How to turn the tide on plastic pollution

Credit: European Union-EP

Zoe Storm

A Glaswegian guide to reducing plastic footprints and zero-waste shopping.

Eight million pieces of plastic pollution enter our oceans every day. 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the open ocean. By 2050, plastic will outweigh fish entirely. Why? Because decomposition of marine debris exceeds any human’s lifespan. 

Recently, the internet has been flooded with shocking images of seas covered in plastics and washed up marine mammals and birds with stomachs filled with plastics.  

However, we as European and UK citizens, often disregard these images as being too far away from home for our concern, and categorise this as a problem stemming from irresponsible plastic disposal in third world countries. Europe and the UK are repeatedly portrayed as leading the way in plastic reduction and recycling. Although this might be true, we have to understand that our planet’s oceans are interconnected and that plastic pollution effects are global. 

Clear proof of the extent of marine pollution in the UK has been revealed by a recent study, published on 31 January, in the scientific journal Nature. Marine mammals are considered very important indicators of marine ecosystem health, particularly in relation to pollution. The study shows ominous results, where every single beached marine mammal of the 50 surveyed, had traces of plastics in their stomachs. “Shocking – but not surprising [results],” said Sarah Helms, lead author of the study. 

It is time for all of us to open our eyes to plastic pollution on our doorsteps, to take a walk along some of Scotland’s most prestigious beaches, or even along the Clyde and to notice the mountains of plastics washed up on shore. As citizens of the UK, a wealthy country surrounded by the sea on all borders, we have the funds, resources, tools, education – and most importantly – the power and responsibility to turn the tide on plastic pollution. 

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to do huge things like partake in environmental protests, write letters to governments or go vegan to make a real difference. All of us can, and should, improve our own plastic footprint by participating in a circular economy, a regenerative system in which resource input, emission and waste are minimized by creating an energy and material loop as opposed to a linear “take, make, dispose” model of production. Each of us step into this chain as the consumer/householder, the “king” of the circle as all other parts are regulated by consumer demand. Our responsibility is to select retailers and products as close to zero-waste as possible, and to recycle any access waste that cannot be avoided. 

By following the 5 Rs of the zero-waste movement, you can easily improve your plastic footprint. Wherever possible, you should: 

  1. Refuse: Avoid buying, taking or using materials that are environmentally harmful.
  2. Reduce: Cut down on usage of these materials.
  3. Reuse: Use material that would otherwise be wasted.
  4. Reform: Reuse materials in a different form.
  5. Recycle: Check if materials can be reused as resources before purchase and bring such materials to appropriate recycling sites.

If this seems like an abstract concept to you, start at the refuse stage, as this limits the necessity of all of the following stages. Shop at one of several zero-waste collectives, particularly for food. These shops “refuse” by stocking locally sourced goods that don’t need packaging, and by using a minimum of recyclable products where they cannot be avoided.

In Glasgow, the most popular zero-waste groceries include the West End’s Roots, Fruits & Flowers and Southside-based Locavore. Roots & Fruits is an independent grocer situated on Great Western Road and Argyle Street, within close proximity to Glasgow University. They sell fresh, zero-waste fruit and vegetables sourced from local farmers, and fresh bread from artisan bakers. Similarly, Locavore is a Glasgow-based social enterprise where you can buy zero-waste organic products sourced from local farmers, or grown at Locavore’s own farm and fields. You can fill up your own containers at their enormous packaging free grocery station with grains, pasta, tea, herbs, spices, your own bottles with milk from their large milk tank or with a variety of oils. Even toiletry and cleaning products can be filled into your own containers. So, buy your own containers and bottles and make a start! 

Similar shops are the V&V café and Demijohn’s in the West End or Stalks&Stems and Fresh’n’fruity in the Southside. Zero-waste household and beauty products, natural and vegan beauty products can be purchased in some of the above-mentioned shops (Roots & Fruits, Locavore). Herein, LUSH leads the way by only using black, plain, reusable pots, allowing for a “sustainable recycling scheme that enables them to come back to life”. A recent initiative involves “bringing back five clean pots to get a face mask” as an incentive. LUSH furthermore recycles your bottle tops which councils will not as mixing plastic bottle tops with normal plastic recycling can contaminate the materials. 

Of course, you can alternatively avoid access packaging when purchasing in any shop. You can also have a look at several online guides detailing simple but efficient steps to reduce your plastic consumption such as WWF’s 10 steps or myplasticfreelife’s 100 steps, which includes carrying reusable shopping bags, water bottles and containers, skipping plastic straws and using bar soap instead of liquid hand soap.

Starting to reduce, reuse and reform seem hard, but once you start becoming more conscious about what you really need to buy, what you can reuse and what could be substituted and remade with previously bought, old products you have at home, it will start to become a very natural, daily habit. 

Concerning recycling, the first step is to introduce waste separation in your household. However, the more important and often neglected step is to bring them to one of over 650 recycling sites across the city. Glasgow City Council’s website provides a map to locate your nearest public recycling point. 

If you want to do even more, you can have a look at several environmental clubs and societies at Glasgow University, such as Glasgow University’s Seasoc, who host regular beach cleans and environmentally themed film screenings and other events. Alternatively, partake in Surfers Against Sewage or Marine Conservation Society beach cleans that happen throughout the entire year around all of Scotland.

Reducing your plastic footprint is definitely an effort at first, but, as Dr. Seuss’ Lorax once said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Do you care enough to make a change? 


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