It is estimated that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide since the 1950s, and about 60% of that has either ended up in landfill or the natural environment* – the rest has been recycled, incinerated, or is still in circulation. Because of its durability, this plastic waste persists in the environment for hundreds of years, so much so that, by 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish*.
Plastic pollution is not an isolated problem, either. More than 99% of plastics are produced using chemicals derived from oil, natural gas, and coal. If plastic production continues on its current trend, the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption by 2050*.
Many of us in the UK have been captivated and horrified in equal measure watching the likes of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, seeing the vast amount of plastic waste that litters the world’s great oceans. Seeing the suffering this waste can cause to animals like whales and polar bears, you could be forgiven for thinking that the problem of plastic pollution is as exotic as those animals. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It is estimated that 80% of plastic in the ocean originally comes from a land source, so we cannot address the global problem of marine plastic pollution if we don’t take steps to prevent plastic from entering rivers and watercourses right on our doorsteps. Here are some of the ways you could reduce the impact of plastic pollution:
Join the reusable revolution
Reusable food and drinks products might be the single easiest way to reduce your plastic use. Making a small investment in a reusable drink container is likely not only to save you money in the long run, but means you no longer need to purchase your drinks in single use plastic containers. There are also lots of options for food, with wax food wraps becoming widely available as an alternative to sandwich bags or cling film.
Get loose with your fruit and veg
You might find it baffling when you go to the supermarket and see all the fruit and vegetables wrapped in single use plastic. You might also cringe slightly inside when you pick up packaged items instead of loose ones because it’s just that much more convenient. If that’s the case, consider buying a reusable canvas bag to put your loose fruit and vegetables in to save plastic and keep your food in top condition.
A beauty regime for rivers
In recent years there has been an explosion of plastic-free alternatives to everyday health and beauty items, many of which are available on the high street. Organic face and body scrubs are using natural ingredients, so you don’t need to send any nasty microbeads down the drain. Bamboo toothbrushes or washable cotton pads also reduce plastic waste. Menstrual cups and washable underwear are an eco-friendly alternative to tampons and sanitary towels, as well as a great long-term money saver! A quick internet search brings up options for subscriptions to reusable deodorant services, and even plastic-free toilet roll. If you’re still keen to reduce your waste after all this, find out where your nearest zero-waste shop is and have a browse.
Join a litter pick
We have more than 60 local member Trusts across the UK and Ireland with lots of opportunities to get involved in river clean ups. Of course, we’d rather plastic didn’t enter watercourses in the first place, but taking it out of the river is the next best thing. Find your local member Trust to see how you can join a litter pick, clean up rivers, and meet new friends.
What we’re doing about plastic pollution
At The Rivers Trust we know that plastic pollution is a big issue for rivers, and the environment overall. Projects such as Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) are taking a catchment-wide approach, identifying and targeting plastic hotspots, embedding behaviour change in local communities, and implementing effective solutions. The project aims to remove 200 tonnes of plastic from river and coastal environments. Another of our projects, In-No-Plastic, is developing and testing innovative solutions for the clean up of micro-, nano-, and macroplastics in aquatic environments.
On the ground, partners work to clear plastic waste and raise awareness of plastic pollution with litter pick events with community groups, schools and the general public. Under water, specialist divers and seabins remove plastic waste from harbours, and leading scientists from the UK and France collect samples of macro and microplastics. All of the data gathered will help us map and track plastic pollution and, ultimately, better understand what we can and must do to stop the tide of plastic suffocating our water environments.
If you’ve been looking for a stress-free way to reduce your environmental impact, why not make one of these simple changes today – and don’t forget to let us know how you get on!
*All statistics provided by the UN Environment Programme.
Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP)
Working in partnership with 18 organisations from across France and England, Preventing Plastic Pollution seeks to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in the marine environment.