When plastic broke onto the scene in 1907, it was revolutionary and quickly became a significant part of our day-to-day lives; altering everything from how we eat, shop or even travel. But, we collectively overlooked how damaging plastic is for human health, our global ecosystems and climate change. As a result, the ocean – our world’s greatest resource – is under attack and we all have to take responsibility for it. Our throwaway culture results in at least eight million tons of plastic entering the ocean every year, and researchers predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic never completely degrades, instead it just breaks down into smaller pieces. The vast majority of the plastic pieces in the ocean are less than 5mm in size, so fish often mistake it for phytoplankton (check it out from their point of view with our Lonely Whale VR experience). Meaning that anyone who eats an “average amount” of seafood ingests approximately 11,000 plastic particles a year – which is somewhat scary when you consider that over exposure to plastic chemicals can lead to certain forms of cancer, immune disorders and obesity.
Plastic pollution doesn’t only effect marine life, as it also has a huge impact on climate change. When plastic goes to landfill it causes an increase in methane gas emissions (one of the leading causes of global warming). Additionally, as plastic is a petroleum product, just creating it allows for greenhouse gasses to be released into the atmosphere. This means that plastic impacts our climate throughout its entire lifecycle.
With an ever-growing population, these environmental issues show no signs of slowing and won’t unless we unite and face the problem head on. So how can we all play a role in stopping the plastic crisis?
We all know that plastic plays a big – and convenient – role in how we live, so going completely plastic free is still very difficult. This said, we can all make small alterations that will have a big impact.
1) Say thanks, but no thanks: A really easy way to cut down your plastic consumption is to simply politely refuse it when offered. A great example of this is saying no to straws in restaurants and bars, an initiative supported by campaigns such as #StopSucking driven by Lonely Whale or the Evening Standard’s Last Straw. Avoiding items that have excessive plastic packaging and turning down additional plastic bags when buying fresh produce are also easy ways to avoid unnecessary plastic use.
2) Swap out single-use: We need to alter our short-term vision. Granted, using disposable items can be more convenient, but little swaps, such as taking a reusable cup to your favourite coffee shop (additional bonus, many chains are now offering discounts for bringing your own) or using a canvas shopping bag instead of a plastic carrier one when shopping, can make a significant difference in the long-run. This year, at Dell Technologies World, we are going plastic bottle free and eliminating 65,000 plastic water bottles from our event, proving how one small swap, can have a big impact. By thinking ahead and preparing, you too can considerably and consistently cut down the amount of plastic you use.
3) Recycle, recycle, recycle: Before you bin it, check for recycling symbols. If we don’t put plastic in recycling bins, it will go to landfill. We need to divert as much plastic from going there as possible, it’s our responsibility. Electronic waste is another huge issue. Today people change their laptops and phones every couple of years, resulting in the global population generating 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste in 2016 alone, of which only 20 percent was recycled. Before you throw it in the bin, look to see if the manufacturer offers a recycling service. At Dell, we offer a free takeback service for consumers and businesses, which we then recycle the plastic to make new products. In fact, Dell are now running a pilot programme to reuse gold from e-waste in millions of new motherboards.
4) Choose your brands wisely: Sustainability has become a huge focus for a lot of brands, regardless of what product or service they offer, so take the time to find brands that you love, that also have an environmental outlook. Some organisations, like Dell, are already using ocean plastics and natural resources like bamboo to create sustainable packaging and fashion retailers, such as Adidas, are even creating environmentally conscious clothing collections.
5) Get together to get rid of existing plastic: Cutting down on future plastic use is so important, but we also need to tackle prevailing plastic waste. Organising a beach or waterways clean-up is a great way to reverse the damage that has already been done. It is also a chance to get your friends, work colleagues or local community involved and helps them understand the importance of fighting this problem together.
Plastic pollution won’t go away overnight, but if we each take small steps to cut down our plastic consumption and waste, together we can make a big difference.
- Louise Koch, Corporate Sustainability Lead, EMEA, Dell