Christmas 2016 is over, and like a lot of people for me the next item on the agenda is getting rid of all the rubbish. I am particularly aware of it this year having read an article in the Biologist over the holiday by freelance naturalist Rajith Dissanayake. Despite the popularity of naturalness and general greenery we still produce one heck of a lot of plastic. I can certainly vouch for that as I have tried to squeeze of lot of it into my bin. Rajith quotes the figure that the average American produces around 2.5Kg of plastic waste per day, and us Europeans can’t be far behind.
A lot of progress has been made on many environmental problems. But we can’t be complacent. And when it comes to plastic, we just keep producing, using and disposing of more and more. The green movement started in the seventies, but plastic production has continued to grow ever since. We now produce 620% more plastic than we did in 1974 and there is no sign of it decreasing. Waste plastic in the oceans is now a geographical feature. It accumulates in vast areas full of floating rubbish called gyres. The one in the Pacific is 300,000 square miles in area – three times the size of the UK. Its effect on wildlife is not fully known, but even what we do know is bad enough. Thousands of turtles die as a result of eating plastic bags, and albatross chicks die when their parents mistakenly feed them bits of plastic.
We live a life where plastic is basically everywhere and used in everything. The cosmetic industry is far from being the biggest in terms of total volume of plastic produced. But plastic in the form of microbeads seems to have a disproportionate impact compared to its volume. So although we aren’t big polluters, we do manage to do a lot of damage in proportion to the size of the business that we do,
Plastic is a big problem for the planet and it is something that ultimately needs to be tackled by co-operation between the members of the international community. But I don’t think we can simply leave it to the bigwigs to sort out on our behalf. We need to also look at our own behaviour as individuals and at the things that we are in a position to influence as consumers, employees and business owners. And there is no getting away from the fact that the cosmetic industry quite apart from microbeads is a big user of plastic. Cosmetic products are famous for fancy packaging. Cosmetic products don’t vary that much in quality between suppliers, so it is only by putting them in impressive packs that companies are able to differentiate their offering from everybody else’s. The aim is to make your product look more stylish and more appealing than other similar options. All the time we keep buying them, they’ll keep doing it.
So the way to modify the producers’ behaviour is to change your behaviour as a consumer. Here are a few suggestions. If you can think of any more, I’d be glad to hear them.
- Don’t buy products that come in boxes, especially not boxes that have shrink wrap.
- Buy big packs rather than little ones. This uses less plastic in proportion to the amount of product you are using.
- Buy tubes and tottles rather than bottles. Tottles are the packs that stand upside down so the product is next to the neck, so you waste less.
- Don’t buy stuff in big thermoformed packs. There are some categories of product – razors for example – where this is rather hard to do. The main object is to increase the prominence of the product on the shelf and gives you no benefits whatsoever. In fact, it is often quite hard work to get the product out of the damned thing.
- This is the one that will get me into trouble with my colleagues, but ask yourself if you really need so many different products. Can you get reasonable results with a combined shampoo and conditioner rather than two products for example? Do you need to use a shower gel – would a bar of soap do the job as well?
Well I had better stop now. I want to save the planet, but I don’t want to put all my friends out of a job. Have a good new year and see if you can cut down the amount of waste plastic.
Here’s the video version for people who prefer it that way.
Please, let’s put a lid on plastic by Rajith Dissanayake The Biologist Vol 63 No 4 2016