However, there still seems to be a disconnect between plastic pollution and climate change.
Plastic is mainly manufactured from the fossil fuels oil and gas. The process of extracting the fossil fuels, the act of transportation and the manufacturing process to create plastics alone creates billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases globally every year. It is a carbon-intensive process to the manufacturing stage; how we then use and dispose of those plastics has a major impact too.
Simply put, greenhouse gases trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. They allow sunlight to penetrate the atmosphere, but prevent the heat from leaving. We need greenhouse gases to give our global ambient temperature but the issue is that we are now creating too much. Our activities are adding so much into our atmosphere that the world is heating up.
Most plastics are discarded after just one single use, and while a small percentage is recycled, the vast majority are disposed of in incinerators or landfills around the globe. It has been estimated that this year alone some 850 million tonnes of greenhouses gases globally will be pumped into the atmosphere by the production and incineration of plastics.
Alarmingly a large amount of plastic pollution is also making its way into our oceans. Oceans are the world’s largest carbon sink but, with an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic being discarded into the sea every year, the effect is devastating. We know that these plastics break down into smaller microplastics and nano plastics which disperse over a wide area. They have been found in the Arctic, the Mariana Trench, in the water we drink and potentially in the air we breathe. The plastics break down as a result of heat and sunlight, releasing powerful greenhouse gases which have an effect on climate change. As our planet heats up, the plastic breaks down more into methane and ethylene, increasing climate change – and so the cycle goes on.
The effect of microplastics and nano plastics on ocean life also shouldn’t be underestimated. These plastic particles are entangling wildlife or being ingested by birds and marine animals, including phytoplankton. Did you know that every second breath we take comes from the ocean? Phytoplankton and seaweeds are photo synthesisers, using carbon dioxide, energy and water to make food for themselves, and releasing oxygen in the process. However, microscopic pieces of plastic are affecting their ability to capture carbon dioxide.
Plastic pollution is a global challenge, and one we can see and feel the effects of here in Jersey. A Scrutiny review into reducing the use of plastics in Jersey resulted in 18 key findings and 22 recommendations. The ministerial response in April 2019 agreed that the development of a new waste strategy was the next step. I am sure that the effects of dealing with the pandemic will have stalled the development of the strategy but I was heartened to see the government’s appetite for environmental protection being tested recently. Deputy Inna Gardiner brought the proposal to have the supply and distribution of plastic and paper carrier bags banned, and this was passed by the government in June 2020, to come into effect in February 2021.
However, the ban doesn’t go far enough. We really need the new waste strategy to focus on all waste streams and all plastics. In 2018 the European Union banned ten throwaway plastics including Styrofoam and straws in a move which comes into effect in 2021. The UK has a similar plan that will come into effect in 2024.
If we think about it, we don’t need to wait for the government to tell us we can’t use single-use items of plastic. We can stop doing that now. Today.
Since Plastic Free Jersey’s launch in 2018 our team has worked tirelessly to raise awareness and educate Islanders of all ages about plastic pollution. We’ve formed partnerships with Eco Active, Ports of Jersey, Jersey National Park, Visit Jersey and many local businesses who are passionate about protecting our oceans. Using the Surfers Against Sewage framework, we empower local businesses to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics and take a proactive approach to sustainability. We also run workshops with local schools to embed environmental education, nature connection and activism for the next generation.
During the month of July, we are promoting #PlasticFreeJuly, a ‘global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans and beautiful communities’. Here are some of the ways in which you can get involved:
• Carry out a bin audit – conduct a bin audit to discover all the ‘waste’ that could be avoided, recycled or composted.
• Buy local and seasonal – this supports the community, invovles fewer food miles and avoids single-use packaging.
• Buy less – before you buy, stop and think if the item is really needed, then consider low- or no-waste options.
• Bulk-food shopping – avoid pre-packaged foods by choosing bulk or loose food.
• Fruit and vegetables – find loose or plastic-free alternatives when buying fruit and veg.
• Takeaway coffee cups – take a reusable coffee cup or dine in at your local café.
• Plastic straws – straws suck! Refuse plastic straws when buying a drink or take your own reusable alternative if needed.
• Soap – swap liquid soaps for bars of soap and avoid single-use plastic or use refillable options.
• Sanitary items – investigate plastic-free period options.
For more information on Plastic Free Jersey and suggestions for #PlasticFreeJuly please look at our website – plasticfreejersey.com – or follow us on social media.
In the words of Jane Goodall: ‘You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.’
Are you able to support our work in the community? We recently launched a partnership called the 200 club, where business leaders and change-makers have committed to supporting the work of Plastic Free Jersey. The 200 Club is based on a simple concept – bringing together local businesses who commit to donating a minimum of £200 per year to Plastic Free Jersey. The funds go towards the operational costs of the organisation as well as curriculum development and event activations. Contact email@example.com for more details.