Among the million things we need to do to reduce emissions and avert climate breakdown, kicking the arse out of plastic is one of the most urgent. Plastic comes from dirty-bad oil, gas and coal, all of it spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the air. A 2015 study reckoned plastic accounts for about 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and uses about 6% of coal-fired electricity in its production. We’re bringing on the sixth mass extinction for the sake of shrink-wrapped broccoli.
Once we’re done with it we dump it: Into landfills, into rivers and seas and, eventually, into our own bodies. Plastic Oceans reckons we dump 10 million tons of plastic into our oceans every year, where it kills a million marine animals every year, and where the ones we don’t kill chow down on microplastics. Sea creatures eat plastic, humans eat sea creatures, humans eat plastic. Microplastics have been found in human blood, human lungs, and human babies’ shit. We fully deserve it.
And while climate-denying CHUDs tell you China’s the real problem, the UK is second only to the US for plastic waste per person. We produce too much of this shit. So much, in fact, that most of the plastic that can be recycled is instead being ditched in landfills. We’re dumping loads of it in Turkey, walking away whistling with our hands behind our backs all casual-like, while they set it on fire and release even more filth into the air.
Naturally, as Zeroes we’re doing what we can to reduce our plastic footprints. We’re choosing sustainable and reusable materials, trading out plastic for non-plastic packaging, ditching bottled water, trekking to refill shops for washing up liquid, using plastic-free soap and shampoo bars, using reusable carrier bags, and turning single-use plastic to eco bricks. But we’re still overrun with plastic waste because the problem lies not just with consumers but manufacturers. They’re the ones choosing to put their stuff into plastic packaging when alternatives are already available. And consumers want them to cut that shit out. A YouGov/Greenpeace poll found 81% of people want the government to get on this, setting targets to reduce plastic waste.
Let’s actually do a thing
Here’s what we can do: We can sign up for The Big Plastic Count. Run by Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace UK, the Big Plastic Count asks us to track how much plastic waste we get through in a week. We’ll count up single-use plastic wrappers and squeezy tubes, recyclable plastic bottles and tubs, and hard plastic packaging, and send off our totals to Big Count Headquarters. We’ll track our own plastic footprints and maybe see new ways to reduce them and, more importantly, give them a load of data they can ram in the faces of governments and manufacturers. That’ll help them get what they’re looking for: Non-negotiable government targets to reduce single-use plastic by 2025 via enforced moves to reusable packaging, deposit return schemes and a ban on sweeping our waste under other countries’ carpets.
This works. In the last few years campaigning has forced companies to reduce plastic packaging for ass-kissing PR purposes. After Greenpeace targeted Sainsburys they committed to more refillable and less single-use packaging. Napolina pasta switched its plastic bags to cardboard boxes. Arch bastards Tesco stopped selling plastic baby wipes, and were followed by other supermarkets and producers. Plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds have been banned. And while there’s an element of greenwashing here, a familiar whiff of small scale platitude, it’s not nothing given we were getting through 316 million plastic stirrers, 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds, 4.7 billion plastic straws and 11 billion wet wipes every year. Every example proves these transitions are entirely, immediately doable. We need more of them. And we need them to be unavoidable for manufacturers who don’t give two shits about the harm they’re doing.
The Big Plastic Count runs from the 16th to the 22nd May. You can sign up right now, and join the 162,000 people already giving it a go. Just think: If everyone who reads this article signs up, we’ll be up to 162,004. Get on it!