What is plastic anyway?
There are so many areas affected by our use of plastic that the simple answer is - it's pretty harmful.
In 2019, a report by the Centre of International Environmental Law found that nearly every piece of plastic begins as a fossil fuel, and greenhouse gases are emitted at each of each stage of the plastic lifecycle: 1) fossil fuel extraction and transport, 2) plastic refining and manufacture, 3) managing plastic waste, and 4) plastic’s ongoing impact once it reaches our oceans, waterways, and landscape.
If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, these emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
By 2050, the cumulation of these greenhouse gas emissions from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons—10–13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget.
You can download the full report here >
BUT, our lives do depend on this material so we can't just remove it. As with most challenges we face, the solution is found in human creativity and finding better ways to manage our use of it.
The recycling industry is changing rapidly, as are advancements in materials science and product design. As we've already discovered, plastic has an increasingly global footprint and will be affected by complex forces, from oil prices to national policies and consumer preferences.
The National Geographic publication recently explored the myths surrounding recycling. They founds that most experts agree that recycling remains an important way to reduce litter and waste and to recover valuable materials. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and conserves significant amounts of energy and water. But there are some important considerations that we all need to understand when we think about recycling.
The advice? Definitely keep recycling! But it’s so important to follow your authority's recycling rules to keep the process running smoothly.
It’s always a smart idea to check the latest rules for your recycling provider, but for many schemes you no longer have to separate out the plastic windows from envelopes, or remove staples from documents. Recycling equipment is now often equipped with heating elements that melt away adhesives or with magnets that strip away bits of metal.
An increasing number of recyclers are even able to take products made of mixed or unknown resins, as can be found in many toys and household items. This doesn’t mean you can throw anything you want into your recycling bun - but it does mean a wider range of products can be recycled than ever before.
We've been stumped by this too! And it's not just plastics. So as part of our journey to better understand how we can make a difference, we will be educating ourselves on what the various recycling symbols mean. You can view our blog on this here . We'll be adding to it throughout the year.
Well anything is possible - but probably not. In fact, plastic free is probably not even the solution to the climate war. Right now, human creativity is at work - arguably not fast enough and not funded enough. But it is happening. Manufacturing processes are becoming greener. Recycling schemes are becoming more efficient. Our great environmentalists such as David Attenborough are beating the drum for change. Even the global pandemic has brought into sharp focus the proof that governments have the ability to make big decisions and drive change. As individuals, we are understanding the importance of reducing our single use plastics.
Plastic is one of our most valued materials - that is not likely to change any time soon. But our attitudes towards the management of plastic has to change if we are to win the fight and protect our fragile, beautiful world.
We can do this - one little bit at a time.
Report: Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet
The Guardian: Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard, study warns
National Geographic: 5 recycling myths busted
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