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Why is plastic so bad and what happens when we recycle plastic?

Celebrate Plastic Free July with Sustainable Packaging

Did you know it’s Plastic Free July? A time for us all to take stock of the plastic our lifestyles consume. And more importantly whether we can make any changes. Maybe you’ve decided not to buy any single use plastic at all, or perhaps you’re just looking to reduce your consumption a bit. However far you’re able to commit down this path, I encourage you to be mindful this Plastic Free July of how much plastic goes through your house and see whether there are any changes you can make. As the wise Anne-Marie Bonneau from Zero Waste Chef said “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

There are lots of things to think about when you make a business. You start it to make a difference with your product or service then you have to make choices about so many other things. One of my main concerns for Wildefruit has been what it leaves behind. Not only from the ingredients I use but also the packaging and shipping materials. These are left over well after you’ve used up the last drop of your favourite Bright Spark Enzyme Oil or wiped off the last bit of Buff + Run Face Polish

I have agonised over the impact of bottles and jars. It’s taken me down rabbit holes to find out the impact of glass vs plastic vs aluminium. How each material is produced, processed, recycled and what we’re left with at the end of the day. I decided early on in the journey of Wildefruit that I wanted to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. My research told me that plastic is problematic in so many more ways than glass and aluminium (the other two readily available options for skincare packaging).

Here are the biggest issues with plastic, and why I try to be as plastic free as possible

-Plastic production: petrochemical derived

-In use: leaching toxins into products

-After use: complicated recycling options & bioaccumulative (micro plastics)

In 1992 a shipping container with 28,000 “rubber” ducks fell into the sea. To this day (30 years later!)

These toys are still washing ashore all over the world. Plastic doesn’t go away. This is its main benefit but also its fatal flaw. We created something that outlives its purpose by hundreds if not thousands of years. For a product that will be used up in less than a year, the packaging may still exist in a hundred. Not to mention the harm that it could cause in its life span. Let’s take a closer look.

Plastic production

Plastic production has a huge environmental impact. Made from petro-chemicals and natural gas from fracking which apart from being non-renewable resources release toxic chemicals into the air, ground and local water courses. Polluting along the way, causing danger to local wildlife. Plus these plastic manufacturing plants are often located in poorer communities. 

In use

Whilst plastic packaging is serving its purpose, and containing whatever it is holding. Certain plastics can leach toxins into the product that can cause health problems and problems with fertility.

After use

Once the plastic has served its purpose there are several options. 

1. Recycling - pretty much all plastics can be recycled into other things but different types are more difficult/expensive to recycle. More often than not if they are able to be recycled (only 9% of plastic ever produced has actually been recycled) and make their way to the correct facility they are down-cycled into an inferior product and can only be recycled a handful of times before they become unusable.

SOURCE: Guardian

2. If the plastic doesn’t get recycled it could end up being burnt which quickly releases greenhouse gases, buried in landfill (slowly releasing greenhouse gases) or accumulating and disrupting ecosystems by being eaten by wildlife or breaking down into micro-plastics (which is pretty much impossible to do anything about).

3. It finds its way into the oceans. This is most common if someone litters. Once at sea, the sun, wind, and water break down plastic into tiny particles, known as micro-plastics. They are spread by the ocean, and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough.

So the entire life cycle of plastic is problematic, complicated and harmful.

 

How to live plastic free this July

What steps can you take this July to go plastic free? What sustainable packaging choices can you make? Some top tips for a plastic-light life are:

  • Visit a zero waste store near you, take your refillable packaging with you, so you don’t bring any extra plastic into your home.
  • Choose products that use as little plastic as possible. Opt for glass or aluminium instead.
  • Think about what plastic free and zero waste gifts you can give, to spread the movement (and joy!) of living a sustainable life.
  • Build yourself a zero waste starter kit - don’t feel like you have to be perfect right away, start small and build up your zero waste lifestyle.
  • See what swaps you can make. Swap your plastic bottle of make-up remover and disposable cotton wool pads for a glass bottle of Bare Face with a sustainable bamboo face cloth.
  • Take the Pesky Plastic quiz from the founder of Plastic Free July, the Plastic Free Foundation to help track the common plastics that households use, and set yourself a Plastic Free goal

Plastic free tips from the experts

“Attempting to go plastic free is no small feat. You have to be suitably prepared. It is not as simple as saying ‘right that’s it, no more plastic for me’! Way too many day to day objects contain plastic that sometimes it is really hard getting round buying, consuming and using plastics. 

You need to allow yourself time to filter through what you have and need and decide which plastics you could do without. 

Don’t rush into it! There are no quick fixes. It is a journey and you have to go easy on yourself or it will become way too hard.”

Amie Alissa Watson, Founder of Slow Circular Earth UK non-profit organisation

“My top plastic-free tip is to consider making your own natural cleaning products. Many of the ingredients you need to make effective natural products come in cardboard boxes and glass bottles, helping you to ditch all those single-use plastic bottles under your sink. What's more, it can be more affordable to make your own products - helping to save you money in the long run. Not sure where to start? I've got a guide to making natural cleaning products to help get you started.”

Wendy Graham, Moral Fibres

What steps are you taking to live life more lightly this Plastic Free July? We’d love to hear your zero waste successes and challenges, and let’s help more people start their “imperfect” zero waste journey.

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