Tread lightly: why we need to reduce our plastic footprint

Tread lightly: why we need to reduce our plastic footprint

Viki Karp

It shouldn’t have escaped anybody’s notice that the Earth is rapidly filling up with things we’ve bought, used and discarded.  From toothbrushes and disposable coffee cups to bank cards and mobile phones, our daily lives are surrounded by, and covered with, plastic.

We urgently need to reduce our plastic waste, whether it’s through buying environmentally-friendly products, reusing as much as we can or disposing of un-recyclable items responsibly.

Keep reading to see why recycling plastic plays a crucial part in the planet’s recovery, what the different types are (and what they can be turned into) and some examples of what’s being done to turn unwanted plastic into something wonderful!

Why do we need to recycle plastic?

Horrifying footage from around the world has shown us the very real consequence of plastic finding its way into rivers and oceans, where it pollutes coastlines and endangers wildlife. It’s also full of hormone-disrupting and carcinogenic toxins that enter the food chain as it degrades.

Recycling helps to reduce plastic waste, and it also diminishes the demand for the creation of new plastic. Employing recycled, rather than raw, materials during the manufacturing process uses far less energy, positively impacting carbon emissions as well.

Not every plastic can be recycled, of course, which means a lot of it will end up in landfill. Here it will either get added to the mountain that’s already there or get incinerated. Both outcomes end in the release of harmful pollutants into our atmosphere, giving us a powerful incentive to stop purchasing it in the first place.

A brief guide to plastic recycling

There are seven basic types of plastic, some of which are easy to recycle and some of which pose more of a problem.

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)

This material is used for nearly all plastic bottles and food punnets. It’s easy to recycle back into the same thing so anything made from PET should be washed, dried and put in your recycling bin.

  • High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is used to make cartons, cleaning products and yoghurt pots and is easily recycled into more cartons, garden furniture and pipes. Into your recycling bin it goes!

  • Polypropylene (PP)

Another one for your recycling bin: margarine tubs and microwave meal trays are turned into clothing and carpet fibres and more food containers.

  • Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Food and shopping bags, and magazine wrappers are made of LDPE. It can be recycled into bin liners and floor tiles but it won’t generally be accepted in your bin. However, many supermarkets will accept it.

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC is used for windows and pipe fittings, thermal insulation and car parts. It’s tricky to recycle so councils won’t take it, but some specialist places can reuse it to make more PVC.

  • Polystyrene (PS)

PS is the go-to for takeaway boxes and plastic cutlery, as well as protective packaging and insulation. Councils don’t want it but there are some specialist places that will turn it into more packaging.

  • Other

This category includes plastic that is extremely difficult to recycle, such as composite. This is because it’s made up of more than one type and can’t be satisfactorily separated. Off to landfill it goes.

You can check which plastics your council accepts for recycling here.

The power of plastic positivity

There’s so much work still to be done to reduce the plastic footprint we’re stamping onto the planet that it often seems like an un-winnable battle. But taking a look at some amazing global initiatives should re-motivate us to continue the fight!

In July 2019 UNICEF announced their collaboration with Colombian social enterprise Conceptos Plasticos, taking plastic waste from Ivory Coast landfill sites and converting it into modular bricks. These are then used to build something the communities there desperately need: classrooms.

The brick production has three valuable outcomes: the construction of safe teaching spaces for children who currently can’t attend school; the reduction of the plastic waste that contributes to unhygienic and unsanitary living conditions in many areas of the country and income provision for the women living in poverty whom UNICEF are empowering to lead the scheme.

And then there’s Ecobricks: a project that ‘gives value to what was once value-less’, i.e. un-recyclable plastic. By filling bottles to a certain density with plastic that would otherwise be dumped, the Ecobrick community is creating thousands of solid blocks that can be constructed into walls, garden furniture, art installations and even buildings. Because the plastic is packed tightly inside the bottles Ecobricks also prevents its toxins from leaking into the eco-system.

Conscious consumerism

Reducing our plastic waste is a task that we all need to take on. While awe-inspiring ideas, like those above, strike important blows in the war against unwanted plastic, there’s a very simple concept we can all adopt that helps enormously too.

‘Conscious consumerism’ means understanding how what we’re buying impacts society. We need to ask questions every time we purchase plastic: do I really need this? Can I recycle it? What are the consequences if I can’t? Is there an eco-conscious alternative? Practicing mindful purchasing is key when considering how to care for the environment.

So, before you next grab a handful of plastic bags at the checkout, take a look at our fabulous Onya collection. Made from reconditioned PET plastics, Onya’s range of re-useable produce bags are almost all 100% recyclable themselves. You can also pick up one of their gorgeous stainless steel water bottles at the same time: say goodbye to one-use plastic!