The results of a recent survey suggest that recycling is not the magic solution to our problem with plastic. It appears that only about 12% of plastic is actually recycled in the UK – the rest is either recycled elsewhere or disposed of in other ways. Greenpeace describe it as “overwhelming proof that the UK’s waste system cannot cope with the enormous amount of waste generated”. Our focus, campaigners say, needs to be on reducing the amount of plastic that is produced. Government has a central role – introducing legislation, for example, to ban plastic waste exports. But individuals, families and communities have a vital part to play too – not just by making their wishes known to producers, retailers and politicians (useful though that is) but more importantly by taking active steps, however small, to live more sustainable lives.
The results of The Big Plastic Count send a clear and urgent message: recycling is not enough – we must turn off the plastic tap. The UK’s recycling systems cannot cope with the amount of plastic packaging waste leaving our homes – estimated to be a staggering 1.85 billion pieces per week – of which only 12% is likely to be recycled in the UK.from the Everyday Plastic website
Too much focus is placed on recycling and making plastic recyclable rather than reducing plastic in the first place. Recycling plastics is not the silver bullet that many think it is. A circular economy needs to be built around materials that can be reused and recycled many times over, which most plastic cannot.
Households were asked to count their plastic waste during one week in May. Nearly 250,000 people from almost 100,000 households took part. More than six million items were counted. On average, each household threw away 66 pieces of plastic packaging in one week, amounting to an estimated 3,432 pieces a year. The vast majority of the plastic (83%) was from food and drink packaging waste, with the most common items being fruit and vegetable packaging.
We have blogged previously about Kids Against Plastic, a campaign set up by two sisters aiming to bring together people determined to break “plastic habits”, take practical action and lobby for change.
Kids Against Plastic is a fantastic example of community activism in action, enabling children to actively participate in positive change and learn about citizenship and decision-making as they do so.
Life-Based Learning (LBL) seeks to embed what children and young people learn in real-world issues. Its nine life themes directly address the challenges that they — that all of us — face. Plastic (and pollution more generally) is one such challenge. Young people need to be learning about the human footprint, including the damage to the world’s physical resources caused by human activity. They also need hands-on experience of what living sustainably means in practice.
Of course, habits, routines and norms – especially ones deeply embedded in our everyday lives – are difficult to break. Earlier this year we published a short series of blogs (see below) exploring the challenges ahead as we search for ways to live more sustainably. Government action is often an important part of the solution. That indeed is the message of the Big Plastic Count initiative: there are steps that government can take to reduce the amount of plastic packaging being produced.
But the plastic problem cannot just be left to government, with the rest of us carrying on much as before. We all have a role to play – and that’s why education must be central to any long-term sustainability strategy. Learning how to live more sustainable lives.
Young people are our hope for a greener future. LBL is about agency and empowerment, giving young people the knowledge, knowhow and skills to lead healthy, sustainable and happy lives, and helping inspire them to take on the immense challenges the planet faces.
Image at the head of this article by Sergei Tokmakov Terms.Law from Pixabay.