Click on the links to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of Rebecca’s Plastic Free July blog!
According to the Plastic Free July Instagram account, a record breaking 230 million people worldwide participated in the Plastic Free July challenge in 2019. Up from 180 million people participating in 2018. Plastic Free July is a personal challenge but together the efforts of 230 million people add up to create a global impact. Whether that is just by tackling the big four offenders (plastic bags, straws, cups and water bottles), or eliminating single-use plastic entirely for the month, those efforts all count for something. On a personal level, I noticed that I only had to take out my general waste bin once during the entire month as I managed to avoid so much plastic packaging and waste.
Some plastic items, like the big four plastic offenders were extremely easy to avoid for the month whilst some plastic items were trickier, and others nigh on impossible to avoid. It was inconvenient having to meal-plan and travel to a few different stores to purchase groceries as plastic-free as possible. But that’s just it – it was inconvenient, not impossible. There are some food items in plastic packaging which I might consider buying again (yes STH, the sanctions against jellies have been lifted), but where possible, I will make the extra effort to source plastic-free groceries. The same principle goes for other products in my life. I received a gift of a shampoo-bar which I am looking forward to using and many recommendations came my way for sustainable alternatives to plastic household products.
I remember as a teenager I always thought that my generation didn’t have any big social issue to fight for or be engaged about. Social and political engagement in any form were, for a long time, non-existent in my life; apathy was rife. However, recent referendums excluded, the climate change crisis has evoked not only my interest and alarm, but also an enthusiasm to engage with others and strive for real change at an individual and collective level. That enthusiasm has been tempered at times, particularly over the last month, with feelings of despair and helplessness. The climate change crisis is overwhelming to consider tackling. Where to start? Plastic?
In terms of the effect plastic has on the environment, this is well documented. In May 2019, the Centre for International Environmental Law (“CIEL”) published a report “Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet”. The purpose of the report was to highlight the plastic pollution crisis that overwhelms our oceans and the significant and growing threat plastic is to the Earth’s climate. Nearly every piece of plastic begins as a fossil fuel, and greenhouse gases are emitted at each stage of the plastic lifecycle;
- fossil fuel extraction and transport,
- plastic refining and manufacture,
- managing plastic waste, and
- plastic’s ongoing impact once it reaches our oceans, waterways, and landscape.
The CIEL report examines the emissions of greenhouse gases at each of these stages and it makes for dreary reading. (for the full report click here). The key findings are:
- Current greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten our ability to meet global climate targets;
- Plastic production expansion and emissions growth will exacerbate the climate crisis; and
- Urgent, ambitious action is necessary to stop the climate impacts of plastic.
It is really on point 3 that the average consumer can take immediate action. Avoid single-use plastic (and all types of plastic as much as possible). Write to the manufacturers of plastic products you buy and demand sustainable alternatives. Lobby your locally elected politicians to make the elimination of plastic production a policy priority. Get involved in local initiatives to clean-up plastic pollution.
The plastic and petrochemical industries’ plans to expand plastic production threaten to exacerbate plastic’s climate impacts and could make limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C impossible. This might sound alarmist, but it isn’t. The time for a manageable transition from reliance on fossil fuels was probably 10-20 years ago. Urgent action, individually and collectively, is now required. To quote Greta Thunberg again,
“Our house is on fire.
I am here to say, our house is on fire.
According to the IPCC, we are less than twelve years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.
In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place – including a reduction of our C02 emissions by at least 50 per cent.” 1
I intend on continuing my attempts (struggle) to live a plastic-free life. The last month participating in Plastic Free July has been a challenging but also deeply rewarding experience. I am aware that plastic is only a part of the larger climate change crisis, but it creates its own distinct problems for the environment – problems which the average individual can try to prevent occurring.
The intention behind the blog was to create an awareness about the Plastic Free July initiative and to encourage readers to reflect on their own plastic consumption habits. I hope the blog has provided you with a digestible narrative and to anyone planning to reduce their plastic consumption – I wish you every success.
But don’t bother with clay toothpaste.
1 Greta Thunberg, World Economic Forum, Davos, 25 January 2019
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