Chances are that over the now seemingly distant festive break, Sir David Attenborough’s storybook dulcet ‘Blue Planet II’ narration managed lull you into thinking the series was going to have a happy ending. It didn't. The sight of a young albatross being fed plastic by their unknowing parent may have evoked a guilty pang for a piece of plastic you may have flippantly dropped whilst going about your busy 21st century urban life. Or perhaps hearing of dolphin mothers having their milk contaminated from ingesting microplastics in such harmful quantities that they have prematurely caused the deaths of their young made you think twice about that 5p bag when you did your latest shop in your local supermarket. Michael Gove, the UK Environment Secretary admitted to being ‘haunted’ by the final instalment of Blue Planet II. But being haunted isn’t enough: as Sir David Attenborough succinctly put it ‘The future of all life now depends on us’, but how do we go about embracing our environmental responsibilities to make sure what we do in the course of our daily lives doesn’t impact on the creatures of the deep blue sea and beyond?
On 10 January 2018, Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, outlined her vision for a plastic-free United Kingdom by 2042. Her pledge targeted carrier bags, food packing and even disposable plastic straws.
“We look back in horror at some of the damage done to our environment in the past and wonder how anyone could have thought that, for example, dumping toxic chemicals, untreated, into rivers was ever the right thing to do. In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly. In the UK alone, the amount of single-use plastic wasted every year would fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls.”
Is a 25-year plan going to cause irreparable damage to our oceans, and shouldn’t we be doing more right here and right now to save our environment and prevent further harm coming to our planet’s ecosystems? Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “A 25 year plan is clearly needed – but with the nation facing an accelerating environmental crisis we can’t afford to wait a quarter of a century for urgent action to tackle the issues that already threaten our lives, health and planet.” With an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic having been produced since the 1950s, research indicates that without urgent action to cut demand this is likely to be 34 billion tonnes by 2050. Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, has criticised the Prime Minister for her lack of urgency and a 25 year-long target that ‘beggars belief’.
Whilst the 5p plastic levy has gone some way to making us think twice whether we actually need a bag when we’re asked at the [self]checkouts, what if there was an alternative? Theresa May announced a £7bn research and development pot is to be used to “inject new funding into plastics innovation”, but there are those who may be closer to a solution than we think… In Indonesia, Kevin Kamala, the founder of Cassava, has formulated a biodegradable bag, which contains zero plastic, is made entirely of cassava starch whilst being robust enough to carry your groceries, and can be reused. Kamala even dissolves one of his Bio-Cassava bags in water and then drinks it to prove that if ingested by animals (or even humans), it is entirely safe. The main barrier to his product being a global mass-produced phenomenon is the fact that it costs twice as much to manufacture as a plastic bag equivalent. But can we really put a price on the future of the world we live in?
At Vernacare, we manufacture single-use paper pulp medical containers used by healthcare facilities instead of re-using plastic equivalents. All of our single-use moulded containers are made from recycled fibre. From the outset, we’re committed to minimising waste with the Vernacare system incorporating our unique SmartFlow™ technology to allow our moulded fibre containers to be used once by a patient and then flushed to the drain without adding to landfill. Not only do our products have environmental benefits, but rates of healthcare acquired infections such as C. diff are reduced, compared with using reusable plastic containers. We believe we are a key player in the move towards long-term sustainability by introducing our hygienic single-use system to the world: saving the lives of patients and saving the world at the same time.
Fellow eco-warriors, Ben Fogle and Dame Ellen MacArthur have been leading the offensive against the scourge of plastics on our environment. Being the UN’s ‘Patron of Wilderness’ (a newly-created role) allows Ben Fogle to meet with political and business leaders worldwide to place the human impact on the environment higher up their respective agendas. He was previously part of the award-winning ‘Plastic Oceans’ documentary, highlighting the level of harmful plastics in the world’s oceans. By using his expeditions and adventuring, he’ll bring first-hand observations to the attention of those with the power to be the architects of much-needed change for the future of our planet. Speaking of the need for ‘symbiotic harmony with the wilderness’, he reminds us all that “The planet is facing untold pressures and my new role as UN Patron of the Wilderness will allow me to celebrate and share the beauty of the wilderness with the world. I want to give the wilderness a voice to help highlight what we have before we lose it.”
• Eliminate unnecessary and problematic single-use plastic packaging;
• Make sure all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable;
• Significantly increase the collection and recycling of plastic packaging;
• Increase recycled content in plastic packaging to drive demand for recycled material;
• Impassion and enable citizens to play their part in reducing plastic packaging waste and litter.
So what can we do to help save our planet? The key lies in each and every one of us embracing our responsibilities towards the future of our ecosystems and oceans. It means breaking our household rubbish down into its recyclable components, even if we know it might be easier to just put everything into general waste. When we go shopping, making sure we take our recyclable shopping bags not only means saving money on plastic bags (the pennies add up), but it means less plastic bags making their way out of the supermarket door, and potentially ending up in our oceans. For hospitals and healthcare facilities, it means switching from plastic reusable items to biodegradable single-use paper products. Whether the next time you’re at the beach, you pick up a few pieces of plastic litter that you find, or you mobilise your local community to care more for your immediate environment, it all matters. It’s not the role of one politician, one country, or one high-profile celebrity (though they help!) to prioritise the importance we give to the environment, it’s the collective and collaborative duty of each and every one of us who call this planet our home.