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Time to stop the tide

Liz Parry examines the effects of plastic pollution on our oceans, and looks at ways to reduce your plastic footprint

The devastating effects of plastic pollution on the world’s oceans and marine life can no longer be ignored.

Did you know?

‘Microplastics’ are tiny pieces of plastic that can measure a fraction of a millimetre in length. Researchers from the University of Plymouth found these plastic particles in around one third of some 500 fish they examined from the English Channel.

According to figures from Friends of the Earth, 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year, and around 700 marine species have been found entangled in plastic. More worrying still, Friends of the Earth estimates that 100,000 tiny pieces of plastic could end up in the ocean with each shower you take, depending on the products you use. As consumers, it is time that we take a stand and make product choices with the health of our planet in mind. By refusing to purchase products made from single-use plastic and instead choosing items made from recyclable packaging or with refillable options, we can help to fight back against this growing environmental crisis.

According to figures from data analysts Mintel, over half (55 per cent) of users and buyers of soap, bath and shower products would consider buying products with reduced or no plastic packaging. Meanwhile, just under half (47 per cent) are interested in buying refillable products. “Our throwaway culture is becoming a contentious issue and consumers are looking for ways to conserve the planet’s resources,” says Hera Crossan, research analyst at Mintel. “Consumer interest in sustainability is perhaps at an all-time high.”

Emma Priestland, Friends of the Earth campaigner, adds: “The penny is finally dropping for some brands: shoppers want to see more refillable packing and for companies to stop ‘over-packaging’ which is done to make products look larger and more appealing. It seems to be more prevalent in make-up packaging probably because the product is usually quite small. Less of it means less waste and that’s the aim because of harm done when plastic escapes into the environment, as it inevitably does. Less plastic has to be made in the first place but, ultimately, the government must take charge and end the crisis by phasing out all but the most essential single-use plastic.”

Gradually, it seems as though the tide may be turning. Last year’s government ban on the manufacturing of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetic and personal care products is an encouraging step towards tackling the plastic pollution crisis. And increasing numbers of health and beauty brands are switching to more eco-friendly packaging.

A word on wet wipes

It’s not just plastic packaging that’s damaging our oceans and marine life. Data from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has revealed a 94 per cent increase in wet wipes on UK beaches. Wet wipes, when flushed down our toilet systems, can pose a severe threat to wildlife who may end up eating them. They are also one of the main culprits behind ‘fatbergs’, the huge sewer blockages created from congealed grease or cooking fat we pour down the sink or non-biodegradable solid matter that we flush down the toilet. As a result of this, Friends of the Earth is calling for an end to synthetic fibres, like plastic, in wet wipes, and is lobbying for better, clearer messaging on wet wipes to prevent them from being flushed down toilets.

Supplement company BetterYou is making big strides in the fight against plastic pollution. “To create a product from recycled ocean waste that appears white is technically extremely difficult,” says Andrew Thomas, the company’s founder and managing director, “which is why many companies investigating this option can be deterred or opt to colour their packaging. We’ve worked with a tremendous team in Denmark who have managed to combine 70 per cent ocean waste with 30 per cent recycled kerbside plastic to produce a stable, food-grade – and very white! – plastic. We believe BetterYou is the first company in the world to utilise recycled, ocean-recovered and consumer kerbside plastic packaging for an entire commercial product range. 2019 sees our total and absolute commitment to utilising 100 per cent recycled or carbon negative plastic. To date, two of our products have been totally converted to our eco plastic packaging and by the summer we envisage around 50 per cent of our range to have been converted.”

Sustainable beauty brand Beauty Kitchen is also doing its bit to support the environment with a zero-waste ‘return, refill, repeat’ programme. The company has switched its packaging to glass or aluminium and is encouraging consumers to return their ‘empties’ for free so that they can be washed and reused. Co-founder Jo Chidley aims to “minimise waste and close the loop on beauty packaging” through the new scheme. She says: “So far, we’ve worked with rock paper labels (no trees or water needed to produce them), minimised packaging and pre-cycled packaging, where we make use of other brands’ unwanted bottles, jars and even fabric that would otherwise go to landfill.”

Louise Edge, head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign welcomes these steps. “Increasingly, we’re seeing more options becoming available for people who want to get rid of plastics from their bathroom cabinet,” she says. “Reducing our plastic footprint is absolutely the best way to stop plastics from ending up in our oceans. What we need to see now is the biggest cosmetic brands taking plastic reduction seriously, and revolutionising their products to prevent ocean plastic pollution. Beauty at the expense of the planet is ugly.”

Plastic-free beauty

Reduce your plastic footprint with these top tips from Greenpeace

  • Opt for bars of soap or shampoo instead of products in plastic bottles or soap dispensers.
  • Switch from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one.
  • Ditch the cotton buds, or switch to non-plastic alternatives.
  • Seek out eco-friendly brands which avoid plastic.
  • For period products, consider whether a menstrual cup or period-proof underwear could work for you.
  • Swap wet wipes for a traditional fabric flannel.

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