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Facts

A few good reasons to make a change

Through the PlasticFreeGM campaign we aim to eradicate the use of avoidable single-use plastic from our city-region.

Government action

An important aspect of tackling single-use plastic waste is innovation in more sustainable products and processes. The Chancellor has announced a new allocation of £20m of funding to businesses and universities to stimulate new thinking and rapid solutions in this area. While this is a step in the right direction, we also need significant investment in alternatives to single use plastic, and in the technology to recycle and upcycle products, creating a circular economy where resources are not lost. This needs to happen on a much larger scale, and at the same time, we need investment in the plastic recycling industry in the UK to develop the capacity of domestic recycling market and stimulate market demand for these materials. There is a real need for early Government action, and we will continue to lobby the Government in this area.

For anyone who is interested in understanding more about the complexities of different types of plastics take a look at WRAP’s guide to understanding plastic packaging.

Why target avoidable single-use plastic?

As with most things in life, this issue isn’t an easy one. The answer is not as simple as plastic = bad. If plastic products are made to last and are reused again and again, and then recycled at the end of their usefulness, they can be a sustainable option. Some single-use “disposable” plastic items are less avoidable – for example single-use plastics used in medical testing and discarded safely to avoid contamination and potentially serious impacts on human health.

The problem is in our now prolific use of avoidable single-use plastic items. This means things like plastic drinking straws, plastic drinks stirrers, and disposable coffee cups and lids. These are all examples of items that (if made of plastic) are used on average for around 20 minutes, but can take over 400 years to degrade.

Plastic doesn’t breakdown at a chemical level (i.e. it doesn’t biodegrade or compost), it simply degrades. This means it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process that can take hundreds of years. This process releases CO2, increasing our carbon footprint, and leaches chemicals that can be dangerous to wildlife, soil, eco-systems, and human health. The tiny pieces of plastic that result from a plastic product degrading, termed micro-plastics, also get into ecosystems, wildlife, and even our bodies. The long terms impact of micro-plastics on human health are currently unknown, but there are serious concerns about the consequences.

Plastic in our oceans

Plastic is a particular problem in our oceans. Recent studies show that at least 8 million pieces of plastic are entering our oceans every single day. Plastic ingested by sea birds and other marine life can cause serious health problems and can kill, further damaging this delicate eco-system. In-land, small pieces of degraded plastic are ingested by hundreds of species of animals, again causing potential serious health issues, if not death.

What is the best option?

Our aim is to eradicate the use of avoidable single-use plastics and we need your help to do it. We’re starting with a focus on food, drink and hospitality businesses. So if you run a cafe, take away, restaurant, or bar, what can you do to help? The best options (in order of positive impact) are….

  • Reduce your use – Say no to items like straws and stirrers and simply do without, keeping a small stock on hand for people who might need them, e.g. someone with a physical disability who might struggle to pick up their drink and require a drinking straw.

  • Go reusable wherever possible – choose reusable crockery, cutlery, and cups, and avoid creating rubbish or recycling in the first place.

  • Recycle and compost – If you really can’t do without a disposable option, choose items that are easily and widely recycled or composted, and take responsibility for making sure the products you buy are dealt with in a sustainable way when they come to the end of their life. For example – if you buy 100% compostable take away containers, you need to have a composting service in place that can take them away to be composted. In Greater Manchester, residents cannot put compostable items in their food and garden bin at home.

For more information on making a change visit our ‘Make a change page.

What about recycling?

Recycling a single-use plastic product uses energy and water, and can require more virgin plastic to create a ‘recycled’ product that’s fit for use. Currently, only nine per cent of the world’s plastic is recycled – a problem because most plastics are not biodegradable and typically take more than 400 years to degrade, a process that can release toxic chemicals into our environment. Please do recycle plastic products that you can. Recycling a plastic product is much better than disposing of it in the general waste. As a business we advise that you always talk to your waste management company to make sure the plastic items you use can be properly recycled. In Greater Manchester, the only plastic items residents can recycle in their mixed recycling bin at home are plastic bottles.

How does it affect me?

More recent studies show that micro plastics are now also found more commonly in humans. Brits who consume fish are at risk of consuming 11,000 fragments of plastic each year, according to a study conducted at the University of Ghent in Belgium in late 2014. The long term health effects of consuming small degrading fragments of plastic is unknown.

REASONS TO MAKE A CHANGE

250 METRIC
TONNES

Scientists predict there will be
250 million metric tons of plastic
in the ocean and by 2050.
More plastic in the oceans
than there are fish.

9 BILLION
PLASTIC STRAWS

It is estimated that somewhere between 5 billion - 9 billion single-use plastic straws are thrown away in the UK every year

400 YEARS
TO DEGRADE

Plastic straws are used on
average for 20 minutes, but can
take over 400 years to degrade.

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