In 2014, scientists in Hawaii discovered a rock formation consisting of beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, organic debris and melted plastic. Such a finding is illustrative of the world in which we now live; one where plastic melds with organic material to leave an indelible, non-biodegradable record of our consumer habits. The scientists have dubbed the material plastiglomerate and suggest the compound could define our legacy on earth.
Single-use plastic pollution is everywhere
If you look around your office or house, you’ll find these items within a matter of seconds. The prevalence of this durable material has become a significant problem in our lives. Recent estimates suggest there are approximately 5,000 pieces of marine plastic per mile of UK beach, including 150 plastic bottles. One environmentalist believes he has personally cleared some 5 tonnes of plastic waste from his local coastline in Wales, though he says that despite the efforts of thousands of beach cleans across the UK, we’re fighting a losing battle as single-use plastics continue to accumulate on every shoreline across the world. In May 2019, the UK government announced legislation to ban single-use items like plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, which will come into force in April 2020: a law that could avoid 4.7 billion straws, 316 million stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds from eventually reaching our oceans.
The complexity of recycling
An obstacle to recycling lies in a lack of transparency about which plastics are recyclable. Plastics are numbered, helping consumers understand which plastic they are using and whether they are widely recyclable. Products include various stickers which tells you whether you can recycle packaging, so always check the advice before you throw something in the dustbin. If you purchase a plastic bottle made with PET, it’s important you realise it only suits single-use. Anything more increases the risk of bacterial growth, or hazardous materials leaching into the liquid, which is why consumers are actively discouraged from re-using the products.
Three steps towards plastic-free workplaces
Do you think it's possible to live life without plastic? The government certainly believes so as it’s encouraging schools nationwide to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022: a move that younger people support with 68% of 18-24 year-olds owning a reusable water bottle. In offices, it’s common to get through as many as 5,000 plastic bin liners a month, as well as thousands of plastic-covered ball point pens and hundreds of plastic folders over the course of one year alone. That said, there are several effective ways to limit your use of plastic and you can implement these practices straight away to start your journey towards plastic-free living.
1. Say no to straws
Plastic straws are traditionally made of polypropylene - plastic 5. While the material itself poses no distinct health hazards, they are deadly to marine life hence the government’s plans to outlaw the use of plastic straws in businesses across the nation in April 2020.
2. Avoid single-use carrier bags
Keep cloth bags in your car, store them in a visible position in your house and always remember to take them with you when you head out.
3. Purchase a reusable water bottle
Most single-use plastic bottles are unsuitable for multiple-use as they leach toxic by-products and harbour bacteria. Choose BPA-free bottles or glass jars when hydrating with a plumbed-in water cooler in your office.