One Month Without Plastic Helps Reduce Landfill Waste By 4.2 Millions Tonnes A Year
While the pandemic has made it more difficult to avoid single-use plastics, millions of people have pledged to go plastic-free this month.
Plastic pollution has long been a problem our planet has been facing, but the past 18 months has arguably made the issue even worse. By the end of 2020, more than a billion face masks had entered our oceans after people were encouraged to wear them as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Meanwhile, in 2019, 20% of the 130 million metric tonnes of single-use plastic waste that was produced ended up in our oceans, or dumped on land.
With this in mind, people are being encouraged to ditch single-use plastics this month as part of Plastic Free July’s ‘My Plastic Action Counts’ campaign.
Australia-based Rebecca Prince-Ruiz created the movement in 2011, and said that a day in June that year ‘changed everything’ for her.
She recalled to UNILAD, ‘One day in June 2011 changed everything. I visited a recycling facility for the first time here in Perth and was confronted by seeing (and smelling) my waste first-hand. I was shocked firstly by the sheer volume of seeing my waste together with that of my neighbours and everyone in my suburb.’
‘We talk about throwing things ‘away’ but I had never thought about that actually being a place but I now here I was in the middle of this mountain of waste and seeing the complex, energy intensive process of seeing it being sorted, processed and baled for recycling. I learnt about the cost of recycling, watched people handling my waste for a living and learnt about the particular challenges of recycling plastics.’
Following her revelation, the next day Rebecca went into work and asked her colleagues who would attempt to go plastic-free with her for the duration of July and, much to her surprise, more than 40 people agreed to take part.
While going plastic-free was ‘more difficult than [she] thought’, through determination and the support of her colleagues taking part in the challenge, she successfully managed to find ways around her usual lifestyle.
I already took canvas bags when I shopped and had a reusable water bottle to avoid paying for bottled water – I thought I was pretty good! I was shocked to realise how much plastic there was in my life. I remember going into a supermarket and coming out almost empty-handed apart from a bunch of bananas and some mushrooms in a brown paper bag.
When I first realised the drink I ordered at a café had come with a plastic straw that I didn’t need or use, my fruit and veggies at the supermarket used half a dozen plastic produce bags, I realised there was a lot of plastic in my life that I had never noticed before.
Over the years, Rebecca found being plastic-free increasingly more straightforward and does things like shopping at local farmer’s markets and stores that accept people using their own reusable containers to package their products.
As well as going plastic-free herself, Rebecca has successfully encouraged millions of others to do the same. Last year, more than 300 million people took part, making it one of the world’s most successful environmental movements.
While Rebecca may have become a dab hand at going plastic-free, she insists that this month’s campaign ‘isn’t about being perfect, it’s about lots of people making small changes at the same time that add up to make a big impact’.
We’re all told that if many of us do small things, it will make a huge difference – well, Plastic Free July’s data proves just that, as participants collectively avoided creating a staggering 900 million kilograms of plastic waste over the course of 2020. Last year’s efforts also saw a reduction of 4.2 million tonnes of landfill waste.
Discussing why it’s now more important that ever to attempt to go plastic-free, Rebecca told UNILAD:
Even before China introduced their waste import bans in 2018, we had only managed to recycle 9% of all plastics ever made and, with plastic production projected to almost quadruple by 2050, it is clear the plastic waste issue will continue to grow. Single-use plastic has come to symbolise the wasteful, throwaway society we have become.
Despite our waste disposal and recycling efforts it is everywhere – from the deepest oceans to the summit of Mount Everest. It has been found in our wildlife, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the rain that falls on us. It is not only littering the planet, but now littering our bodies – even being found in the placentas of unborn babies.
‘Concerns about the human health impacts from plastics are emerging including disruption to hormone systems and links to a wide range of health issues including brain development, reproduction, obesity, diabetes and allergies,’ Rebecca continued. ‘We now know that we need to reduce our plastic waste and rethink its use to protect our health, our communities and our environment.’
Find out more about the Plastic Free July campaign here.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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