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Want To Stop Using Plastics But Don’t Know How? Here Are Some Tips

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More than 360 million tons of plastic are produced annually and nearly 13 million tons end up in our oceans each year. Will McCullum of Greenpeace UK offers a practical guide to reducing reliance on plastics in his book, “How To Give Up Plastic: A Guide To Changing The World One Plastic Bottle At A Time.”

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 A wise businessman famously had one word for the graduate played by Dustin Hoffman.

Speaker 2: 00:06 I just want to say one word. Just one word. Yes sir. Are you listening? Yes. So you plastics.

Speaker 1: 00:17 That was excellent money making advice back in 1967 when the movie came out, but half a century later, plastics are choking our oceans and threatening all marine life. More than 360 million tons of plastic are produced annually. Millions of tons end up in our oceans. Can we change that? We'll the column of Greenpeace offers a practical guide in how to give up plastic. He spoke with round table host Mark Sauer by Skype as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk.

Speaker 3: 00:50 If you walk the beaches in San Diego or practically any seashore in the world, this problem is obvious. How did we end up with this universal pollution crisis? A plastics have been around for many decades.

Speaker 4: 01:02 You know when they started, people saw it and thought this is a cheap, safe, hygienic, a easy to use material, and they just didn't think about the end of its life. They didn't think about, well, if we carry on producing at this rate, who's going to deal with it? It just never occurred to them. And it's amazing to look back now and be like, how did you not realize this was going to become a big problem? But you know, that's dwelling on the past and I prefer to look at the future of now we know it's a problem now we can see on every beach, as you say, around the world, we're finding plastic even on the most remote parts of the planet. We have to do something about it. We can't let plastic production continue to rise at the rate that it is.

Speaker 3: 01:40 Now you're right that not just environmentalist but politicians, celebrities, consumers, store owners, et Cetera, are finally aware that plastic is polluting virtually the entire planet. We've recycled for a long time. We've ended the use of plastic shopping bags here and in many other places there's a big push to cut down on using plastic straws at major change. That's not nearly enough though, is it?

Speaker 4: 02:00 No, no. It's a great start because you know, our waste system isn't exactly great and any piece of plastic you're using could end up in the ocean. So those small items, cutting them out wherever you can are really important also cause they're, it's empowering to, to play your part. This is a shared problem. We all want to feel like we're part of the solution as well. Uh, but you know, we have to get companies and government to listen to it to see, you know, this is our target. We're gonna reduce plastic by this much by this year, by 50%, by 2025 let's say. And only when we have that really strong vision are we going to start to see that the pace of change match where it needs to be?

Speaker 3: 02:42 Well, in plastics, so much of it designed for single use seems the definition of convenience. How do you sell the public on the inconvenient truth that plastic has to go

Speaker 4: 02:50 well? I think a lot of the public are already there. You know, they're going to the store. No one wants to go into a store and walk home, unpack their bags and realize have just as much plastic as they've got food in their bags. You know, no one enjoys that experience. No one goes to the shop and thinks, oh yeah, my fruit and vegetables really needs three layers of plastic packaging. It's just we don't have a choice. You know, if you go, if you, if you live in, in the western world, you don't have much choice about using that much plastic. So this is what needs to change. We need, we need it to be made easier for us and individuals play a huge role in that by, you know, using their voice. Unlike decades gone past through social media, we have access to decision makers.

Speaker 4: 03:31 We can actually make ourselves heard much, much more easily and we can say, you know, enough is enough. We don't want to be part of this problem. We're doing our bit, you know, I've got my reusable water bottle. I'm cutting out plastic by making my lunch on a Sunday and taking it in a lunch box, which I have to say is the single biggest way I reduce my plastic footprint by doing that. Uh, but now it's your turn to join this with us. What are you going to do? Are you going to set these targets? Are you going to reduce the amount of plastic you're producing in your book? Is a guide to drastically cutting down on your supplies to going to realize what are some of the other basic things that everyone can do? Crucible Coffee Cup and saying no to straws, a reusable water bottle, a reusable bag in the kitchen, you know, do some research.

Speaker 4: 04:13 Where in your area is selling food, not wrapped in plastic. Go there or order from there online in the bathroom. You know, use a bar of soap instead of plastic bowls for shower Gel. Look up companies like lush that are doing moisturizer and creams and tins that you can return to them. Stop using cotton air bad, stop smoking cause cigarettes are cigarette butts are made of plastic. You know, these are all such simple steps and the impact they have is real because our waste systems are, are pretty broken and the plastic that you're using in your house might actually end up in the ocean. So best not have it there in the first place. And the plastic bottle you wrote about 500 billion are sold annually. That's 16,000 the second, I mean it's a mind boggling boggling number, but a, you recommended the positive return scheme.

Speaker 4: 04:59 Germany and Norway are, or some states like Michigan Herbert here. Why isn't it more widespread in the United States? I think because we just forgot that it was a really good idea because it's something from the past, people thought, I know we probably got rid of it because we didn't, it wasn't no good. And you know that's just wrong it. So deposit return scheme, they're brilliant. In Germany they reduced plastic bottle pollution by 95% or so. 95% of plastic bottles are recycled in Germany. Compare that to the UK. We're only 50% are. We don't have a deposit return scheme. We're meant to be getting one soon. And that, you know, it's that these solutions are simple. We have the tools, we know how to do this, we just have to get on and do it. And you wrote that people are surprised to learn that their clothes are responsible for about a third of all plastic released into the ocean's.

Speaker 4: 05:44 Explain how that is. So you'll close if your clothes were made of nylon polyester. When you put them in the laundry, the plastic can shed off. So in these tiny little things called microfibers, tiny filaments are plastic finer than a human hair and are so small that they can go drown the drain system into the water and eventually end up in the ocean. And when they're in the ocean, they act like magnets. All kinds of other bad stuff sticks to it like mercury or other chemicals. So when they're eaten by a fish, you know they're actually quite toxic. And then that fish is eaten by bigger fish as eaten by a bigger fish could even end up on your dinner plate. That's where we have a problem with microfibers. So by washing your clothes differently, by doing them at a lower spin cycle, a lower temperature full load, you can help reduce microfibers going into the environment. But you can also just think twice about do you really need the item of clothing? Is it really necessary? Or maybe you could just repair an item that you've already got. And that goes back to this idea of these solutions. Often quite simple. They're not rocket science,

Speaker 3: 06:42 but one of the, one of the overall solutions might be to, uh, to tax producers. When you've got a multibillion dollar, uh, plastics, petroleum industry, army of lobbyists consider it seems like a daunting task

Speaker 4: 06:53 completely. [inaudible] and the producers for a long time have gotten away with not paying the cost of the end life of their product. You know, the automobile industry, they pay their, they pay their costs for the end life of cars. The electronic waste industry is having to pay much more of the cost. Plastics producers, they haven't had to yet. And that's somewhere where we really need to see legislation. We need to see a, the production of plastic being, uh, paying the full price, the full environmental cost of it rather than, you know, producing it, putting on a shelf and then leaving all of the costs to the consumer.

Speaker 3: 07:25 Now this segment is part of our climate desk coverage. Uh, connect the dots for us. Tell us how plastics pollution is connected to the climate change crisis.

Speaker 4: 07:33 Well, two main ways. One way is plastic has made a fossil fuels. So the oil companies digging up the oil, they're making that plastic. And if we are going to continue at the rate of plastic production at the rate we are so quadruple by 2050 than plastic could make up 15% of our global carbon budget. That makes the plastic problem into a climate problem. So reducing the amount of plastic is the only way out of that. Now the other way is plastic is very linked to over consumption is very much linked to us taking more than we need using resources inefficiently on economically. And so, you know, plastic is often used for marketing, for over packaging, for making a product stand out, for trying to persuade us to buy more of something than we need. And that's the other link to climate because so much of climate change as we saw in the, in the land use report earlier released today by the international panel on climate change, you know, over consumption is a major driver of climate change. And plastic is facilitating that.

Speaker 3: 08:32 Well, so much to think about. I've been speaking with will McColum author of how to give up plastic. Thanks will

Speaker 1: 08:37 thanks. Will McCullum author of how to give a plastic speaking to round table host Mark Sauer for more coverage from the KPBS climate desk, go to kpbs.org/climate change.

Speaker 5: 08:52 Uh.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.