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Nothing fantastic about plastic

Extraordinary facts about plastic waste and how you can make a difference.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

Plastic bottle litter in the ocean
By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

It is extraordinary what we throw away. Just in the UK, some 2.5 billion disposable cups for hot drinks are discarded. In America single use items like plastic straws are used at a rate of 500 million daily. One straw might only be used once for about 20 minutes and then discarded. That single straw takes 500 years to break down.

By 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Quite simply plastic sucks and right now we need to do all we can to make a difference.

Being aware of your actions and saying no to plastic straws is a positive start. Local primary school children in a London borough went a step further and created a classroom project. The pupils set up a petition to get their local restaurant to phase out plastic straws. It has had some success, one pupil recently reported that straws are now kept behind the counter and only handed out if asked for.

Since I last wrote about sustainability in 2016, the University of London has made great strides in reducing carbon. We surpassed our 43% carbon reduction target in more ways than one, and we are three years ahead of our deadline!

Our sustainability team engages with staff and students in various ways throughout the year. Initiatives such as compostable cutlery have been introduced. Using a plant-based PLA this cutlery has 90% less carbon than plastic. Vegware can be used for hot foods and it can be placed into composts.

Just recently we hosted our Swop Shop event for the Reduce the Juice initiative. This year staff joined 38 student residences to recycle and swop clothes. Two further related events are to follow, the Energy Saving Sprint and the Water Saving Sprint.

Last November we were awarded Highly Commended in the Green Gown Awards' student engagement category at the 2017 Green Gown Awards.

Dr Ghazwa Alwani-Starr, University of London's Director of Property and Facilities Management, was similarly pleased with the results:

I am delighted that we have managed to exceed our carbon reduction commitment. From investing in renewable energy to the savings our students have made through the Reduce the Juice initiative, a lot of effort has been put into sustainability and in turn, we have gone from strength to strength.

Ahead of us we have a great project to aspire to. The sustainability team are already working to make the University completely carbon neutral by 2036 – that’s our 200th anniversary.

Three things you can start with to a make a difference

Campaign with your local authorities and government to bring in schemes. A more recent initiative to get the green light will be the introduction of a nationwide deposit return scheme. This will cover plastic and glass bottles, and aluminium cans. It has taken ten years for this worthwhile campaign to bear fruit, the bottle deposit scheme will make a positive impact to reducing litter in the countryside.

Make sure your shower gel, toothpaste does not contain micro bead plastic in it. Look at the label for the words polyethylene, polypropylene and polymethyl methacrylate are the chemical names for plastics. Nylon may also be listed as the abbreviations PE, PET, PTFE and PMMA.

Use a reusable water bottle or if you enjoy a daily coffee, take your own cup. The KeepCup or Frank Green SmartCup are just two colourful brands. Both use BPA free plastic which are safe to use.

In our next article we will explore the topic of food waste and the story of two Americans who undertook a six month experiment to document living off food waste for six months.