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Can you try a plastic free July?

Summer is now in full swing, with the return of the usual summer activities, from music festivals and family barbeques to day trips out to the beach or countryside. But with a lot of these activities, it can be hard to escape from single use plastics. From plastic cups at events, wet wipes to clean up when on the go or single use plates and cutlery when eating outdoors, it seems to be a time of year that results in a lot of excess, unnecessary plastic waste. A 2019 study found that plastic waste in the Mediterranean goes up by 40% in summer months as a result of holiday makers, most of this ending up in the sea and here in Northern Ireland we throw away over 1.3 million single-use plastic cups and 3 million food containers every week, highlighting our unsustainable habits.  

The impacts of excessive plastic waste have been highlighted in recent years, and we have all seen nature documentaries and read news stories about the deaths of animals ranging from sea birds and seals, to elephants and cattle as a result of our plastic waste. However, the impacts go further than this, with plastic now being found on the highest mountain, the deepest oceans and even the human blood stream.

Despite these worrying impacts, lots of actions are in place to start tackling and reducing plastic pollution on a national and international scale. UK based startup Ellipsis Earth have used drones fitted with cameras to map the locations of plastic pollution, even in some cases down to the brand or origin involved. The data can then be used to target specific sectors or polluters, or highlight litter hotspots to inform council bin placement or collections.  Organisations including The Ocean Cleanups have developed floating plastic capture systems and river interception plans to remove the plastic already present in the environment. And industry is making innovations with plastic also, with new compostable plastic being developed, and new uses developed for waste plastic.

This year I will be seeing how much I can reduce my own contribution to plastic waste with Plastic Free July. This global movement helps people to reduce their plastic consumption helping us to have cleaner streets and reducing the wider impacts of plastic pollution across the world. Take a look at their website and see if you can make some small changes to reduce your plastic waste this summer.

There are lots of simple changes that you can make to reduce the plastic in your everyday life. Start by bringing along a reusable water bottle to refill when you’re out and about or switch to a wash cloth instead of using wipes. On your next trip to the beach, bring along a plastic free picnic, or maybe take along a litter picker and bag and spend a short time litter picking as you take a walk. Take advantage of the local produce that’s in season by heading to a local market with your reusable bags and have your ice cream in an edible cone instead of plastic cup. At the family BBQ take the little extra time to wash up rather than using disposable plates. If you’re planning a festival trip, work out if you need a tent and what happens to it once you leave, and pick up some plastic free glitter to complete your festival outfit. If you’re travelling further afield, bring your own toiletries and avoid the small bottles provided in hotels (that are starting to be phased out anyway) and forgo the inflatable pool toy that inevitably gets thrown away at the end of the holiday.

There are a lot of small changes we can make to our summer activities to reduce the plastic waste that we generate. Will you give Plastic Free July a go this year and see what you can do?