There have been a lot of articles about plastic in the media recently, and the damage it is doing to our environment. Rightly so. The scale of the problem is immense.
Just think of your regular shopping, and how many of the things you buy come in plastic containers. Then multiply this up by every shopper, every shop, every town, every country……
But it isn’t just the obvious plastic containers that cause the problems. Most people think of plastic bottles and bags, and many are making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of these they use, or at least have them recycled.
But there are so many other sources of plastics, many of which people don’t even realise contain plastic. Here are just a few examples:
- Synthetic fibres in clothing
- Take-away coffee cups and lids (many people assume that these are recyclable but they are not)
- Most dental floss
- Pretty ribbons and bows on your Christmas parcels
- Wet wipes and cleaning cloths
- Those microabrasive beads in gimmicky shower gels
The last two are particularly bad because their small size means they are very likely to work their way into waterways and thus the oceans. And of course into the food chain. At least they are easily avoidable – just don’t buy them! They are totally unnecessary.
Another big source of plastics that I think is often overlooked is the myriad of small plastic items that we just take for granted, and probably don’t even notice.
Think, for example, of when you buy a pack of socks. The socks may well be contained within a cardboard band, making you think the packaging is recyclable. But the chances are there is a plastic tag keeping the individual socks together. There is probably also a little plastic hook at the top so that the socks can hung and displayed in the shop. Those little hooks occur on a huge variety of products, from gift cards to food items to cosmetics, many of which could just as easily be displayed on a rack or shelf.
Here are a few more examples:
- Clips used to keep folded shirts in place in a pack
- Tags to attach price labels
- Plastic used to hold six-packs together
- Blister packs of tablets and capsules
- Vacuum-sealed packaging
- Interdental cleaners
- Various sachets and containers for sauces and condiments
- Covers protecting the blades on razors
There are many, many more – when you start really looking you see plastics everywhere. It’s seriously alarming.
I think many of these smaller items often get overlooked. Even people who bother to recycle the more obvious plastic bottles and containers may just throw these in with the rubbish going to landfill.
Like all plastics, these small items are very easily dispersed in the environment. They can be blown in the wind, washed into drains or streams with rain runoff, and float on the surface of water bodies. And they can so easily be inadvertently eaten by anything from grazing animals to birds to marine life. Those plastic containers for soya sauce that come with your sushi even look like fish……
To effectively deal with the problem will need serious legislation, more diligent recycling efforts, and the introduction of more environmentally friendly alternatives. Companies need to take more responsibility for the products they produce and sell. People are becoming more aware of the problems, and some things are beginning to change. But new plastics are not going to stop being introduced into the environment overnight.
In the meantime, here is a suggestion. I keep an empty plastic bottle to hand and fill it with those tags, hooks and used interdental cleaners. Then when it is full I put the whole lot into the plastics recycling box. I do hope this keeps all those little items from joining the billions of others already drifting in the oceans. At least I am trying.
We all need to do what we can to prevent this problem from becoming worse than it already is. For some simple tips to reduce your use of plastic see Some Easy Little Ways to Reduce Your Use of Plastic.
If anyone has any more tips or suggestions, we would love to hear them.