Plastic Free July’- Do we want a plastic free planet at the expense of accelerating climate change?

Re-use, not refuse, plastic

Plastic Free July is a global initiative to help reduce the levels of plastic pollution, whether this is in the streets, in the countryside, landfill or in our oceans. Tackling the pollution problem (plastic or otherwise) is a cause that has our full support, as we all try to reach the goal of a cleaner, greener planet. However, one thing we always try to avoid is the needless bashing of plastics as a material. Any material which escapes the recycling and waste collection infrastructure can damage our environment.  Plastic has an extensive number of practical and sustainable benefits and is recyclable.

Recent Findings

A recent report commissioned by Veolia, titled ‘Examining material evidence – the carbon fingerprint’, has been published to highlight the ‘importance of plastic as a material’ compared to alternatives when examining the carbon emissions. This new report that looks at the carbon impact of packaging material has found that in most cases the main alternatives to plastic packaging – cardboard, glass, steel and aluminium – ‘emit more greenhouse gases’.

As stated in Circular Magazine : “The report analysed over 70 life-cycle assessments to evaluate the environmental impacts of packaging alternatives over their life-time, including impacts from mining, manufacturing, logistics, usage and end-of-life management covering recycling or disposal. By assessing many different studies with different assumptions, the overarching message was that plastic can provide the lowest carbon emissions of available materials providing it is recycled properly, and effectively debunking the growing movement to switch away from plastic in all scenarios.” Read the full article.

Single Use – Choice or Command? 

One of the main messages in the ‘Plastic Free July’ campaign is to refuse single-use plastics, however we would like to reword this message to ‘reuse your plastics’. The term ‘single-use’ is often applied to all types of plastics, , rather than recognising that there is typically a choice to recycle or re-use. You usually have the decision whether to make a plastic item single-use or (the more economical option) to reuse it, safely, several times. Water bottles, plastic containers, plastic bags, among many other items have the label of single-use, when actually their robust material allows them to be used again and again.

There are however, many items that are single-use for a reason – this is for hygiene and medical purposes. During the current situation of the global pandemic of COVID-19, plastics are playing a vital and necessary part in saving the lives of millions of people, and protecting the nation. Which poses the theory, if plastics are helping to save lives, in comparison how beneficial is bashing them?

‘Better’ alternatives or are we being misled? 

Many would argue that there are several alternatives that can be switched with plastics to provide a ‘greener’ option, but how true is this argument? While many alternatives such as glass and paper are seen as more resourceful because they can be reused more effectively, the reality is very different.

Both glass and paper require far greater resources to produce and transport – this has a far more damning effect on our environment and planet than the far lighter, plastics – which are also far easier and greener to produce, using less of the earth’s resources. Plastics emit far less CO2 due to their low production levels and light transportation. Research shows you would have to use a cotton shopping bag 173 times, to match the low environmental impact of a 5p plastic carrier – which can also be reused, and, if so, this number of 173 is increased further. Many people often forget, or simply were not aware of how much of an impact the alternatives have on our planet compared to plastics, though it is far, far greater. This lack of knowledge is often due to misleading messages from the media and anti-plastic campaigners.


Plastics CAN be recycled

There is a common misconception that plastics can not be recycled. This is a message that is often driven by anti-plastic proclamations. Plastics are a highly recycled material, with almost every council offering household and business recycling for plastics. However the misconception that other materials are easier to recycle, is a very false, misleading one. Even the ‘harder to recycle’ plastics can often be recycled, in specialist ways and units. Where this is not possible, it can be used to generate energy from waste.

Plastic problem or people problem? 

Pollution is a huge problem to our beautiful planet, but this pollution hasn’t just appeared out of nowhere, it is a result of littering and lack of appropriate investment in our waste management infrastructure. . Rubbish doesn’t make its way into our oceans, streets and the countryside without people leaving it there. We as a nation need to take responsibility for this pollution and make a change.  Take our waste home with us, put it in the correct bins and segregate our waste correctly, and even carry out litter picks if we are able to do so. These small, effortless steps will help to prevent pollution and help keep our planet clean.

Instead of being encouraged to ban plastics, we should be being encouraged to stop littering, educate ourselves on waste management and recycling and re-use items as much as we possibly can. Plastic Free July, whilst a great initiative, which has many of the same goals as we do, sadly neglects the many positive factors that plastics provide us with. Listen to both sides of the plastic argument before you change your stance on plastic. Don’t be a basher , choose to re-use and recycle!