There is actually an eighth continent. Where you may ask, how, and why did we not learn that in geography? Well, it is a very recent development, and completely devoid of life: this continent is a killer. Any guesses as to where it might be? Or what it might be? It is in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California, and it is made entirely of plastic. It has been logically named Plastic Island. This Island is three times the size of France, comprising 1.8 billion plastic pieces, which in turn, kill thousands of marine animals every year.
When did plastic become so ubiquitous? There is plastic in pretty much everything – ranging from the obvious, like plastic water bottles, to the weird, like certain lipsticks. As we all know, plastic takes thousands of years to degrade. So, if we don’t recycle plastic to become something else, it will just continue to exist, forever. If humanity survives through this crisis, instead of seeing beautiful monuments such as the Acropolis in Athens, or Maccu Piccu in Cusco, our future descendents will see plastic bags blowing in the wind like tumbleweeds.
Aside from the clear ecological impact of plastic, plastic is terrible for our health. A recent study by Bangor University showed that 10 different lakes and rivers in the UK had large concentrations of microplastics. Equally, in Europe, a study was conducted on the 9 major rivers of Europe, finding that 100% had microplastics within them. This is due to plastic pollution and the degradation of plastic particles within our natural systems. Due to plastic’s invincibility, the small particles that break down from the original plastic structure, do not naturally erode within our natural systems. As such, these particles remain intact in our water and soil, eventually ingested by living creatures, including humans. Recent studies have suggested that the average human consumes up to 20kg of plastic in their lifetime. WHilst more research is required to educate us of the short-term and long-term consequences of this, it is undoubtedly bad for health. Other than plastic pollution, another reason for human consumption of microplastics is due to single use plastics that cover food, like that (very unnecessary) plastic wrap on a cucumber. To get to the food inside the plastic protections, we must rip and tear at it to get in. This process creates microscopic plastics that then stick to our food and are eventually ingested.
In 2022, France banned the use of single use plastics over fruit and vegetables in supermarkets. For me, this is one of the most infuriating things about supermarkets. The pointlessness and waste of having oranges or bananas packaged in plastic that cannot be recycled, when they literally have a natural packaging that is biodegradable, is remarkable. The UK has been thinking of taking such steps, but due to current political chaos, nothing productive can be done on a national level for now.
However, until something happens on the national legislative level, we as independent consumers have a lot of choice over what we buy. The best thing you can do is not to buy single use plastics, particularly over things that they are unbelievably unnecessary for. When you go to the supermarket, choose the loose peppers, rather than those in a plastic bag. Or, as per the advice of a previous blog, don’t go to supermarkets and shop locally. Shopping locally is good for small business owners in these trying times, we all know that Tesco will make it through this economic situation, but will your local corner shop, or greengrocer? Generally, smaller shops use paper bags to keep your fruit and veg. If the local shop still uses plastic bags to collect fruit and veg, it could be worth gently asking them whether a switch to paper bags would be better for them, both economically and environmentally.
Other things you can do to cut down your plastic consumption are:
- Carry a reusable water bottle to avoid continuously buying plastic ones whilst you’re out
- Taking a reusable coffee cup out – saves you money as often discounts are offered, and better for the environment
- No waste refill stations are blossoming up everywhere – you bring a reusable container and fill it up with whichever product you are seeking to buy, from rice, to coffee, to dish soap, to shampoo.
- Avoid single use plastics!
Ultimately, the final thing you can do is download Get2Cop and show to our UN representatives that this is a cause you take seriously and wish to be properly legislated against.