IT'S RECYCLE WEEK! Most of us are getting much better now at reducing the number of plastic bags we use when we're out shopping (if we've not left our re-useable shopping bags in the car or at home, that is)! We know plastic bags and other plastic debris is bad for the environment but sometimes we have to see visual evidence to make us really understand the scale of the problem and to care enough to do something positive.
Vast areas of polluted oceans are commonly referred to as "plastic soup" and although you might think that it's largely distant oceans which are affected, that's not the case according to National Geographic magazine. In one of their reports on this subject, they explain that this is a universal problem, just to varying degrees, although heavy littering and consequential pollution tends to be at its worst where ocean currents meet. The fact that you can't see floating plastic islands doesn't mean that contamination from plastic and other litter isn't there, or that it's diluted enough to be harmless.
Some plastics actually break down relatively quickly in seawater but that's not good news either! That's because in doing so, plastic-derived toxic chemicals such as styrene trimer, a suspected carcinogen and Bisphenol A (BPA) are leached into the sea waters, indiscriminately contaminating every level of the oceanic food chain – and eventually coming full circle back us via the seafood we eat.
Plastic bags are hazardous to birds and sea creatures which are known to swallow plastic bags, mistaking them for jelly fish and large numbers of plastic bottle caps are also ingested by birds and sealife. Even the smallest fish are swallowing smaller or broken down plastic components. This plastic pollution video gives a hard-hitting insight of the havoc that plastic pollution is wreaking with the environment and wildlife.
It's by no means solely plastic which is polluting the world's oceans, but given the enormous scale of plastic packaging, it's important to look for ways to tackle the problem. There are, of course, the well-known strategies of trying to buy food which is not packaged in plastic but that is far easier said than done and most of us do also try to do our bit to recycle as much as we can!
However, some councils don't recycle plastic at all, despite it making up the bulk of our packaging waste. If this is the case with your council, help may be at hand – you might have a local private waste management company which takes a wide range of waste materials for recycling. (Don't rely on asking councils if companies like this exist near you as some local authorities won't direct you to them!)
Our local waste management company accepts the following materials from both domestic consumers and local businesses:
- Soft plastic (such as carrier bags and plastic wrappers);
- Firmer plastic, used for most food packaging and plastic bottles;
- Hard plastic*, the type used on many plastic toys
- Old CDs or DVDs
- Card and paper
- Clothes hangers
- Electrical appliances
* This type of hard plastic takes 50,000 years to biodegrade so recycling is by far the best option for broken or unwanted toys, if you can find somewhere locally to you offering this facility. (Just remember to remove any batteries!)
We just have to rinse dirty packaging and separate it into a few different types, but that's very easy to do and is really no great inconvenience when you get into the habit of it. As waste management companies such as this are paid by weight for the waste they sell on for recycling, you know that what you're taking there really will be recycled and none will be secretly dumped in landfill sites.
Don't forget that you can also recycle most of your soft plastic (there's so much of it in food packaging as well as plastic carriers) very conveniently at most supermarkets now too. Also, try to give back hangers when you buy new clothes unless you really need them – that way, they'll be reused or recycled. Remember that new and broken hangers can also be disposed of in to supermarkets' hanger recycling bins, rather than throwing them out with your normal rubbish.
It is possible to drastically reduce your waste and help to resolve the problems of pollution caused by litter – it may just mean tweaking your routine a little here and there to make a significant difference.
Look out for a coming feature about safe and eco-friendly BPA-free re-usable sandwich wrappers, lunchboxes and sports water bottles to help you save on waste without using toxic plastics!