Going round in circles
Published: Jul 11, 2019The tide is turning on plastic waste.
The waves of public awareness, raised in recent years by Living Coasts and many, many others, are now lapping at the feet of politicians and corporations. The years of beach-cleaning, school sessions and campaigning are paying off!
I say plastic waste. All waste is a problem. Not all plastic is a problem. Plastic is a vital, useful part of our modern world. It’s a problem when it’s in the wrong place. It’s a catastrophe when it’s in our oceans. Around 80 % of marine litter is plastic. It can entangle, injure and kill marine life and birds.
Living Coasts is part of a coalition of world aquariums using the hashtags #ReadyToChange to #BeatPlasticPollution. The European Commission and the United Nations Environment Programme are coordinating the coalition, which includes 182 aquariums from 41 countries.
The EU has been busy; it’s produced a Plastics Strategy, ambitious targets for recycling plastic packaging waste and a Circular Economy Action Plan. The circular economy is one where products are used, recycled and either reused or made into new products. Europe is working hard on the concept.
In addition, the EU has targeted the ten plastic items that most often pollute Europe's beaches and seas, such as single-use plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and balloon sticks, as well as food and beverage containers – including cups – made of expanded polystyrene. The rules ban single-use disposable plastic products for which plastic-free alternatives already exist.
But you can still throw ethically-sound products in the sea.
We need awareness and legislation to guide progress, but we need an economic sea change, too. It’s the waste management industry and business in general that need to step up now. We’ve got the public response; we need the technological and entrepreneurial response. We currently use a material that lasts for hundreds of years to make products that we sometimes use for just a few minutes. We need to change our approach to the design, production, use and disposal of plastic products. Replacing the most common single-use plastic items with multiple-use or better-designed products should lead to innovative solutions and new business models.
Capitalism must make plastic waste – indeed, all waste – into a valuable resource, a vital raw material, rather than a threat, a burden and a problem. Plastic should be going around in circles in the economy, not the ocean. We need to use, recycle and use again, not discard it irresponsibly so that it forms into great, dismal gyres rotating endlessly in our seas.