What we've learnt about plastic waste

How To Reduce Plastic Waste - What We've Learnt.

Here’s what we’ve learnt about plastic from running education programs in 9 countries around the world.

After travelling for 20 years to 50 countries, it doesn’t take long to realise the big problems. It’s not climate change, sea levels rising, hunger, poverty, inequality, or plastic - its behaviour.

Of course, it’s all of those and on a frightening level but the solutions and technology are there, it’s our personal behaviours, our actions and ability to change that’s the biggest issue.

Why do we continue doing things that we know are causing people to die and killing our planet? It sounds extreme I know but it’s true.

A plastic bottle in the UK could be killing an orangutan in Borneo but we still do it. Overconsumption of products and our buying patterns are causing climate change, hunger, and poverty in developing countries but we continue to do it. Why?

It’s mainly because of emails, blogs, and messages that start like this. People don’t want to hear it, a lot of people switch off to the harsh realities (ignorance is bliss and all that), plus many that are reading this live in a developed country and don’t see these issues. How can we connect to them if we don’t see it?

It’s these first-hand experiences that give us a socio-emotional connection to change. It’s the stories on the ground, the grassroots, the locals, the individuals that create change. Not the big statistics and facts that people can’t comprehend, it’s too difficult for most to put in in real terms. What do thousands of tonnes of CO2 mean, what do 50 billion pieces of single plastics look like?

So what do we need to do?

We need to show people that they can make a difference and that we all have a responsibility and as a result of taking on that responsibility we can all make a difference. By understanding our social and environmental impact we can see what changes we can make.

“These changes in behaviour need to be convenient, they need to start easy and we need to look at the low hanging fruit.”

The video of the straw up the turtle's nose was from one location, one bar, one drink, and one person. That turtle could have been from 1 of a 100 eggs laid that reached maturity and nearly died as a result of 1 person's single action or lack of action. That turtle could go on to lay hundreds of more eggs and protect and conserve coral reefs - one of our planet's most important ecosystems.

“The knock-on effect is massive but the key is to start small.”

How do we run a marathon or climb a mountain? One step at a time. A small measure that’s achievable, that we can visualise, that we can do without stressing our brains too much. So just take one step at a time. It then becomes part of a regular pattern that we adapt too. I started running 5km a few years ago and next weekend I’m running the Brighton Marathon, I couldn’t have done that without developing a habit to run, a regular pattern that got me out of bed every Sunday for a tough 3/4 hour training session, not to mention the runs during the week. At first, it was hard but then it became part of my routine.

The same way I would forget my reusable water bottle, which then became a habit, and like now how sometimes I still occasionally forget my reusable coffee cup. It’s this repetition of behaviour that creates a long term and sustainable change. Studies have shown that this is usually around 30 days. I love the way that this is presented in The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod:

Phase one (Day 1-10): Unbearable
Phase two (11-20): Uncomfortable
Phase three (21-30): Unstoppable

Here are some really simple and easy quick wins or what we like to call low-hanging fruit:

  • Use a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic bottle.
  • Always carry an old carrier bag with you: there is no point throwing away the plastic bag that you have now but reuse it or repurpose it before you recycle it as chances are it will go back to landfill.
  • Once they’ve seen their best days and wearing thin then recycle and look to reduce/ban all together.
  • Buy veg without plastic: if you don’t have your own cotton bags or veg sacks, use the little brown paper mushroom bags.
  • Also, think about the clothes you buy and the plastic fibres that’s in them: this can be a little trickier and require more dedication so buy brands you know that are doing the hard work for you. Like Patagonia or Finisterre.

In short, when it comes to brands and consumerism look for the BCorps.

Brad Frankel is founder of Flooglebinder, a BCorp organisation and Gold approved activity provider for Duke of Edinburgh, who are dedicated to conservation and sustainability, and value the importance of education and development through travel. His love of travel and education started with a degree in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography. He feels that as an organisation […]
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