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Plastic Pollution: Problems and Solutions

Every single person on this planet has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to make sacrifices and significant changes to the way we move around within our environment. For the most part we can all be extremely proud of ourselves - the level of resilience and speed of adaptation we’ve exhibited has been incredible. But this has not come without a cost and has highlighted the ever increasing amount of single-use plastic that is used and the problems this causes. We’ve all seen masks and gloves tossed aside by the side of the road, both littering and a posing as a potential health hazard. Think of the millions of single use PCR and lateral flow tests, all the packaging each individual counterpart has to be stored in for sterility. Where does it all go?

Even before Covid-19 turned our world upside down, our planet was in the midst of a plastic pandemic. Microplastic particles have been detected in the most remote regions of the world that humans haven’t even inhabited, carried on the wind for miles and miles. There are humungous patches of waste that have joined together to form islands of plastic in the ocean - there are 5 that have been officially classified with the largest being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to be around 620,000 square miles and made up of 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste. Our government are extremely good at collecting our rubbish and ‘throwing it away’ for us - but did you ever wonder where exactly ‘away’ was and what happens to it once it’s left our sight? Only 9% of our recycling is actually recycled, the rest gets sent to landfill or is incinerated, releasing chemicals (and carbon!) into the atmosphere. Much of our rubbish is sent abroad and litters countries with lesser economies who are not equipped to deal with the vast amounts dumped on them. The images that emerge from some of these locations, of young children playing on ‘fields’ of rubbish, is utterly heartbreaking.

Plastic will break down over time but we all know it won’t degrade into biological particles that will reintegrate with the Earth, that it is completely incapable of ever disappearing and will hang around forever more. Scientific studies has revealed the presence of microplastics absolutely everywhere. In the animals that we eat, the soil our food (and animal’s food) grows from, our water supply, our own bodies - even in the rain and wind. They break off our clothes made from synthetic materials, plastic pots and cups you store your food and drink in (I’d advise investing in glass or stainless steel storage vessels), the beauty products you use, conventional sanitary wear (let that one sink in a minute…), your shower pouf, tea bags, your washing up sponge - literally everything that is made of plastic or contains plastic parts will shed microplastics.

However, there are things we can do to help reduce the amount of plastic that continues to go out into our environment. Before purchasing anything new, think if you really need it and if you do, why not shop the second hand market first? This way you’re using what already exists and helping to prevent it from going to landfill when it’s still perfectly usable. There are also lots of plastic and chemical free alternatives on the market now for almost everything from soap to cleaning products to food items and even hair scrunchies! Lots of independent businesses are coming up with innovative ideas all the time and developing new products to tackle the plastic waste issue. Online resources such as Click It Local (www.clickitlocal.co.uk) make it super easy to connect with small local businesses, many selling sustainable goods, all delivered direct to your door and often the same or next day.

I know many of you care about these issues and I hope the majority of businesses and individuals will do what they can to shift away from single use plastic. Refill Mill is a great resource for plastic free alternatives for the home, pantry, bath, body and gifting goodies and I’d love to invite you to browse the website at www.refillmill.com – there’s free local delivery within 5ish miles of Ongar, Essex and free national delivery when £35 or more is spent, plus a tree is planted with each order helping you give back while you shop.

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