We’ve researched and written about supermarket controversies, local organic produce, high tech shopping solutions and the supermarkets of the future. One topic that’s popped up again and again is packaging. Specifically, the issue with plastic packaging.
Beautiful Beaches Littered with Waste
According to the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, 75% of marine litter is made up of plastic. They estimate that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic litter could enter the ocean annually and by 2050, there could be more plastics than fish in the sea.
In 2013, surfer Martin Dorey founded the #2minutebeachclean social media campaign. The campaign has since inspired tens of thousands of people around the world to spend a couple of minutes picking up litter every time they visit the beach.
“Plastic never biodegrades. It takes hundreds of years to fragment into smaller pieces of microplastics and it endangers wildlife,” explains Martin. “Not only do fish and seabirds think small plastic pieces are food, but toxins accumulate on plastics, making them more dangerous.”
A Raft Made From Plastic Bottles
In May 2016, environmentalist Lizzie Carr paddle boarded the length of England, 400 miles from Surrey to the Lake District, in the name of #PlasticPatrol. For 22 days, she photographed and geo-tagged every single piece of plastic she collected along her route to locate the problem areas across these inland waterways. She revisited four hotspots to litter pick with local communities and picked up 900 bottles in just three days.
“I used these bottles to make a raft which I used to float down the River Trent to highlight the scale of this problem. 80% of marine litter comes from inland sources and most of the plastics in our canals and rivers are food and drink related. Plastic bottles and bags make up a large proportion of what I encountered as well as lots of wrappers and food containers.”
After her journey, Lizzie says she felt more saddened than shocked by what she saw: “The sheer volume of it is so disheartening. We’re facing the same problem on inland waterways as we are coastal – otherwise beautiful places littered with plastic and debris. I think it’s easy for people to become desensitised to it, and that in itself is worrying.”
Are Plastic Water Bottles Necessary?
Another inspiring lady, Cal Major, paddled 260 miles around the Cornish coast in August 2016 to challenge people to use refillable, preferably stainless steel, water bottles.
“Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists,” says Cal. She’s challenging people to reuse single-use water bottles and invest in an alternative that will stand the test of time. “We are lucky enough to have an abundance of clean drinking water here, so there is no need to keep buying single-use plastic water bottles! Using a refillable alternative is cheaper, healthier and much more environmentally friendly – it’s a no brainer!”
Both Cal and Lizzie support Surfers Against Sewage’s “Message in a Bottle” campaign. The campaign calls for a nationwide container Deposit Return System (DRS) by which consumers can return bottles to the manufacturer for reuse or recycling in exchange for 20p. “It’s a powerful step towards creating a circular economy and preventing bottles and cans from finding their way into the environment and consequently polluting our oceans. With over 38 million plastic bottles being used every day in the UK, and almost 50% of those not being recycled, putting a value onto these items incentivises recycling, just as the plastic bag charge has reduced usage by over 80%,” says Cal.
Lizzie and Cal hope that more people will sign the petition for the DRS and ask their MPs to support the Early Day Motion. To show your support head to messageinabottle.org.uk. This deposit system already works successfully across Europe and in some states of USA and Australia. It’s one step towards making our food system a more sustainable economy. For easy ways to reduce your plastic usage, check out these quick and easy plastic swaps and start making one small change today.