News | December 2, 2021

7 Ways You Can Counter The Scourge Of Single-Use Plastics

Humanity’s decades-old addiction to disposable plastic, from straws to shopping bags, is choking the world’s rivers and seas, threatening wildlife and contaminating the food chain. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this problem worse as the use of disposable masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) soars.

United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) From Pollution to Solution report shows that plastic pollution leakage into aquatic ecosystems has grown sharply in recent years and is projected to more than double by 2030, with dire consequences for human health, the global economy, biodiversity and the climate.

The report highlights that plastic accounts for 85 per cent of marine litter and warns that by 2040, volumes of plastic pollution flowing into marine areas will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of plastic waste into the ocean per year. This means about 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline worldwide.

Solutions to this plastic conundrum are complex and include improving regulation, ramping up recycling and introducing incentives to encourage a reduction in virgin plastic production. But experts say there are several things everyday people can do to help tackle the mounting toll plastic is taking on the environment.

“Plastic was invented to last. Instead, we have decided to misuse this ingenious material and throw it away after a single use,” said Kakuko Yoshida, the Global Coordinator of Chemicals, Waste and Air Quality at UNEP. “The convenience of plastic has blinded us to its impact on the planet. We need to put circularity at the heart of our economic and social systems so that we can all enjoy the true value of plastic.”

If you’re looking to break your addiction to plastic, take these simple steps.

Adopt a circular lifestyle
Embrace what’s known as circularity, the idea that products – and the materials that go into them – should be reused instead of being thrown away. Studies show that the world is only 8.6 per cent circular. While this is disappointing, it means there is huge space for circularity and sustainable consumption and production to bring rapid and extensive gains.

Invest in sustainable, ocean-friendly products, like reusable coffee mugs, water bottles, and food packaging. Also check out options like reusable nappies and menstrual products, bamboo toothbrushes, and solid shampoos. You could save money and protect the oceans and the planet at the same time because plastics are also a climate problem. UNEP research shows that in 2015 greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalent and are projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatons by 2050. This represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget - the amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted, while still keeping warming within the Paris Agreement goals.

Steer clear of plastic gloves
COVID-19 has led to an explosion in the use of disposable plastic gloves. But in addition to being bad for the environment, the World Health Organization (WHO) says gloves risk transferring germs from one surface to another and contaminating your hands when you remove them. WHO says it’s safer to ditch plastic gloves and instead wash your hands frequently.

Gaetano Leone, Coordinator, UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat, also warns of the heightened risks of a visible return to plastic food packaging, especially during lockdowns. Leone pointed out that if the global population adheres to the standard of one disposable face mask per day, the pandemic could result in a staggering monthly consumption of 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves globally.

Make sure your toiletries are plastic-free
Personal care products are a major source of microplastics, which get washed into the oceans straight from our bathrooms. Look for plastic-free face wash, day cream, makeup, deodorant, shampoo and other products. Check out this interactive story to see just what we are talking about.

Say no to plastic when you’re shopping
Try to reduce your plastic footprint by choosing food without plastic packaging and bringing a reusable bag. Some shops now have plastic-free aisles and many offer loose produce or use dispensers and refillable containers. Use your own coffee mug when out and about instead of accepting a plastic one. And, of course, ditch the plastic straws and stir sticks. When shopping online, look for options that will allow you to opt out of plastic packaging.

Roll up your sleeves and get cleaning
Plastic is everywhere: it’s in parks, rivers and on beaches. Join global and local movements, such as World Cleanup Day, or organize a cleanup yourself. If you jog, become a ‘plogger’ and pick up any litter you see on your way (all the while observing COVID-19 hygiene protocols). Some 80 per cent of marine litter originates on land and in rivers.

Stop smoking
Not only is smoking one of the world’s biggest public health threats – killing more than 8 million people annually – it also contributes to enormous plastic pollution of our oceans. Every day, billions of cigarettes are sold around the world, each containing plastic filters and toxic chemicals. These wastes will end up in landfills – polluting and damaging the environment – or in the sea where they threaten marine species. For more than 25 years, cigarette butts have been the main object collected during the International Coastal Cleanup.

Join UNEP’s Clean Seas campaign
Through the Clean Seas platform, UNEP is rallying individuals, civil society groups, industry and governments to dramatically reduce marine litter and its negative impacts.

Clean Seas was launched in 2017, and since then, 63 countries- coastal and landlocked - have signed up to this global movement with ambitious pledges and commitments. Many have pledged to reduce or eradicate single-use plastics from their societies through stronger legislation and regulation. Others have committed to investing more in national recycling facilities and promoting action plans to prevent coastal and marine environment harm.

There are no financial implications associated with joining the Clean Seas. Signatories can also request technical support from UNEP to develop their national action plans to tackle litter and plastic pollution.

Take the #CleanSeas pledge and join a global revolution to cut back on single-use plastics. Then, spread the word to friends and family and through your social media.

Source: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)