the same decision.
  2. Avoid buying plastic bottles, straws, plastic bags or other single use plastic containers. It’s difficult to avoid plastic, but small steps can make a huge difference. Consider buying in bulk and bringing your own reusable containers for leftovers.
  3. Bring your own thermos to the coffee shop. Sometimes coffee shops even offer discounts for bringing your own cup!
  4. Say no to “polypropylene” or “polyethylene”. Common face wash brands use microbeads to exfoliate the skin, but those little beads aren’t filtered out and make it into the ocean. There are plenty of biodegradable products on the market, just google “microbead free face scrub” and you’ll find something that works for you.
  5. Read the Guide to Sustainable Mountain Adventures  to discover the ways you can avoid plastic while in the great outdoors.
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