How to fix the plastics problem
Planet Earth is drowning under the weight of the plastic that humans have created. But there are things all of us can do to make a difference and try to turn the tide before it’s too late
Since the first synthetic polymer was invented 150 years ago, it’s become almost impossible to imagine a world without plastic. From the wrappers on our cereal bars to colouring pens and lunchboxes, plastic is everywhere: in our homes, schools, workplaces and meeting places. It’s even hiding where you might not expect, in some tea bags, glitter and chewing gum.
But convenience comes with a price. Getting rid of plastic when we’ve finished with it is a major issue; some estimates suggest that up to half of our plastic is single-use. Landfill sites have limited capacity and can’t deal with the amount of rubbish we’re producing, while plastic waste is polluting our oceans.
As much as 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year – some blows from land, some is carried by rivers, and some is flushed down the toilet. Plastic endangers animals when they get tangled in it or mistake it for food. Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that plastic never really goes away; it takes at least 400 years to break down, but even then it doesn’t truly degrade. Instead, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces, which end up in our water supplies, food chains, and ultimately our bodies.
We can all make simple changes in our lives that will start to turn the plastic tide.'
Richard Harrington, the Marine Conversation Society
Our plastics problem is more prominent than ever – but what should we be doing about it? We’ve all heard of the ‘three Rs’, and know that we should try to reduce, reuse and recycle, but other actions are also gaining pace. Scouts across the UK (and around the world) are going further still by taking action to refuse, repurpose, rethink, repair and reform. The Scouts have also worked alongside the Canal & River Trust, supported by DEFRA, to launch some new plastic pollution resources to support everyone to take action – in small ways and large.
‘Our oceans are facing environmental disaster. Plastic is choking, starving and poisoning our seas and the creatures that live in them,’ says Richard Harrington from the Marine Conservation Society. ‘But we can all make simple changes and choices in our lives that will start to turn the plastic tide.’
‘People don’t always believe it,’ says Amanda Keetley from Less Plastic UK, a family-run organisation based in Devon, which raises awareness of the issues caused by ocean plastic and suggests achievable ways people can cut their plastic usage. ‘But individuals can make a big difference to plastic pollution because of how our daily actions add up over time. Your daily habits add up to make a massive difference.’
Below, we explore the actions each of us can take.