Single use plastic – what’s it all about?

Single use plastic – what’s it all about?

Why be bothered about plastic?

Whether you are in denial or not about our plastic crisis you are probably wondering why any sane person would give up their day to go a conference that they are not getting paid to go to, that isn’t related to their day job and possibly isn’t a priority when they have so much to do.

Well, it is important and we need to learn. We need to learn how we can get out of this mess, how we can help in our own lives and what the consequences will be if we just ignore it.

Plastic amongst other waste is literally going to take over the planet. China will not be taking our millions of tonnes of plastic waste we send them, it will have to stay here. We’ve been happily shipping it out to China for them to deal with, in exchange for money of course, but they have said stop, no, go away, however you want to phrase it, it will be staying in this country.

Fine, I hear you say, we will just recycle it. Oh, of course we will, why didn’t we think of that decades ago. Oh wait – hang on we did, it doesn’t work, we don’t have the infrastructure within the recycling industry to deal with it. So much plastic still can not be recycled. News flash – most of your plastic waste ends up in landfill, at the very best it will get burnt – mmm chemical fumes just what the world needs.

So when I was sent a link to this event, I thought great, lets go and find out some facts, let’s see what the professionals have to say. Not well meaning people on social media like us, actual psychologists and professors who are dedicating their time to this.

Lets go to a nerdy plastic event

Approaching the venue, nervous but keen to learn, it is immediately obvious that these are people in the know and I’m just a keen supporter. On sign in we are offered goods, a notebook,a pen and some notelets. I refuse the pen because it has plastic parts although the rest of it Is made from recycled and recyclable material. The notebook has very little plastic apart the the elastic strap all of it looks compostable. So I take that, knowing I will use it. The pen, I already have way to many.

Scouting around I find a chair, dump my stuff and set about helping myself to food, free food, it would be rude not to. The food selection is great, it all looks so good but it’s only just gone 11am and I’ve already consumed a latte which I accidentally poured salt into and a blueberry muffin, no extra salt.

It’s filling up, I just wonder around with my food listening into people conversations picking up info as I go. I then meet Lloyd from the Sea Trust. I realise then everyone is here in some kind of representative form, does it matter that I’m just here because I chose to be, for me? Lloyd is interesting and educated and does such a rewarding job. we are now following them on Twitter so feel free to retweet anything you see Sea Trust related.

Learning from those in the know

The speakers are Prof Wouter Poortinga from Cardiff University, Dr Richard Quilliam, University of Sterling, Edward Kosior from Nextek Ltd and last but not least Prof. Gary Leeke from Cranfield University. Not too shabby for a free event, how amazing to be in a room with such expertise and knowledge.

Here is a brief lowdown on the various talks, starting with Wouter.

The 5p carrier charge

The introduction of the carrier bag charge is arguably the most successful behaviour policy change in recent history. Still along way to go, from 2007 and 11 billion bags to 2011 and 8 billion bags. Overall we have seen a reduction of 85% in the use of single use carrier bags since the charge was introduced. If you offer an alternative people will change their behaviour. Once the benefits become clear people accept change and alter their behaviour.

Can we do the same thing with the single use coffee cups? It was suggested that discounts did little to influence people’s behaviour and that an extra charge would have more impact. With this in mind a coffee cup fee could cut the use of single use coffee cups by 300 million.

Growing disease in the ocean

Dr Richard Quilliam is up next. The general message here was about pathogens and bio film. Basically every surface has a bio film, in a nutshell, a collection of microorganism in which cells stick to each other and the surface they are on. Including your teeth, eeeew.

In the sea plastic provides a more ‘sticky’ surface that pathogens can survive for longer on and therefore grow and develop. Including Ecoli, yep that’s right folks, plastic in our ocean makes it possible for E-Coli to hang around in the water we swim in, use for water and fish in.

Are you still keen to pop to the shop for your bottle of water or is a reusable one suddenly a bit more appealing? The fewer that end up in our oceans the better. It is FULL. Of plastic mainly, bring back the coral and the sea life.

Is bio degradable what is seems?

Enter Edward Kosior, this was fascinating but there were so many facts, I just couldn’t absorb it all. We were shown the recycling process and how plastic is selected at he sped if light. This illustrated just how much doesn’t make the grade to be recycled. The general takeaway for me was the confusion with bio degradable products, they just seem like one big marketing con. They appear to be the better alternative but for these to break down you need the correct conditions of which we do not get in our British climate. Producing bio degradable appears to create more of a carbon footprint for something that doesn’t really live up to its eco promise.

On top of this bio degradable products still end up in the black bin rubbish so they go to landfill anyway. Which contributes to the millions of tonnes of waste not being recycled. It goes ‘away’ though doesn’t it?

Councils – you need to work together

Last but not least was Prof. Gary Leeke who was talking about adding value to mixed waste plastic. Did you know there are 44 different recycling schemes across the U.K. Why can’t they be standardised? Surely his is what we should be working towards? Recycling is confusing, you move one council down the road and it is different or go away somewhere in the U.K. and need to re learn how to recycle for the next few days.

Increasing the public understanding of what can and can not be recycled needs to be a priority. And perhaps businesses should stop making products from plastics that are not widely recycled. ‘Away’ will soon be full and then where will it go?

What next? Will we be buried in plastic?

Having thoroughly enjoyed the overload of information and being in a room of people that are on the same page, we will actively be looking for new and exciting events to attend to get educated so we can inform you and others.

A few facts to leave you with,

  • There are currently 8 billion tonnes of plastic on the planet, by 2050 this number is estimated to be 40 billion.
  • 94% of plastic that enters the ocean is on the sea bed.
  • Caps and labels on products are generally not sent to landfill and re sold.
  • You can return or leave your unwanted plastic packaging at your supermarket to be recycled.

To support us on our mission to educate and help people with little disposable income to move over to a plastic free lifestyle please visit our Patreon account and find out more about supporting us

Some interesting people to follow or check out:

The people the sponsored and organised the event:
Low Carbon, Energy & Environment Research Network Wales @nrnlcee | [email protected]

The speakers:
Prof. Wouter Poortinga @wouterpoortinga
Dr. Richard Quilliam @RS_Quilliam
Edward Kosior @EdKosior @Nextekltd
Prof Gary Leeke

People I met:
Lloyd @seatrustwales
Dr Alvin Orbaek White @Dr_Orb






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