5 simple steps to reduce plastic pollution

This year is expected to be a turning point in the way we use and think of plastic. As the EU prepares to release its first-ever strategy to curb plastic pollution, META investigates how we can all contribute. 

More than eight million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean each year, which is equivalent to dumping a truck filled with plastic into the sea every minute.

Plastic bags, bottles and other disposable items are the most common littered objects polluting and destroying entire ecosystems that are vital for the planet.

According to recent studies, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if governments don’t take immediate action.

Environmental groups have urged the EU to set binding measures to protect citizens and the environment from the irreversible effects of plastic pollution.

The European Commission, for its part, is expected to release a much-awaited Plastics Strategy targeting single-use plastic items on 16 January.

In the meantime, META looks into five simple ways to move away from unnecessary and harmful plastics.


1. Don’t use throwaway packaging

EU countries consume yearly billions of bottles, coffee cups, street food wrapping as well as disposable plates and cutlery, which account for almost half of the beach litter in Europe.

Throwaway items are generally used for less than five minutes, but can stay in the environment for centuries.

That’s why you are advised to ask takeaway shops to provide washable and reusable cups and dishes instead.

Some countries like the UK are considering a ban on disposable items such as takeaway coffee cups, which can be easily replaced with more durable solutions (e.g. refillable cups).

Meanwhile, UK drinks and packaging trade associations have fiercely lobbied governments to stop them from increasing industry’s responsibility for the collection and recycling of packaging waste.

 2. Always bring a reusable bag to the shop

More than one billion bags are used every minute in the world.

Some countries like China have banned plastic bags already. Other countries like Ireland have introduced taxes to discourage people from using them.

Regardless of your government’s ambition, you can set an example by bringing your own reusable bag to the shop.


3. Avoid microbeads

Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are common in cosmetics, soap and other personal care products.

Their impact on the environment and people’s health is enormous as they can easily reach the sea and enter the human food chain.  A recent study found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish.

As a result, the UK has put a ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads, citing that there are already many natural alternatives available.

All over the EU, microbead-free products display the Ecolabel to help you make the right choice for the environment.

4. Recycling

Plastic items that can’t be reused should always be recycled to ensure they do not end up in the environment and to avoid producing more plastic unnecessarily.

Rules for the separate collection of plastic waste can vary from country to country – a reason why citizens are advised to request information on what types of plastics can be thrown in the recycling bin.

Less than 30% of plastic waste was recycled across Europe in 2016.

EU member states agreed in December to increase plastic recycling to at least 55% by 2035.

But producers and retailers need to play their part as well. The Rethink Plastic campaign, led by European organisations, has called for all plastic to be made reusable, recyclable and toxic-free.

Plastics containing certain types of hazardous chemicals can make recycling hard. As a consumer you have the legal right to know what type of hazardous chemicals are used in plastic products including toys or electronics.


5. Demand your government takes action

Although collective action to reduce plastic pollution is needed, the future of the planet depends very much on the choices our governments will make in the coming months and years.

You can make your voice heard by writing to your government and demand strong measures to target plastic pollution.

Such measures include restrictions on the sale of unnecessary single-use plastic items; increasing financial responsibility on those who profit from plastic with regard to waste collection and recycling; and rules to make products that are safe, reusable and recyclable.

Activist (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

This article is based on recommendations set out by the Rethink Plastic campaign – an alliance of leading NGOs working to free Europe from plastic pollution and tackle the throwaway culture.