Plastic Free July - Guest Blog by Sarah Moyes FOE Scotland
By Sarah Moyes, Friends of The Earth Scotland
As I walked past cafes near the Meadows in Edinburgh earlier this week, I couldn’t help but stare at all the people holding disposable coffee cups. In my head, all I could think was “200 million single-use coffee cups are thrown away each year in Scotland”.
Until I started my job as a Plastic and Circular Economy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, I had no idea about the sheer volume of plastic we get through. For example, I knew that plastic bottles were a big problem, but I had no idea that people in Scotland get through a staggering 694 million plastic bottles every single year!
Over the past few months as the coronavirus pandemic has taken over the world, there has been a noticeable increase in plastic. Most days, I can’t leave my flat in Leith without seeing disposable masks and gloves littering the streets. While I understand that people should be protecting themselves right now, that doesn’t excuse throwing these products away on the street rather than putting them in a bin. And now as food and drink outlets begin to open up, there is a real risk that we will see a resurgence of plastic as single-use products like plastic pint glasses become the norm.
My own journey to living as plastic free as possible began a few years ago. I was following a vegan diet for various reasons including reducing my impact on the environment, but was still using a lot of plastic products. I might have carried a reusable water bottle with me, but there were still shampoo bottles in my bathroom and plastic packaging in my kitchen.
Over the past few years, I’ve slowly made changes to my lifestyle to eliminate plastic. I started saying no when bartenders asked me if I wanted a straw in my drink and began swapping shampoo and shower gel bottles for equivalent soap bars that came without plastic. I’ve also experimented making everything from dry shampoo to toothpaste, and lots of different foods including bread to reduce packaging. And to mark Plastic Free July, I’ve been sharing some of these swaps and tips on my instagram page.
While I believe individual change is important and where possible we should all be trying to reduce our plastic consumption. In order to really tackle the environmental problems associated with plastic pollution, we need system changes to take place.
Right now, consumers can only purchase what is available to them which means that living plastic free is not accessible to everyone. If your local supermarket only sells fruit and vegetables in plastic or you need to shop within a budget, then most of the time the plastic option is the one that will end up in your basket. If you don’t live close to a zero waste shop then you won’t be able to access plastic free products as easily as someone like myself who lives in a city with several places to shop.
However, it’s not just access to plastic free products that needs to change. When we think about plastic pollution, the images that tend to come to mind are those of beaches littered with plastic waste and turtles ingesting straws. However the problem is much bigger than this as plastic pollutes during its whole life cycle, and people around the world are affected at every stage. In America, communities are suffering from the effects of fracking so that cheap gas can be imported to Ineos in Scotland to make plastic. And on the other side of the world, countries like Malaysia have had to deal with our plastic waste exports, some of which ends up burning in landfills at the side of a road.
Tackling plastic is a huge problem which needs to be addressed from multiple different angles from reducing our reliance on fossil fuel based plastics to improving recycling so plastic doesn’t end up in landfill. There’s no quick solution, but we can definitely start by looking at how much plastic we’re all using and seeing what we can swap out. If you want to go further then write to your local MSP and ask them what they intend to do to tackle the plastic crisis before it spirals out of control even more.