In 2016, 16 million plastic bottles were thrown away by British households every day!!
We live in an ever-increasing cycle of consuming, and not recycling, single-use plastics. Plastic water bottles are one of the biggest culprits.
Why do we have this love affair with buying water when it comes free and clean from our taps? And what can we do to curb the damage?
The Scale of the Problem
Today, not a single cubic meter of seawater is free from plastic particles. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Instead, over around 300 years, it breaks down into ever smaller pieces. These are the microplastics that are then mistakenly consumed by fish. Now it’s entering the food chain as a consequence of us eating these fish.
Flounders in the River Thames have been found with plastic inside their stomachs. Recently, a lobster was found with a Pepsi logo imprinted on its claw. How it got there is a subject of debate, but it’s presumed to be as a result of litter in the oceans.
We have the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. This is a huge collection of debris and rubbish in the North Pacific. Shockingly, it stretches from the west coast of North America all the way to Japan. Sadly, these are just a few examples of the issue. It’s so bad that environmentalists say the world’s oceans are becoming a kind of plastic soup.
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Top of the Class
Yet, single use plastic is still on the increase and in particular, plastic water bottles. This is despite the fact that Britain’s water supply is among the best in the world.
Driven by clever marketing strategies, consumers buy products such as ‘SmartWater’. All this contributes to a £2.4 billion industry, making a few people richer, and the planet poorer. Arguably the only ‘smart’ thing about this water are the marketers who came up with it.
Solutions That Won’t Wash
Recycling banks and bottle deposit schemes are a step in the right direction. But even recycled plastics can make their way into the ocean.
I spoke to Sheila Hanney, environmentalist and Sea Shepherd vegan chef. She told me she has concerns about even the most well-meaning of projects. For example, reusing products like plastic water bottles by turning them into fabrics.
She said, “we’re essentially recycling one dirty product into another dirty product. Microfibres from plastic bottles enter our water supply when the clothes are washed”.
Plastic never completely breaks down. Couple this with the volume that we use each year. Could this amount to a mass act of environmental terrorism?
According to Sheila, “the best thing to do, is to do away with them entirely.”
The Alternatives to Plastic
When it comes to plastic water bottles, there is a blindingly obvious alternative: drink tap water. When we’re out and about we should carry a reusable bottle or cup with us.
Edible alternatives to plastic are on the rise. London-based start-up Skipping Rocks Lab have created the brilliant Ooho Balls. Other innovative solutions are likely to hit shelves in the future, too. The novelty of eating your water bottle is not only fun, it comes with a minimal carbon footprint.
We could all benefit from being more aware of the impact of our choices. What if we all considered the environmental complications of single-use plastics? Could we be part way towards a solution?
Try being mindful next time you buy a plastic bottle of water. Hundreds of years from now it will be a myriad of particles polluting the earth we live on and eat from. Do you really need it?
Companies can play a role tool. Some, such as Pret a Manger, are rolling out free filtered water stations in their stores. They’re considering not selling plastic water bottles at all. They’ve increased their reusable coffee cup discount from 25p to 50p. Now they’re consulting the public on how we all feel each scheme should be encouraged. You can tweet your opinion to the CEO of Pret, @Cliveschlee.
If Captain Planet were still active, I’m sure he’d be doing just that.
The Power Is Ours
Captain Planet was right: the power is ours. We can choose to avoid single-use plastics. When shopping we can avoid clothing made from plastic microfibers. We can opt for natural fabrics instead. We can also lobby and support companies who are considering alternatives to plastic. And bypass those who have a poor environmental record.
We have that power. Let’s use it!