February 16th 2017
Supermarkets in the UK are being urged to create one plastic free aisle per shop to reduce plastic waste. This move comes after various high profile organisations highlighted the issue of the damage plastic is doing to marine environments worldwide, such as Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign.
Of the estimated 300 million tonnes of plastic produced every year, only 12% is recyclable. Packaging accounts for just over 40% of total plastic usage, so urging supermarkets and consumers to cut down on what packaging they accept could make a huge impact to the total plastic waste.
A huge amount of this plastic is ending up in our oceans, with plastic waste being discovered even in the depths of the Mariana trench. Plastic particles are not only killing fish, whales and birds, but have found their way into our own food chain too. The effects of ingesting these particles are unknown, but it is thought they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, perhaps building up around joints or other tissue.
Overseas there is already a movement towards plastic free groceries and zero waste packaging. Independent business owners have begun the move towards plastic free businesses. Germany opened their first zero waste store in 2014 and similar shops exist throughout Europe.
Governments are coming around to the idea too. The UK introduced a plastic bag levy of 5p in 2015 which has reduced plastic bag purchase by 80%. Here in Ireland, our own plastic bag levy has reduced plastic bag purchase by 96% since its implementation in 2002. Now the UK is planning their next step in fighting plastic waste.
How littered is the Irish coastline?
Coastwatch’s annual survey provides a look at the condition of our own coastline. The survey involves volunteers checking their chosen 500 meter stretch of coast and recording observations. Results for 2016 found an increase in used tyres on the shore, household waste dumping was the highest recorded for the last five years, and a worrying amount of sanitary waste was found in the form of wipes and cotton buds which have been flushed down toilets. They note in their report that “Significant policy changes like a plastic bag tax are rare, but when they occur a major and lasting improvement in a waste category can be created.”
An Taisce’s Clean Coasts programme works to help clear the Irish coastline of litter. This programme involves thousands of volunteers who remove considerable amounts of marine litter from the coastline. They hold two main national clean up drives a year, and also have 520 Clean Coast groups operating around Ireland. These volunteer groups clean and manage their local stretch of coastline and are always happy to accept new members.
What can you do?
One simple action is to choose loose fruit and veg instead of pre-packaged items. If you really want to ramp up your plastic free lifestyle, there are many useful tips online to help you. You could start by checking out our five ways to go plastic free here.
One thing is for sure: A plastic free lifestyle will be easier when the supermarkets get involved. You can sign the petitions below to help get them started on the plastic free journey.
Petition: Ban non-recyclable plastic packaging for fruit and veg in Irish supermarkets