How to make a difference during Plastic Free July

Lizzie Lewis talks about plastic pollution, what she is doing to combat it, and how you can get involved during Plastic Free July.

Everyone can play a part in Plastic Free July - a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. It has inspired over 326 million participants in 177 countries. Each year I have picked a single-use plastic item to give up from crisp packets to deodorant. This year I have chosen to ditch tea bags (some can contain plastic) and use loose leaf tea instead.

Plastic pollution at the strandline of a beach. Photo by Jessica Hickie.

The plastic issue

Over the past few years there has been rising concern and awareness of the impacts of plastic pollution. It is estimated that 12 million tonnes of plastic enter our environment each year (Jambeck et al., 2015), that’s equivalent to a bin lorry load every minute. Of all the plastic produced 50% is for single-use plastic items (Garside 2019), things that are used for only a few moments and then thrown away. To me these are alarming statistics, but I also know I contribute to those statistics.

Unfortunately, plastic has been found everywhere from Everest to the Arctic. I remember when I first found nurdles (small plastic pellets used to make plastic items) on my local beach. I thought it was a type of seaweed that I hadn’t seen before, and I still remember the sinking feeling when I found out it was a man-made item littering the beach. Animals can mistake nurdles and other plastics for food, and they end up accidently eating them. Ongoing research has also found that humans consume plastic and breathe it in during our day to day lives. The health impacts of this are being studied.

The Environment Agency’s Plastics and Sustainability Team

I joined the Environment Agency’s new Plastics and Sustainability Team in 2019. The team inspires positive behaviour change within businesses, communities and the education sector. Despite Covid-19, the team quickly adapted to virtual working and reached and inspired 120,000 people in 2020. The team works with colleagues internally and on the Interreg-funded Preventing Plastic Pollution Project. The project seeks to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution by looking at the catchment from source to sea.

What can you do?

The great thing is we can all do something to reduce our plastic footprint. Following the waste hierarchy (avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle) is a great guide. Challenging your own resource consumption behaviours and transitioning from a consumer to a citizen, all contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide and methane.

The cross-government Plastic Champions Network logo.

If you would like to join a community of like-minded individuals to reduce plastic pollution, we run the Plastic Champions Network. The network is open to all government staff. We provide monthly newsletters, quarterly webinars, an annual conference, and opportunities for you to take your volunteer days to enhance your local environment or engage your local community. Email for more information.

My biggest tip to reduce your plastic footprint is to find your ‘why’. Find your motivation to reduce your environmental footprint and keep reminding yourself of it whilst you make the small changes, because many small changes collectively make a massive difference.

So, what changes will you make this Plastic Free July?

Lizzie Lewis. Photo by Alistair Scarlett.

Lizzie Lewis is a Project Officer in the Plastics and Sustainability Team at the Environment Agency. She also leads the cross-government Plastic Champions Network.

References: Global plastic pollution statistics, Garside, 2019; Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean, Jambeck et al, 2015; Impacts of plastic on environmental pollution, Pavani and Rajeswari 2014.

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