Tag Archives: ocean pollution

‘Nudge’ Economics for Plastic Waste

It seems that you can’t turn on the radio or TV these days without a story concerning the evils of plastic waste and the damage it is doing to our oceans.  The recent BBC series Blue Planet 2 showed many visual, hard-hitting examples which shocked viewers and has galvanised  the media into getting behind various initiatives – Refuse the Straw, The Latte Levy for example.  But for these initiatives to truly succeed there has to be a change to social conforming behaviours. The introduction of a charge for carrier bags in UK supermarkets is an excellent example of this.

Broadly speaking, there are three types of social conforming behaviours (“norms”) which when aligned and triggered can change behaviours permanently.

First we have descriptive norms – we do these things because others do it.  Closely linked are injuctive norms – we take these actions because we believe they are publicly approved as “the right thing to do”. Finally there are personal norms which are as a result of our upbringing, education or experiences. If policymakers can align these three norms and find trigger then we change people’s habits.

plastic shopping bags

Looking at the plastic bag charge that has been so successful in the UK, research shows that most people’s personal norms consider waste to be bad.  So they will save bags if the two public approval norms can be triggered.  The publicity campaign introducing the charge stressed the harm that plastic bags can do to animals as well as the visual impact of litter.  This primed people to appreciate that avoiding plastic bag use was the “right thing to do” as well as being publicly approved.

There only remained one aspect to establish – to subtly persuade individuals that most people bring their own bags to stores.  Making this standard practice socially reinforces individual actions and becomes habit-forming which is then likely to be sustained.  The introduction of the 5p charge also triggers a loss-aversion process, which subliminally reinforces that buying plastic bags is neither normal nor “the right thing to do”.

Another aspect to the loss-aversion process is the UK proposal to follow other European countries and introduce a refundable deposit scheme for plastic bottles.  Recycling rates of up to 95% have been achieve elsewhere.




Thinking Outside the “Plastic” Box

single use pollution

Single-use plastic packaging is clogging up the oceans and overwhelming landfill sites.  Alternatives that are both sustainable and recyclable are under development but the need a boost to become economically viable and more mainstream.

Global plastic production had mushroomed from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes only 4 years ago.  It is expected that this figure will double in the next few decades and by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, there could potentially be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Unfortunately, despite the moves to encourage recycling of plastic waste, a substantial amount of plastic packaing is uneconomical to recover, reuse or recycle.  So we need to be lookng for materials with a large range of properties that make them viable alternatives to unrecyclable plastic.

Here are 5 sustanable and affordable packaging alternatives:-

Edible films and wraps.  These starch-based products have been around for a while, but at the US Department of Agriculture, they are now developing a film made of milk protein.  In South Korea they have been looking at animal protein.

edible fims


Algae-based packaging.  If you boil up seaweed you get a gelatinous substance called agar.  This can be used to create textures that can replicate bubble wrap and foam packaing.  This is currently being pioneered by researchers in Japan, Lithuania and Spain.

algae based packaging

Mushroom-based containers.  Grown from agricultural by-products, this so called myco-foam is produced from mycelium a fungal network of threadlike cells, which are like the roots of mushrooms.  Ecovative in the United States is at the forefront of this technology.  Swedish retain giants, Ikea are looking at using this type of packaing to replace polystyrene, which is tricky to recycle.  Whilst polystyrene takes thousands of years to decompose, mycelium can simply be thrown into the ground where it will biodegrade in a matter of weeks.

mushroom based packaging

Cellulose, fibre and resin.  Bananas,coconut, softwood forestry by-products, as well as grasses and cereal stalks all have the potential to become bioplastics.  Some materials can be heated, melted and injected into moulds which is crucial if they are to compete with petroleum-based plastics.

cellulose packaging

Plant-based polymers.  Biopolymers can be made from corn or potato starch, even sugarcane.  Long molecular chains such as polylactic acid can be deried from annually renewable resources.  A number of companies from New Zealand to Thailand produce this.


Currently 95% of plastic packaging has only a short one-use life cycle.  It is used and then thrown away and results in a loss to the global economy of more than $80 billion a year – according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

One of the biggest challenges is getting manufacturers to move away from the old, familiar products.  New packaging is not necessarily more expensive to produce, in the long term, but as with any new product, the initial costs are in the start up when economies of scale have not yet kicked in.

This is where YOU come into the equation.  As a customer of any store or company using plastic packaging you hold a very important piece of the puzzle – you buy their products and if the customer is always right then if enough customers DEMAND that alternatives to plastic packaging is found then the companies WILL supply it.  It only takes one major brand to announce a policy change and others will follow.

Make your voice heard NOW!



Whale Dies with 30 Plastic Bags in Stomach

Scientists in Norway found more than 30 plastic bags inside the stomach of a whale stranded in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, Norway.  The creature had very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting that the plastic had led to it becoming malnourished.

The Cuvier beaked whale was put down by wardens after it became apparent that it wasn’t going to live and had clearly consumed a large amount of non-biodegrabeable waste.

When researchers at the University of Bergen performed an autopsy on the mammal, they analyzed the stomach contents and found huge amounts of plastic, including 30 plastic bags and other plastic packaging with labels in Danish and English.  Dr Terje Lislevand, a zoologist who studies whales added that the intenstines were also probably blocked up with plastic, causing severe pain.  Unfortunately, they weren’t shocked by this but Dr Lislevand said that it very sad to find such large quantities.

The following video may contain distressing scenes.

Cuvier’s beaked whales grow up to 22ft long and usually feed on squid and deep sea fish.  They are not normally found in Norwegian waters.  At the beginning of 2016 experts warned there will be more plastic than sealife in the oceans by 2050.  At least 8 million tonnes of plastic already ends up in the ocean every year – the equivalent of a rubbish truck of waste every minute, according to the report from the World Economic Forum.

The rate of plastic pollution is only expected to increase as more and more plastic is used globally, especially in emerging economies with weaker waste and recycling regimes.

Cuvier’s beaked whale – courtesy of arkive.org

Some facts about plastic in our oceans

  • Every year millions of tonnes of plastic debris such as bags, bottles and food packaging seeps into our oceans.
  • As plastic degrades slowly, it pollutes the oceans for a long time.
  • It breaks down into fragments called micro-plastics, which are ingested by sealife.
  • It can badly affect living organisms as they become entangled in or ingest it, and they can become choked or poisoned.
  • Researchers estimate the amount of plastic in the oceas is set to increase tenfold by 2020.
  • There could be more plastic than life in our oceans by 2050.

If you visit our STOP page, you can find out how you can help with our campaign to Save the Oceans from Plastic.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water………….