THE POWER OF 5 PENCE

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The plastic bag charge is finally in England!

England has now joined Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with introducing a 5p charge for each single-use plastic carrier bag provided in stores.

For Wales, the levy introduced in 2011 resulted in a whopping 70% reduction in plastic bag use – Northern Ireland’s 2013 introduction reported a drop of 72%, and in the 6 months following Scotland’s introduction in 2014, an incredible 80% less plastic carrier bags have been used.

So why charge?

Firstly, data collected by WRAP shows that plastic carrier bag use has been increasing for the last 4 years. In England, the number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets in 2014 rose to 7.64 billion – 200 million more than in 2013.

Secondly, there is increasing scientific evidence that plastic has reached almost everywhere in our world, including the Arctic Sea ice. Detrimental effects of plastic are reported for an increasing wide-variety of animal species.

Thirdly, considerable evidence suggests that we cannot use all of the world’s known oil reserves without severely impacting our planet. As plastic is made from oil, by reusing plastic bags we decrease the demand for oil (although the proportion of oil use for plastic bags is small, it still equates to ~ 12 million barrels of oil per year for America alone).

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Fourthly, levy’s drive positive behaviour change that encourages people to sustain commitment to small changes in habits.

And what’s the aim of the charge?

It is expected that a comparable drop in plastic bag use will be seen in England as reported for the rest of the UK – which would make an incredible difference to our economy and our environment.

The Government expects savings to English councils, shops and the economy to be over £800 million a year.

100% of the money you pay for the plastic carrier bag goes to the shops (not the Government, as this levy is not a tax), with retailers expected to donate the money to charitable causes. As a result of the Welsh charge, up to £22 million has been raised for charities and other good causes. Retailers will have to report where the money goes each year to the Government.

Check out #reusebags, the Government’s twitter hashtag for the policy change to follow updates:

No Plastic October – 2015 Campaign

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The vision of Unpackage Me is for the world to embrace the sustainable use of plastics.

We work with communities and individuals to:

(1) highlight the environmental impacts of throwaway plastics;
(2) provide plastic-free alternatives to everyday items;
(3) encourage best recycling practices;
(4) promote efficient and sustainable use of plastic.

 

Waving goodbye to our No Plastic October.

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Today has been the final day of the first ever No Plastic October; an entire month without plastic packaging. When Lindsay and I conceived the idea of a No Plastic October about 8 weeks ago we had little idea what it was going to be like or what was going to happen. Sitting here writing the final blog of the month I find myself smiling as I reflect over all the things have happened over the past few weeks; all of the people we have met, the positive changes that we have created, and the no plastic solutions that we have found. It’s been great!


Unpackage Me A4 2-1Unpackage Me was conceived by two behavioural ecologists chatting over a glass of wine just over 8 weeks ago. Perturbed by the amount of plastic we kept throwing away and the scary facts we kept hearing about the problems caused by plastics we knew that we, personally, had to do something to make a change.


But what difference could two young female behavioural ecologists make? Surely it’s up to the government or big businesses to change policies and consumer guidelines to stop plastic pollution? Hmmmm… maybe… but we thought we’d give it a go anyway.

A few days later, Lindsay and I got together and made the Gant chart which was to rule our lives for the next 8 weeks. We wrote objectives, contacted beach cleans, organised a launch event, designed posters (with the help of Lighthouse & Giant), created a website; we even joined Facebook!

From October 1st we have been talking plastic almost non-stop; writing blogs almost every day, visiting cooperative food groups, appearing on radio shows; newspaper interviews… spreading our enthusiasm for plastic-free alternatives and learning more and more about the plastic free lifestyle.


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We’re discovered that we are not the only ones to be spreading the plastic-free word through a No Plastic Month. Plastic Free July has been going from strength to strength since it started in Perth Australia in 2011. In fact, the Plastic Free July has been a source of helpful hints throughout our month challenge with its toolbox of how to live plastic free.  #BuyNoPlastic4aMonth is happening in November this year and already has over 500 followers. It is incredibly humbling to be part of such an inspiring global community for change.

We’ve had nearly 3000 visitors to our website from 49 different countries and 290 people like our Facebook page from 22 different countries. A total of 38 people joined our No Plastic October and pledged to give up plastic from a single day up to ‘rest of life’! I’d like to take a moment here to say thank you to you all. It has been so incredibly fantastic to be engage with all of you and your support is greatly appreciated – we wouldn’t have made it without you!

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Map showing countries of visitors to http://www.unpackageme.com during our No Plastic October


slide1 Unpackage Me hosted a seminar on Wednesday at the Penryn Campus to mark the end of No Plastic October. Lindsay and I were lucky enough to be joined by Stephanie Wright from the University of Exeter, a PhD researcher investigating the effects of microplastics on marine lugworms. After so much talk about plastic it was a fantastic opportunity to speak to Steph about her research and hear first-hand the problems plastics are causing in the ocean. Stephanie had just returned from a stint as guest scientist on a Pangaea Exploration expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She told stories of sitting on the ship thousands of nautical miles from anywhere and still watching plastic float past the bow of the boat every few minute. Stephanie was collecting samples of sea water for analyses back in that lab at Exeter. Though she hasn’t been able to do any analyses yet she told us that every sample she took contained clearly visible pieces of plastic…


During October we have been learning more and more about the problems associated with throwaway plastics. We’ve learnt that plastic never biodegrades. We’ve learnt that plastic breaks down into microplastics which are then eaten by plankton and move up the food chain. We’ve learnt that plastic releases bisphenol A which can cause a variety of health problems. We’ve learnt that plastic recycling is illegally shipped around the world to dangerous recycling plants. We’ve learnt that over 250 species die of plastic entanglement every year. These facts that will continue to inspire our reduced plastic lifestyle for a long time to come.

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Locally ground coffee available free from plastic packaging at Olfactory Coffee, Penryn

Happily, we’ve also learnt that we can get milk delivered to our doors in glass bottles. We’ve learnt that we can get local organic veg delivered completely free from plastic. We’ve learnt that local coffee roasters sell coffee in plastic free packaging. We’re learnt that the Green Living Project sell reusable cups made from bamboo and silicon (and that most places offer a discount on their coffee if you bring in your own cup). We’ve learnt to carry our canvas bags with us wherever we go. We’ve learnt to take home made cake with us on the train rather than buying a cookie packaged in plastic. We’ve learnt to buy toilet paper from Ecoleaf because it’s packaged in biodegradable packaging. We’ve learnt to buy toiletries from Lush and cleaning products from Ecover. It’s amazing how many plastic-free options are out there waiting to be discovered…


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The time has come for me to finish this last blog and say goodbye. It won’t be goodbye forever – we’ll still be walking around Falmouth with our reusable cups offering helpful hints to anyone wanting to go plastic free. We’ll be back next year and look forward to seeing you all again then! In the meantime remember to keep smiling, take it easy, and say ‘No’ to that pesky plastic bag.

Thank you! Yours, Unpackage Me.

IMAGINATION IS KEY

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“Human imagination is the only constraint…”

 

Design is about creating an object intended to accomplish goals. Using a set of primitive components, the object satisfies a set of requirements subject to a set of constraints.

These days, design is typically associated with elegance. With lavishness. With extravagance. With elaborate beauty.

How about biodegradability? Sustainability?  Ecological minded?

Leyla Acaroglu, a sustainability strategist who uses innovative design and systems thinking to create positive change, is encouraging product designers to think about the way in which people interact with their products. To think about how these behavioural choices associated with products impact the environment. And to create products that intervene – and solve these issues.

Check out Leyla’s inspiring TED Talk here:

 

By understanding how we interact with products, we can begin to understand how these items are generating negative impacts on our environment. Then we can begin to design solutions. Amazing!

mixedrecycling binOne great recycling example of a design change that has altered behaviour and had a positive impact on our environment is to have recycling bins right next to general waste bins. Studies identified that having separate recycling collection points in buildings meant that people did not visit them, regardless of their intentions to recycle. Now, having a recycling option right next to the general waste bin ensures that people have the opportunity to choose to recycle.

For plastics, a great example is Ecover. Now I have already mentioned my love for Ecover’s sustainable aims in a previous blog, providing the option to refill the plastic containers with the Ecover liquid products. What Ecover have also done, is to change the design of their bottles to be made from PETE (polyethylene) – which is type 1. This means that should you wish to recycle your detergent bottle, you can, as PETE is commonly recycled throughout the UK thereby providing the opportunity for that plastic to enter a closed-loop system, whereby it will be re-used as something else. Perhaps even M&S “Food to Go” packaging.

Excitingly, a platform for the sustainability movement has been created – Collectively.org. This is where people connect and share their ideas to be part of the solution to global issues. The aim of this initiative is to focus on “passion points” – sustainable innovations that people are passionate about promoting to solve todays crises – and hence aiming to avoid the depressing consequences of inaction. “Collectively” even have the support of large multinational businesses (e.g. Pepsi, Google, Nestle) who realise that its their products and their business models which need to change if we are going to have a positive impact on our current global issues.

 

Imagination is the beginning step to create a solution to a brighter future…. Hopefully more and more companies will be championing changes to their product designs to promote sustainability in the very near future.

In the business of sustainability

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“ There is real power in seeing that people at the top are taking action – it inspires people to follow.”

Chris Sullivan, Chief Executive, Corporate Banking Division, RBS Group

 

New business research has highlighted key areas for UK businesses to unlock the opportunity of around £100 billion a year in value – through innovative solutions that address social and environmental challenges. It has been recognised that businesses can better meet the needs of customers whilst creating social and environmental benefits by designing higher quality sustainable products.

In other words become sustainable businesses.

Circular economy is one of these identified paths to unlock the potential increases in business value.

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So what is a circular economy?

At the moment, businesses are typically linear – raw materials go into the business, are processed into a product, the product is then sold to a consumer, and once the product reaches the end of its user-life then the product is discarded, typically into landfill.

Circular economy is different. Circular economy is when restorative processes are in place within the business model that ensures resources can be in use for longer.

It is a huge challenge to shift the UK economy from linear, the typical business model, to circular – and several business leaders are calling for policy intervention to strengthening business obligations around eco-design and producer responsibility. It is hoped that such measures may be used to stimulate market demand for more circular goods and services.

Marks and Spencer was one of the earliest retailers to strive towards a circular closed-loop model in regards to recycling of packaging. Working closely with WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and Closed Loop Recycling, M&S has opted to integrate recycled PET (rPET) packaging into the “Food to Go” range. For example, the pre-prepared salad bowls have 50% rPET and the bottles for juices and smoothies have 30% rPET – a phenomenally positive change.m&s recycling logo

The initiative is displayed on the packaging packs so that customers are aware of the steps M&S are taking to achieve a sustainable business model. Next time you pop into the store, have a look out for this exciting step towards achieving a more sustainable business.

And thats not all M&S are changing.

Marks & Spencer has launched a new paper packaging innovation to replace plastic ties and wire clips. “PaperTies“, which are made from recyclable paper, secure products to cardboard packaging instead of the historical plastic or wire fastenings. This means that the ties can now be easily disposed of in kerbside paper recycling bins.

Go M&S!

 

 

 

 

 

50 things that ain’t got no plastic…

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50 awesome things I’ve enjoyed so far this month completely free from plastic packaging:

  1. Books
  2. Pencils
  3. Carrots
  4. Milk (when delivered in glass)
  5. Cork bottled wine
  6. Candles
  7. Tap water
  8. Woollen socks
  9. Burritos
  10. Solid shampoo
  11. Soap
  12. Matches
  13. Apples (if you can avoid the small sticker!)
  14. Sugar
  15. Eggs
  16. Coffee (in a reusable coffee cup)
  17. Ecoleaf toilet paper
  18. Solid deodorant
  19. Boxes of Smarties
  20. Lindt chocolate
  21. Flapjack
  22. Cake
  23. Rice (from the Holifield Project)
  24. Muesli (from the Holifield Project)
  25. Butter
  26. Bananas (avoiding the plastic stickers!)
  27. Cornish pasties
  28. Cherry & almond croissants
  29. Peppermint Tea
  30. Pints of beer
  31. Cheese (from the local cheese shop)
  32. Fish (from the local fishmongers)
  33. Avocados
  34. Melon
  35. Cabbage
  36. Parsnips
  37. Porridge oats
  38. Chips (in paper not polystyrene!)
  39. My reusable canvas shopping bag
  40. Flour
  41. Chickpeas
  42. Sausages (from the local butcher)
  43. Peppers
  44. Courgettes
  45. Tomatoes
  46. Pick & Mix
  47. Potatoes
  48. Limes
  49. Garlic
  50. Ice cream!

freshwaters + plastic = bad news

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There has been growing public interest and awareness recently on the presence of plastic in our Oceans, with the detrimental effects of plastic on our environment and wildlife being recognised. Such widely publicised and exciting campaigns include those lead by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS beach cleans, Break the Bag Habit, Think Before You Flush), Marine Conservation Society (MCS beach cleansScrub it Out), and Plastic Soup Foundation (Scrub it Out, Beat the Microbead) to name only a few. These campaigns want to highlight the impact of plastic in our environment, in particular the Oceans, as seabirds and other marine wildlife may ingest plastic debris or become entangled in it. Scientific research has only just begun to try to understand and measure the impacts of such plastic pollution – e.g. realising that young gannets are being ensnared in plastic debris (BBC Autumn Watch 30th October 2014), discovering that 52% of Dutch Fulmars had critical levels of plastic in their stomachs, and witness accounts of Albatrosses feeding plastic to their chicks.

And what about plastic in our freshwater environments?

For the first time, the effects of plastic on freshwater organisms have been studied with interesting findings.

Researchers at Wageningen University and IMARES (part of Wageningen UR) focussed on exploring the effects of tiny plastic particles (called nanoparticles) in freshwater. Specifically, the study concentrated on nano-polystyrene – uses for this type of plastic are hugely varied, e.g. protective packaging (such as packing peanuts and CD and DVD cases), containers, lids, bottles, trays, tumblers, disposable cutlery…. Testing for the effects of this type of plastic in our environment is imperative for two reasons. Firstly, as polystyrene is typically not commonly recycled at councils, it is therefore potentially more likely to be disposed of incorrectly, for example dumped straight to landfill.  And secondly, polystyrene is one of the most widely used commercial plastics in the world.

The aim of this exciting study was to explore the effects of nano-polystyrene on the first two levels of the food chain in freshwater – algae, which uses sunlight to grow and is eaten by grazing marine animals, and zooplankton, which are small animals that drift in the water and some feed on algae.

Images of malformations of zooplankton found in study. Photo credit: Besseling et al. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es503001d

Images of malformations of zooplankton found in study. Photo credit: Besseling et al. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es503001d

The study found that increasing nano-polystyrene concentrations; (1) DECREASED growth of algae, (2) DECREASED the potential for algae to use sunlight, (3) DECREASED body size of adult zooplankton, (4) DECREASED the size and number of the babies produced by exposed adult zooplankton and finally (5) INCREASED malformations of the babies produced by exposed adult zooplankton.

The majority of the malformations observed in the baby zooplankton were at plastic concentrations higher than would be found at present in natural freshwater systems – nonetheless, this result still gives a chilling indication of what tiny pieces of plastic can do.

 

“Plastic simply adds to the stress already existing from traditional contaminants and therefore make organisms less tolerant and more vulnerable to additional stressors.” 

Besseling, Wang, Lürling, Koelmans (2014) Environmental Science & Technology; 141010063428001 DOI: 10.1021/es503001d

 

So how does plastic such as polystyrene get into our freshwater systems?

The freshwater environment is typically contaminated through two main methods – either directly by particles from personal care and cosmetic products, or indirectly by particles from the breakdown of larger plastic items. Sampling of plastic in freshwater environments across multiple global locations, including several water bodies in Holland, Five Great Lakes in USA and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, detect a similar concentration range suggesting that this level is typical the world-over

These measures and studies are beginning to suggest that almost no water on Earth remains untouched by plastic – a chilling thought.

All of this evidence provides yet more support to the massive public campaigns to increase awareness of plastic pollution. To reduce your own plastic consumption, check out our suggestions of personal initiatives, pledge your support to the big campaigns mentioned earlier in this blog piece and also download “Beat the Microbead” FREE app to detect plastics in your toiletries.