Tag Archives: plastic

It’s a Planetary Crisis – UN!!

ocean plastics getty
Getty images

Nations have agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans.  The third meeting of the UN Environment Assembly takes place 4th-7th December in Nairobi, Kenya with the overarching theme of pollution.

The UN resolution, which is set to be sealed at the Assembly, has no timetable and is not legally binding.  But ministers at the believe it will set the course for much tougher policies and send a clear signal to business.

A stronger motion was rejected after the US would not agree to any specific, internationally agreed goals.  Under the proposal, governments would establish an international taskforce to advise on combating what the UN’s oceans chief has described as a planetary crisis.

Environmentalists say ministers are starting to take plastic waste more seriously, but need to move much more quickly.  Li Lin from the green group WWF said: “At last we are seeing some action on this issue, but we still don’t have the urgency we need. The problem needs solving right now.”

top 10 plastic countries

One contentious issue is the wish of delegates to include businesses on the global taskforce.  Ministers say the problem will not be solved without business, but green groups point out that some firms in the plastics industry have been lobbying against restrictions for decades.

This links directly to Green Waste Enterprises Four Point Plan to fight this massive problem.

1. Educate people of all ages of the importance of recycling

2. Legislate to improve recycling laws in the USA and UK.

3. Take the plastic industry to task

4. Find a replacement for plastic that is biodegradable.

 

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister, a leading voice in the talks, told BBC News: “Business is listening to markets and seeing how marine litter is a growing popular concern.  “It’s possibly the fastest-growing environmental problem and it’s therefore a fast-growing problem for business.  “We need to bring on board those companies that want to change things, then look at taxes and regulations to make more companies act sustainably.  “We also need to mobilise businesses like aquaculture that suffer from marine pollution.”

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.  Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.  “This is a planetary crisis,” she said. “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.”

She had spoken to BBC News ahead of the UN environment summit in Nairobi.  Delegates at the meeting want tougher action against plastic litter.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.  She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in in an emaciated state by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.  Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

The planetary crisis affects many marine creatures

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, as well as anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic medicines and appetite-boosting vitamins.  After six days no plastic had been spotted in the turtle’s stools and Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

‘Heart-breaking’ reality

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.  “It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Caspar van de Geer runs the turtle hospital for the group Local Ocean Conservation at Watamu in eastern Kenya.  He had demonstrated earlier how uncannily a plastic film pulsating in the water column mimics the actions of the jellyfish some turtles love to eat.

“Turtles aren’t stupid,” he said. “It’s really difficult to tell the difference between plastics and jellyfish, and it may be impossible for a turtle to learn.”

On a pin board he’s compiled a grid of sealed clear plastic bags like the ones used at airports for cosmetics.  Here they contain the plastic fragments removed from the stomachs of sick turtles. Half of the turtles brought here after eating plastics have died.  A huge table at the hospital is laden with an array of plastic waste collected off local beaches – from fishing nets and nylon ropes to unidentifiable fragments of plastic film.

Each bag contains plastic fragments removed from the stomach of a turtle

Certainly, there has been a flurry of resistance from plastics firms to the bans occurring across Africa.

One UN delegate, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that journalists in some countries were being paid by the plastics industry to write stories about job losses following the plastic bag ban.  In Kenya, a long newspaper report counted job losses from the sudden closure of a plastics plant. But it did not mention the jobs being created in alternatives, such as labour-intensive basketwork, which provides work for the rural poor.

But some governments are standing firm, and the meeting has witnessed individual nations declaring tougher action against single-use plastic bags on their own territory.  South Africa and Cameroon are the latest to declare a tax on the thin bags which strew Africa’s fields and cities.

Nations with a near total ban include Mauretania, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mauritius, Zanzibar and Uganda.

Bangladesh imposed a ban in 2002 after plastic bags blocked drains and contributed to major floods.  Sri Lanka and others adopted a ban for similar reasons, although in Mauretania a ban came because cattle were getting sick from eating plastic.

Whatever the motivation for restrictions, sea creatures will eventually benefit from a slackening in the tide of waste.  The UN’s spokesman Sam Barratt told BBC News: “Of course we would have liked to have gone further, but this meeting has made real progress. There’s now a sense of urgency and energy behind the issue that we haven’t quite seen before.  What is obvious, though, is that the UN can’t solve this problem on its own. We need to do it in partnership with governments, businesses and even individuals.”

Whilst the UN grinds slowly forward, one delegate said that the meeting had been really useful for ministers to share their experiences on action they had taken in their own countries. Laggards were learning from progressives, he said.  He highlighted collaborative action from states along Africa’s Atlantic coast to clamp down on the waste that infests their seas. The UK may be brought into that partnership thanks to its British Overseas Territory of St Helena.

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New Year Green Resolutions

Have you made and broken your New Year Resolutions already?  Did you vow to lose weight or learn a new language maybe?  Well why not sign up for these Green Resolutions that are not only good for YOU but good for the PLANET.

  1. Walk, run or cycle to work.

    Not only is it better for the environment, but not using your car to for your morning commute will help you out on your resolution to lose weight.  A brisk walk of more 30 minutes each day will lower your BMI and help to get rid of all those Christmas inches on your waist.  Feeling fitter and healthier puts you in a good mood too!  Many employers now operate a Cycle to Work scheme where you can get tax breaks to obtain cycles and safety equipment.
    cycle

  2. If you have to drive…..

    Switch to petrol or even better an electric car.  The UK Government’s Chief Medical Officer has said that diesel should be phased out to cut the tens of thousands of deaths caused each from air pollution  Diesel cars emit more nitrous oxides (NOx), which can cause health problems for people who have lung and breathing problems.  But petrol cars also emit higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).  This has fewer immediate health risks than NOx but as it is a greenhouse gas this causes big problems for the environment as a whole.  Air pollution contributes to at least 25,000 deaths in England each year through heart attacks and other respiratory diseases.
    A greener alternative to using your own car is to join a car pool with colleagues from work.  There are also a number of ride-sharing apps that you can sign up to like BlaBlaCar or UberPool which is a taxi service that matches up people travelling the same way and is hoped to launch in London by the end of this year.

  3. Reduce the amount of meat you eat

    There is growing evidence that the amount of meat we eat has a direct effect on the environment as it takes the same amount of energy to produce 1kg of meat as it does for 3-10kg of vegetables.  According to the Vegan Society, their numbers have doubled from 150,000 to 300,000 in the last 9 years.  It is now estimated that around 12% of Britons now follow a meat free diet.  However, if you can’t give up meat completely, you can cut back on your meat consumption for a few days a week and try some alternative vegetarian meals instead.

  4. Grow your own!!!

    Growing, transporting, packaging food together with clearing the land for growing, accounts for as much as 30% of Britain’s carbon footprint.  And there is a certain satisfaction in eating something you have grown yourself isn’t there?  You only need a small patch in your back garden.
    CARBON FOOTPRINT

  5. Take your own bag to the supermarket

    In October 2015 the UK Government introduced a compulsory 5p charge for single use plastic bags.  Since then the number used have fallen by an estimated 85%.  In the first 6 months usage fell from more than 7 billion a year to less than half a billion.  This was a saving of almost 41,000 tons of plastic – roughly 300 blue whales.  It just needs a bit of planning to make sure you keep your own shopping bag handy in your bag or your car’s glove compartment.

    i-hate-plastics

  6. Choose your cosmetics wisely

    Microbeads are now in lots of everyday products like face and body scrubs.  It is hoped that these will be banned by the end of this year under new Government proposals.  The beads get flushed into rivers and oceans in their billions with an estimated 86 tons in the UK alone each year just from facial exfoliants.  If you add these to the plastic bags that also end up in rivers and oceans and over time, gradually break down into microplastics you end up with a real danger to marine creatures and birds who end up eating the microplastics which causes damage to them as they are not able to digest them but can also end up as part of our food chain.
    microbeads

  7. Morning Coffee and Afternoon Tea

    When you fill the kettle to make your tea or coffee, only fill the kettle with enough water for your immediate use.  Most kettles nowadays have a gauge showing how full it is and you will cut down on the amount of energy used to boil and reboil water
    If you use coffee pods, make sure you recycle them – don’t just throw them with the general trash that ends up in landfill.  The UK spending on coffee pods rose by more than 30% in 2015 when we drank £109m worth.  If buy your coffee in a carton to go, make sure you recycle this also.  Last year, fewer than 1 in 400 high street coffee chain cups were recycled.  Starbucks even announced that it would offer customers who bring their own coffee cups a 50p discount.

  8. Turn your home green

    There are many greener, natural alternatives to chemical cleaning products.  Here are a few

    • Kitchen surface stain remover – make a paste from salt, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda.  This will leave a natural “lemon fresh” scent also.
    • Toilet cleaner – Use a can of cola to clean your toilet – YES REALLY!!!  The drink contains carbonic, citric and phosphoric acids which are often found in household cleaning products.  Leave the liquid to sit in the basin for an hour, then use a brush to clean and flush away.  You can also use vinegar as an alternative as it works in a similar way.
    • Wood polish – heat grated beeswax, lanolin, sweet almond oil and lavender essential oil in a pan then leave it to cool.  Clean wood floors with a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar.
    • Removing limescale – put 1/4 pint of vinegar in the kettle, fill up with water, bring to the boil and leave it overnight.  The next morning rinse out well and fill, boil and discard the water twice before drinking.  You can remove the limescale encrusted on taps if you soak a cloth in vinegar and wrap it round the taps and leave for an hour.  Just wipe with a damp cloth after.
    • Cut your fuel bills (and help to save the Planet) by being fuel efficient.  A cheap way to do this is to invest in some draught-proofing keeping those icy winter chills at bay.  You might also get some thicker curtains which you should make sure are drawn at night to help keep you cosy.    Some of the more expensive ways would be to consider getting a new boiler, loft or wall insulation and even solar panels.  There are many grants available to help with insulation depending on the age and type of property you have.
      pv panels
      photovoltaic solar panels

We hope we have given you a few ideas on how to make this year a Greener Year  We would like to know if YOU have any tips to share with us.  Please comment below.

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Biodegradable Plastics – Solution or Problem?

UN’s top environmental scientist warns bottles and bags do not break down easily and sink, as report highlights the ubiquity of plastic debris in oceans.

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned.

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Plastic debris washed up on shoreline.  Photo by Paul Quayle/Alamy

Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report found.

Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution.

plastic-bag-in-ocean

“It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.

 

Speaking at the the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, where 170 countries met in May 2016 and passed, among many others, a resolution on microplastics, she added: “We have detected plastics in places as far away as the Chagos Islands [in the Indian Ocean]. Even if you are remote, you are not safe from it.”

un-assembly

More than 300m tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014 and that is expected to swell to nearly 2,000m tonnes by 2050 on current trends, the UN report said. While the exact amount that reaches the oceans is not known, the report concluded: “plastic debris, or litter, in the ocean is now ubiquitous.”

The spread of everything from large plastic debris such as fishing gear which dolphins can become entangled with, to fragments smaller than 5mm in diameter known as microplastics, has ecological, social and economics costs.

Jellyfish, for example, are using plastic as a habitat and to hitch a ride, allowing them to extend their range. The spread of jellyfish is considered bad news by experts because of the amount of plankton they eat, taking away food from fish and other marine life.

“There is a moral argument that we should not allow the ocean to become further polluted with plastic waste, and that marine littering should be considered a ‘common concern of humankind’,” the report’s authors wrote.

The main solution to plastics in the ocean is better waste collection and recycling, particularly in the developing world, the UN said. But McGlade said that some of the biodegradable additives in plastic to allow it to break down made it harder to recycle, and potentially harmful in the natural environment.

“When you start adding all of that [additives], when it becomes waste, they [the additives] become the enemy of the environment. As consumers we need to think of the use of plastic,” she said.

The UN report said that it was only in the past decade that plastics in the ocean had been taken seriously. “Warnings of what was happening were reported in the scientific literature in the early 1970s, with little reaction from much of the scientific community.”

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Ocean Pollution Causes Crabs To Live Out of Bottle Caps

Blueberry hermit crabs in Okinawa, Japan, are resourceful little creatures. Like many beaches around the world, the shores where they live and breed have become progressively covered in plastic.

Hermit crabs, unlike other crabs, don’t make their own shells. They look for abandoned shells in their surrounding habitats, often going through multiple shells in a lifetime as they grow.

The shells have to be big enough for a crab to retreat into, snug enough to not fall off, and handy enough so a crab can easily lug it around.

It turns out that bottle caps fulfill these requirements, and hermit crabs are now frequently choosing them for their homes.

If you stroll along the shores of Okinawa, you can see crabs wearing caps from detergent and soda bottles.

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It looks like a surreal art exhibit, a sardonic attempt to show how entwined our lives have become with plastic, or even how animals will take up the mantle of consumption in a post-human world.

Photographer Shawn Miller set out to photograph this strange phenomenon of environmental adaptation to give people a new way to think about the problem of plastic waste.

“Over the years,” Miller told Atlas Obscura, “I continued to find more crabs with trash homes. I noticed more trash piling up on our shorelines searching for hermit crabs and realized it was a serious problem.”

Globally, there are an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Plastic poses numerous threats to marine life. It is often mistaken for food and ends up disrupting an animal’s health. It leaches toxic chemicals into the water, breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that ultimately blanket the ocean floors, and its accumulation can cause species to disperse from their habitats.

A few years ago, images of dead seagulls with bellies full of plastic junk swept across the Internet. The seagulls had consumed so much indigestible plastic that they eventually starved to death because their stomachs were full.

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article originally published courtesy of globalcitizen.org.  Pictures by Shawn Miller.

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Zero Waste Packaging – Be a Champion!

In a world full of single-use conveniences, it’s easy to overlook the impact packaging has on the environment. Though it would be nice, it doesn’t magically vanish once it disappears into a trash truck. Rather, it stays with us for generations, filling landfills and leaching toxins to the environment.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice convenience to protect the environment. Zero Waste Packaging is a commonsense solution growing in popularity quickly.

Consider this for a moment: Americans produce approximately 1.4 billion pounds of trash daily, with approximately 40% of that being packaging of one sort or another. We trash enough disposable cups and utensils every year to go around the equator 300 times.

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What Does Zero Waste Packaging Mean?

Since the 70s, innovators have been working to produce eco friendly packaging that meets the demands of our to-go world, as well as eliminates negative environmental impact. Essentially, Zero Waste Packaging means that materials are either 100% reusable or decompose without harm. This philosophy applies to sourcing, production and disposal.

The most successful and idealistic Zero Waste Packaging production systems mimic natural cycles. The ultimate model is this: when plants in a forest die, they decompose and become topsoil that feeds the next generation of plants. Nothing is lost, and nothing is harmed. One life cycle’s end is the beginning of another.

Standard Packaging is Dirty Business

Plastic utensils, straws, single use coffee cups and plastic bags are examples of packaging that don’t decompose without harm, like plants. As these materials decompose, they damage the environment by leaching chemicals into groundwater and poisoning wildlife that mistake it as food.

Making matters worse, these types of wasteful packaging take generations to decompose. Take a standard plastic grocery bag as an example. It takes 10 to 20 years to break down under the best conditions. If that bag isn’t disposed of properly, it will eventually make its way to the ocean. After drifting for some time, the bag will join one of the many garbage patches floating in oceans around the world, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Trash Time Decomposition

Created by Be Green Packaging Store

Your Voice Matters

With economical eco friendly packaging and single use serveware available, there is no reason why anybody should use wasteful products. If every food service provider switched to Zero Waste Packaging, the positive results would be far-reaching and immediate.

You can help strengthen the future of Zero Waste Packaging by purchasing foods from companies that use 100% biodegradable, eco friendly packaging. Another way you can help is to ask companies and businesses you frequent to use Zero Waste Packaging. Send your comments through email and social media, as well as speaking to front-line employees. If owners and stakeholders hear from enough of their customers and staff, they will change their ways because they have to satisfy customers to stay in business.
Zero Waste Packaging is no longer a dream from the 70s. It’s reality. If enough people stand up and demand change, it will happen.
Zero Waste Packaging vs. Traditional Packaging (Infographic)

Created by Be Green Packaging Store

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#BanPlasticBags

Plastic bag bans are spreading in the United States

Los Angeles rang in the 2014 New Year with a ban on the distribution of plastic bags at the checkout counter of big retailers, making it the largest of the 132 cities and counties around the United States with anti-plastic bag legislation. And a movement that gained momentum in California is going national. More than 20 million Americans live in communities with plastic bag bans or fees. Currently 100 billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year—almost one bag per person each day. Laid end-to-end, they could circle the equator 1,330 times. But this number will soon fall as more communities, including large cities like New York and Chicago, look for ways to reduce the plastic litter that blights landscapes and clogs up sewers and streams.

The following “mockumentary” narrated by Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons tells of the “amazing” journey of a plastic bag from the supermarket checkout until it finally reaches the ocean and becomes yet another part of the Great Pacific Gyre.

While now ubiquitous, the plastic bag has a relatively short history. Invented in Sweden in 1962, the single-use plastic shopping bag was first popularized by Mobil Oil in the 1970s in an attempt to increase its market for polyethylene, a fossil-fuel-derived compound. Many American customers disliked the plastic bag when it was introduced in 1976, disgusted by the checkout clerks having to lick their fingers when pulling the bags from the rack and infuriated when a bag full of groceries would break or spill over. But retailers continued to push for plastic because it was cheaper and took up less space than paper, and now a generation of people can hardly conceive of shopping without being offered a plastic bag at the checkout counter.

The popularity of plastic grocery bags stems from their light weight and their perceived low cost, but it is these very qualities that make them unpleasant, difficult, and expensive to manage. Over one third of all plastic production is for packaging, designed for short-term use. Plastic bags are made from natural gas or petroleum that formed over millions of years, yet they are often used for mere minutes before being discarded to make their way to a dump or incinerator—if they don’t blow away and end up as litter first. The amount of energy required to make 12 plastic bags could drive a car for a mile.

In landfills and waterways, plastic is persistent, lasting for hundreds of years, breaking into smaller pieces and leaching out chemical components as it ages, but never fully disappearing. Animals that confuse plastic bags with food can end up entangled, injured, or dead. Recent studies have shown that plastic from discarded bags actually soaks up additional pollutants like pesticides and industrial waste that are in the ocean and delivers them in large doses to sea life. The harmful substances then can move up the food chain to the food people eat. Plastics and the various additives that they contain have been tied to a number of human health concerns, including disruption of the endocrine and reproductive systems, infertility, and a possible link to some cancers.

This is where YOU can get involved……….by signing our petition to #BanPlasticBags.  It’s very easy and only involves a couple of clicks.  You can sign using either your Facebook or Twitter account and share share share!!!!!  We want to get enough signatures to take it to government to get single use plastic bags banned completely.  Many places have introduced a tax/levy on each bag but whilst the money raised may be used for worthwhile causes, we want the option of having these bags taken away completely.

i-hate-plastics
Click here to sign our petition

California—with its long coastline and abundant beaches where plastic trash is all too common—has been the epicenter of the U.S. movement against plastic bags. San Francisco was the first American city to regulate their use, starting with a ban on non-compostable plastic bags from large supermarkets and chain pharmacies in 2007. As part of its overall strategy to reach “zero waste” by 2020 (the city now diverts 80 percent of its trash to recyclers or composters instead of landfills), it extended the plastic bag ban to other stores and restaurants in 2012 and 2013. Recipients of recycled paper or compostable bags are charged at least 10ȼ, but—as is common in cities with plastic bag bans—bags for produce or other bulk items are still allowed at no cost. San Francisco also is one of a number of Californian cities banning the use of polystyrene (commonly referred to as Styrofoam) food containers, and it has gone a step further against disposable plastic packaging by banning sales of water in plastic bottles in city property.

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How Green is your Labor Day?

labor day fruit

We are now into September……the kids are back at school (sigh of relief) but there is still more to celebrate!!  Even though summer is still not officially over, the Labor Day weekend signals the beginning of the end of summer.  For many of you it will be the last chance for barbeques or beach parties with family or friends.  Remember that how you choose to spend this weekend will have an effect on the environment.

So why not make your Labor Day weekend as green as possible.  There are so many ways available to make your party successful but still be kind to the environment.

  1. Buy Keg Beer.  Why not get a few 1/4 or 1/2 kegs of beer instead of buying individual bottles or cans  Your guests can then use glasses for drinking out of instead of plastic cups.  A little more cleaning up after we know but much less waste.
  2. 2 liter soda bottles.  Buy your soda in 2 liter bottles rather than individual cans to reduce the amount of recycling needed.
  3. Washable dishware (or at very least recycled products).  If you can, use glasses, plates and real cutlery (we’re sure thid kids will help with the washing up after?)  If you can’t then be sure to buy eco-friendly alternatives that are biodegradable or recyclable.
  4. Provide Recycling Points around your garden.  Have CLEARLY marked buckets/containers so that any plastics, cans or bottles can be collected separately and therefore recycled properly.
  5. Natural Centerpieces.  Decorate your tables with fresh fruits or flowers – from your own garden perhaps?
  6. Choose Aluminum and Glass over Plastic.  If you do provide individual drinks, then go for aluminum cans or glass bottles over plastic.  Both these products can be recycled over and over again whereas plastics only have a limited number of re-uses due to its breakdown of chemical structure each time it is recycled.
  7. Solar Lighting. If your party is going on until late, why not get some solar lights for your garden instead of moving indoors and having all your house lights blazine away using energy?
  8. Buy Local Products.  Make use of what is on your doorstep, at your local stores.  Buy local seasonal goods instead of buying stuff that has been hauled half way across the country to get to you.

your carbon footprint

You can lead by example.  The more people who see how you can entertain without leaving huge carbon footprints everywhere, the more people will follow your GREEN example.

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However, the most important message this weekend is ENJOY YOURSELVES!!!

Footnote:

If you are not planning on having a party this weekend, you can still take advantage of the break to get down in that basement and clear out all your unwanted items.  Bag up your old clothes and send them to a local charity.  If you have any obsolete computers or cellphones then contact us and we can take them away for you.

 

 

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The Problem with Plastics

What is the problem with plastics?

Plastic is everywhere… and I do mean everywhere! This is because people make it in large quantities because it is so useful in just about everything people do. That’s why waste plastic is becoming a serious problem, especially around the world’s coastlines and oceans.

turtle trapped in plastic

Did you know…………?

  • that since the 1950s, one billion tons of plastic has been thrown away? And where do you think most of this has gone……….?  Straight into the Oceans!
  • the USA produced almost 32 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2012 and that less than 9 per cent of that waste got recycled.
  • By 2012, the world’s oceans contained 165 million tons of plastic pollution.
  • If all the plastic humans make every year was weighed in elephants, how many elephants would you need? Answer: 30 million!!! If all those elephants stood in a line, it would stretch more than 5 times round our planet.

Why do we use plastics?

People make a lot of things out of plastic because it is cheap and versatile. Plastic things also last a long time. This can be very useful for people but it’s one of the biggest problems for the environment. This is because of the second — and bad — property. Most plastics last just about forever because no life form has yet evolved which can EAT plastic. Almost everything else made by humans gets broken down, either by microbes which can use waste as food or by natural decay of metals like steel. The sun or the pounding of waves on the seashores of the world does break up plastic into little bits but the little bits don’t vanish… and that is one of the biggest problems with this human-made stuff.

50 billion plastic bottles used in US
50 billion plastic bottles used in US

Where does all the plastic end up?

Imagine you’re sailing across the Pacific Ocean, way out of sight of land, right? So you don’t expect your boat to be pushing through great rafts of floating plastic for mile after mile, do you? Welcome to the great Pacific garbage patch… and to a modern myth because there aren’t “great rafts of floating plastic”. The “garbage patch” certainly exists — and there are several others — but the plastic is mostly small bits the size of confetti or smaller. It floats in the surface layers of the ocean forming a sort of thin ‘soup’ (yuk!). This plastic garbage is caught in the best known of 5 giant rotating ocean currents called gyres. These floating patches of plastic debris have become worrying new ecosystems which scientists call the “Plastisphere”.

Unfortunately, many marine animals mistake some types of plastic for food and eat them. Turtles often die because the plastic they eat blocks their digestive system so they starve. Marine mammals (like dolphins) often get trapped by plastic nets or ropes and either drown or starve to death: “ghost fishing“. Great and rare sea birds like albatrosses also get tangled up in old fishing gear and die. Around 400,000 marine mammals die every year due to plastic pollution in oceans. The list of horrible facts about plastics goes on and on.

Plastics also poison the animals that eat them. Eventually, much of the floating ocean plastic sinks to the sea floor or ends up on beaches all around the world. People don’t see the rubbish on the sea floor but the animals (filter feeders like worms) accidentally eat it.

What can you all do about it?

Obviously people aren’t going to stop making plastics. They are just so useful in so many things. So first, you humans need to know that plastic is a big problem. Then you can start to do something about it. Here are some ideas for you to think about and then get active!

The Three Rs are now Four – do you know what they are?

  1. Reduce – don’t buy so much that is packaged in plastic
  2. Re-use – if you must buy plastic bottles, then use them over again
  3. Recycle – find out what you can recycle and where to take it
    and number 4…….?
  4. REFUSE – many cities have now banned single use plastic bags – make sure you go shopping prepare with your own supply of bags.
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Why We Should Recycle

UK households produced 30.5 million tonnes of waste in 2003/04, of which 17% was collected for recycling (source: defra.gov.uk). This figure is still quite low compared to some of our neighbouring EU countries, some recycling over 50% of their waste. There is still a great deal of waste which could be recycled that ends up in landfill sites which is harmful to the environment.

Approximately 55% of 220 million tons of waste generated each year in the United States ends up in one of the over 3,500 landfills. Municipal solid waste landfills are the second-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 22 percent of these emissions in 2008 (EPA, 2011).

Recycling is an excellent way of saving energy and conserving the environment. Did you know that:

  • 1 recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
  • 1 recycled glass bottle would save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.
  • 1 recycled plastic bottle would save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 3 hours.
  • 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials.

Some Interesting Facts

  • Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in the dustbin could be recycled.
  • The unreleased energy contained in the average dustbin each year could power a television for 5,000 hours.
  • The largest lake in the Britain could be filled with rubbish from the UK in 8 months.
  • On average, 16% of the money you spend on a product pays for the packaging, which ultimately ends up as rubbish.
  • As much as 50% of waste in the average dustbin could be composted.
  • Up to 80% of a vehicle can be recycled.
  • 9 out of 10 people would recycle more if it were made easier.

Aluminium

Discarded cans
Discarded cans
  • 24 million tonnes of aluminium is produced annually, 51,000 tonnes of which ends up as packaging in the UK.
  • If all cans in the UK were recycled, we would need 14 million fewer dustbins.
  • £36,000,000 worth of aluminium is thrown away each year.
  • Aluminium cans can be recycled and ready to use in just 6 weeks.
  • 20 recycled cans can be made with the power needed to make a single new can.

Glass

In this Sept. 15, 2009 photo, discarded glass piling up at the Cheyenne, Wyo., landfill is shown. The city continues to struggle to find a market for the jars and bottles it collects for recycling.  (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)
In this Sept. 15, 2009 photo, discarded glass piling up at the Cheyenne, Wyo., landfill is shown. The city continues to struggle to find a market for the jars and bottles it collects for recycling. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)
  • Each UK family uses an average of 500 glass bottles and jars annually.
  • The largest glass furnace produces over 1 million glass bottles and jars per day.
  • Recycling 15 glass bottles saves enough energy to power a laptop for 31.3 hours or run A/C for 1 hour.
  • Glass is 100% recyclable and can be used again and again.
  • Glass that is thrown away and ends up in landfills will never decompose.

Paper

a world of waste paper
a world of waste paper
  • Recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution than if it was made from raw materials and 35% less water pollution.
  • 12.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are used annually in the UK.
  • The average person in the UK gets through 38kg of newspapers per year.
  • It takes 24 trees to make 1 ton of newspaper.

Plastic

50 billion plastic bottles used in US
50 billion plastic bottles used in US
  • 275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK, that’s about 15 million bottles per day.
  • Most families throw away about 40kg of plastic per year, which could otherwise be recycled.
  • Every pound of recycled plastic reduces energy use in plastic production by 84% and greenhouse gas emissions by 71%.
  • The use of plastic in Western Europe is growing about 4% each year.
  • In the US four fifths of plastic water bottles used ended up in landfill.
  • Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose.
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Making Waste Worthwhile