Bioplastics: A load of rubbish?

From balloons to disposable cups and cutlery to take away boxes, bioplastics are appearing as the supposed environmentally-friendly solution to plastic.

They allow you to enjoy the benefits of a disposable lifestyle but without the environmental price-tag. But is it that simple? Here at City to Sea we’ve taken a look at the issue and sorted the facts from the rubbish.

But first of all, what actually are bioplastics? To be called a bioplastic, a product has to be either biodegradable or made from plant-based materials. But being made from a plant doesn’t mean a product will degrade like a plant, and being biodegradable doesn’t mean a product will break down with food waste in the kitchen. In reality, most bioplastics need to be composted at very high temperatures over a period of several weeks in an industrial composter, and not at home in our garden compost as many of us think.

There are a couple of main types of bioplastics that you may have heard of, oxo-degradable and compostable. Oxo-degradable plastics are actually petroleum-based plastics that break down into lots of little pieces, yes that’s right- they turn into micro-plastics deliberately. Thankfully the EU Environment Committee is demanding these are banned by 2020. The second type of bioplastics are called ‘compostable plastics’. These aren’t made from oil, so that is a positive. However, despite the ‘compostable’ labelling they can’t be composted in your back garden but need to be industrially composted at high heat. Which means if your compostable balloon or straw ends up as rubbish in our oceans, rivers or natural environment, it won’t breakdown and will pose the same risks to wildlife as normal plastics.

Finally, there are home compostable bioplastics like cellophane. These can go in your home composter and will take 28-60 days to break down. However, if they go in your food caddy, which is then picked up by your local council, they will be removed as part of the depackaging process which prevents contamination from plastics as they don’t break down quick enough.

But if we process them responsibly are bioplastics OK?


The second big issue is that we don’t currently have significant infrastructure to compost bioplastics in the UK. The industrial composters that can break down compostable plastics are called in-vessel composters and there are currently only around 18 in the UK. These sites only accept waste that’s guaranteed not to be contaminated by oil-based plastics, which means the shipments need to come from closed environments (like festivals) which can guarantee the plastics have been kept separate.  Some café’s are offering take-back schemes to enable this too.

This leaves us consumers in a plastics pickle. Compostable bioplastics look exactly the same as oil-based plastics, so they often end up in the food bin or the recycling bin when actually, the only household bin they can go in is the general waste bin. Yes, that’s right, we’re expected to understand that ‘compostable’ doesn’t mean we can actually compost them. As clear as mud.

 

So, should we say bye-bye to bioplastics?

What all this means, is that while bioplastics might sound good, they are still a single-use material and there are extremely limited options to compost them. Ultimately, due the nature of when we tend to use bioplastics – as takeaway food containers and packaging – they end up in the bin and consequently in landfill.   The other issue is that as they don’t biodegrade outside of certain conditions they can still contribute to marine pollution if they become litter.

If compostable plastics are to become a viable alternative to oil-based plastics, there is a lot of work for the bioplastics and waste industries to do so they can better work together.

There are some positive innovations that should be celebrated and are fit for purpose– for example– in Indonesia they have developed a product using seaweed that dissolves harmlessly in water, which solves some of their issues with small sachets.

Our advice at City to Sea remains that refusing plastic and any single-use is the only solution. So choosing to refill and reuse are the best options. If your local cafe is using bio-plastic packaging, then treat it as you would traditional plastic and take your own reusable alternatives.

Check out our list of bioplastics FAQs to find out everything you need to know.

Livvy Drake is a Sustainability and Behaviour Change consultant. In her spare time, she can be found on her bike escaping to nature

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Government urged not to flood schools with plastic period products months after challenging schools to go plastic free

City to Sea have today written to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP, urging him to make sure that all period products purchased by this government will either be plastic-free disposables or reusable products.

The call comes after government confirmed that they would be providing free period products to both Primary and Secondary Schools in England and months after the Government challenged Schools to give up all single-use plastics by 2022.

Most period products contain plastic. Period pads for example (including Lil-lets, Always, Tampax and most supermarkets own-brands) often contain up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of four plastic bags per pad, as well as using single-use plastic for packaging the products.

Commenting, founder of City to Sea, Natalie Fee, said:

“Following the announcement to provide period products in schools we want to ensure this momentous and welcome action isn’t a travesty for the environment by ensuring all schools are provided plastic free products. As such we are seeking confirmation from government that they aren’t planning on flooding schools with single-use plastic period products just months after challenging schools to go plastic-free. There are plenty of alternatives out there that are plastic-free, including many reusable options that can save school girls and the government money whilst having a smaller impact on our planet.

She continued, “Most people don’t realise that every single day in the UK about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 pantyliners are flushed down the loo and that nearly all of these will contain plastic. The result is blockages in our sewers and used period products washing up on our riverbanks and beaches. I am hoping that Government will agree with us that this is a huge problem and set a real example by making sure all the period products they procure are truly plastic-free.”

Campaigns Coordinator at City to City, Jasmine Tribe added,

“In one move Government has the chance to empower young people, protect our oceans and tackle period poverty. People can save up to 94% over their menstruating lives by switching to reusable period products. I hope to see government rolling out a modern period education program alongside this great initiative as this is absolutely vital to get the most out of the scheme.”

For further information on City to Sea’s Plastic Free Period Campaign please visit https://www.citytosea.org.uk/plasticfreeperiods/

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Race to champion anti-plastics in Premier League kicks off in earnest

As Tottenham Hotspurs plays their first home game in their long-awaited new stadium this evening, anti-plastic pollution campaigners at City to Sea are celebrating the news as the start of race to champion the anti-plastic pollution movement in the sports sector.

The new stadium is being heralded for having green credentials such as the complete elimination of all plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and all plastic disposable packaging that accompanies these items.  Equally, the club has a commitment to “to phasing out single-use plastics across all Club operations” as well as supporting school education programmes. These measures come alongside Newcastle United’s announcement this week that they will eliminate all plastic water bottles from their training ground saving an estimate 48,000 bottles a year.

Commenting ahead of the home game this evening against Crystal Palace, CEO of City to Sea, Rebecca Burgess said,

“The drive to eliminate plastic pollution by Premier League clubs is really kicking off this evening. Spurs have had this great opportunity through their new state of the art stadium to drive forward their efforts to eliminate plastic pollution at source. And it really feels like there is real competition now between the clubs for each to being doing more. This is a welcome competition. While each club are taking their own different steps forward, it is important to say that any action to tackle this problem is welcome. At City to Sea we can work with top clubs to help them go further faster.

Increasingly I think clubs are seeing that they can offer fans truly memorable match days experience without producing mountains of plastic pollution. With more than eight million tonnes of plastic thrown away each year, with much of it being washed out to sea, this is something that all clubs need to tackle.”

Photo by Nathan Rogers on Unsplash.

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WHY Recycling won’t solve our plastic problem ♻️😟

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly clear that we can not recycle ourselves out of our current plastic problem. In fact, the current recycling system for plastics is one of the big contributors to plastic pollution around the world.  

Of the more than six billion tonnes of plastic waste produced by 2015, only 9 per cent has ever been recycled. Of the rest, almost all of it is now in the landfill or the natural environment (79 per cent) with the remainder incinerated.  

The UK’s official plastic packaging recycling rate is just 39 per cent – although research organisation Eunomia believe this to be much lower than reported.  That means more than 60% of all the plastic we use is ending up in landfill, incinerated – or worse, in our environment and oceans.  With the tragic news of yet another whale found dead with a belly full of plastic, it’s clear we have a very serious problem we’re not going to recycle our way out of.

City to Sea are committed to preventing plastic pollution at source – reducing the need for recycling in the first place by advocating reuse and providing practical solutions to the single-use water bottles such as our Refill campaign.

Why recycling plastic is hard 

For some products, recycling is an effective solution. Aluminium cans and glass, for example, are infinitely recyclable and can be reprocessed in the UK.  But for plastics, it’s a different story 

For one thing, there are so many types of plastic it makes it hard to sort correctly. Consumers inadvertently mix recyclable and non-recyclable plastics in the same box, which contaminates the load and requires there to be further sorting and segregating, which not all collectors do, and effects the value and re-usability of the plastic when it’s resold.  

Most people believe that putting out the plastic each week is helping the environment; although many are unaware the complexity of the processing required and the diligence of contractors required to make sure materials do actually get reprocessed effectively.  

Most people are trying their best to recycle plastic – but the many different ways in which recycling is collected by councils across the UK has left them confused over what can be recycled and what can’t. Read our essential guide to recycling for more information on recycling logos and what they mean.

What happens to our plastic waste? 

We only reprocess 1/3rd of our plastic recycling in the UK, so once plastic waste enters the system, it is sorted and then put up for sale on the international commodities market to be shipped around the world. Depending on the quality of the load―e.g. how many types of plastic it includes, how dirty they are―and the reputation of the waste handler, there are a number of different things that can then happen.  

If the quality is good enough, the plastics are re-purposed. This means downcycling them into plastic furniture, drain pipes or fleece clothing, which then can’t be recycled afterwards.  

If the quality is poor, the plastics that can be used are extracted and the rest end up being burned or dumped.  

And, if they’re bought by unscrupulous reprocesses in countries where environmental laws are lax, this dumped and incinerated waste can end up in the local environment, contaminating rivers and making its way to the sea.  

Historically, China is where most of the world’s plastic has ended up. It’s no coincidence that more than half of all the plastic pollution carried from the rivers to the ocean comes from the Yangtze. But at the end of 2017 China closed its doors to the most contaminated loads, putting the burden back on the rest of the world. 

What the future holds for recycling and plastic 

Whilst governments and environmental agencies investigate the issues of the plastics recycling industry around the world. The obvious solution to our plastic problem is to produce and use less of it.  

Several EU and UK laws will come into force in the next few years requiring manufacturers to take more responsibility for their materials. And the UK Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy proposes taxing companies that don’t have a minimum of 30 per cent recycled content in their plastics.  

Voluntary initiatives like the UK Plastics Pact and The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment also keep the pressure on to create a more ‘circular economy’. 

At City to Sea we appreciate that some of the issues surrounding recycling are being addressed by the New Plastics Economy Commitment, Plastics Pact and the Waste and Resources Strategy however, we feel there should be a greater focus on the reusability of materials. Whilst recycling is obviously a fantastic solution for dealing with some of the plastics we need, we need to reduce the sheer volume of single-use plastics and shift away from our throwaway culture to value the products we have and start refilling and reusing over recycling.

What you can do  

    • Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Refill and only then opt for Recycling. Check out our top 12 ways to reduce single-use plastic here.
    • Where reusables aren’t an option, choose materials that have a clear waste stream such as recycled card, paper, aluminium and glass.
    • Tell the Government that you want to see meaningful change with their consultations on waste and plastics. See our comments on the plastic bottle Deposit Return Scheme consultation. 
    • Seek out plastic-free packaging suppliers or those using recycled content e.g. Iceland and Lush. 
    • Where plastics are unavoidable ask producers to increase the recycled content to create a proper market for recycled plastics.
    • Join campaigns such as Plastic Attack to highlight pointless packaging in supermarkets.   

Image of recycling bins

Paweł Czerwiński

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Get a wriggle on – the refillable lunch box revolution is coming

Brits are famous for our love of sandwiches. In fact, we eat a staggering 11.5 billion of them a year. And while at City to Sea we would never speak foul of a good ploughman’s, we do have an issue with the plastic pickle that it leaves behind. It is estimated that we use more than 1.2 billion metres (745,000 miles) of cling film every year – enough to go around the circumference of the world 30 times over.

This is one of the reasons we were so excited to see Wriggle, the independent food app, launch their reusablelunch box. The ‘Bring Your Own Lunchbox’ scheme encourages customers to bring along their own lunch boxes to local eateries, cutting down on single-use takeaway packaging. Similar to what our award winning ‘Refill’ campaign does for water, participating eateries have a sticker in their window letting passers-by know they can go in and fill up their lunchbox at ease.

With plans in Parliament to ban all but the most essential plastics within 25 years, more and more eateries are transitioning towards a circular, reusable and more sustainable business model. To give just one example, Boston Tea Party led in 2018 stopped using throw away coffee cups. One decision has resulted in thousands upon thousands of cups saved from littering our natural environment.

Last month the Global Action Network launched the #Longlivethelunchbox sticker scheme, similar to refill, mapping the venues that will accept reusable lunch boxes. It has never been easier for hungry customers to choose to be part of the refill revolution. Increasingly, those eateries relying on business models using single use plastics just no longer seem to cut the mustard.

Our amigos over at Wriggle have gone one sustainable step further though. The latest Wriggle box is made from bamboo. The body is bamboo, comparable to the bamboo coffee cups which are made from surplus bamboo from the chopstick industry and mixed with a plastic resin like melamine. The lid is bamboo wood with a thick elastic band as a holder.

OK, so this might not cause panda-monium (geddit) outside the City to Sea offices, but this does have the potential to make a real difference. Research shows that one of the big issues stopping people from carrying reusables is that they feel uncomfortable being the only ones in a shop or café asking for a refill. By ‘normalising’ behaviour through stickers, posters and more people taking par, it makes refilling your water bottle or lunchbox more acceptable and feel much more normal. By Wriggle creating a box and their food outlets selling it, plus other locations putting up the #Longlivethelunchbox sticker it sends a green light to what is accepted behaviour.

At City to Sea we have seen first-hand how the refill revolution spreads. When we launched the campaign in 2015 we had a handful of Refill Stations signed up and today we have over 17,000 locations in the UK alone with over a hundred thousand people using our Refill App. Wriggle have hit the refill nail on the head by creating a lunch box that is both beautiful and practical. It becomes a source of pride and something people are keen to associate with.

Alongside legislating single-use plastic out of use we need to be building beautiful and practical reuse refill schemes. And Wriggle have kicked off 2019 perfectly. What is important for social norms to really change is the volume of people refilling and businesses offering refills. And with every sustainability change it always takes the pioneers to lead the way.

So, get a wriggle on and join the refill revolution.

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First ever global commitment to tackling single-use plastic 

This week saw the first ever global commitment by national governments towards curtailing the surging consumption of single-use plastics. The pledge happened at the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi in Kenya.

 The non-binding declaration sets out plans to curb items like plastic bags, bottles and straws over the next decade. However, the initial wording put forward by the Indian delegation to commit to “phasing-out the most problematic single-use plastic products by 2025” was heavily watered down by a USA led group. The final text committed states to “significantly reduce” single-use plastics by 2030. 

 Our Founder, Natalie Fee broadly welcomed the commitment saying:  “This is a huge first step towards a global solution to a global problem. It was heartening to see real action plans being backed by the majority of the countries represented, but the proof will be in the delivery of these plans. With the last-minute watering down of the proposals, we’ll now be watching closely to make sure that these very first steps are implemented and acted upon.”

 She did however also join other environmentalists in expressing her disappointment in the watering down of the agreement saying:  “I was also disappointed to see how a small minority led by the United States blocked the more ambitious parts of the text and delayed negotiations. If we’re going to tackle this global problem the United States needs to join the growing consensus around tackling plastic pollution and stop pumping money into the fracking industry that fuels the plastics industry. What was agreed last Friday needs to be seen as a minimum standard that we expect of governments and we can and must do more. Change is happening but we need people, councils and businesses to keep pushing to go further faster. With 8 million pieces making their way into our oceans each day [3] our fragile planet can’t afford any more delays.”

Find out more about how you can take action on plastic pollution here. 

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Using Photography to help Protect Our Oceans!

Last year plastic pollution exploded in the mainstream media after Blue Planet was aired, creating a snowball effect of action and activism from communities across the UK. An issue that was previously too easy to ignore, hidden beneath the waves, was suddenly bought into full view.

Video and photography have played a huge role in building movements since cameras were invented. They touch the heart as well as the mind, sharing a moment with hundreds, thousands, millions more than would have been able to experience it first hand.

Photo by Justin Hofman

Here in the UK the British Wildlife Photography Awards is using photography to help celebrate and raise awareness of British wildlife in all it’s diversity, in the knowledge that:

In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum, 1968

This year is the BWPA’s 10th anniversary and to mark it they are making 2019 the year of the Coast and Marine category! For 2019 this category has expanded to include all UK coastlines and has four separate categories: Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland and the Coast of Ireland.

The BWPA are particularly keen to keep plastic pollution at the forefront of the media’s attention so they’re encouraging entries (in any category) that show the impacts of plastic pollution here in the UK. Many people are starting to notice the effects of plastic on our home shorelines, but still associate harm to wildlife with animals like turtles and whales which we don’t exactly consider to be British! Plastic pollution is a very real and dangerous threat to native birds, seals, dolphins and other UK wildlife, so lets make it more widely known!

Photo by Neil Phillips in the BWPA

You have until April 6th to enter your photo/s here. Oh, and there’s also the chance to win £4,000 and have your image exhibited at 8 venues across the UK… Go, go, go!

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Tackling marine pollution with the ‘Fine to Flush’ standard

Plastic pollution and littering from ‘flushable’ wet wipes is on the rise! We have a whole webpage dedicated to wet wipes but to summarise, here are the key points:

  • Last year the Marine Conservation Society recorded >14 wet wipes per 100 metres of coastline, a rise of 700% over the last decade.
  • In April 2018, over 4,500 wet wipes were found on one 154m sq patch of foreshore.
  • Many wet wipes contain plastic and don’t break down (or if they do they break down into microplastics).
  • The BBC has found that all wet wipes sold as “flushable” in the UK have so far failed the water industry’s disintegration tests. Despite this, the European industry body Edana still allows them to be labelled as “flushable”.
  • When wet wipes are flushed down the loo, they clog up our sewers causing them to overflow and pollute our rivers and ocean.
  • A study in 2017 showed that wet wipes could account for about 93% of the material causing blockages.
  • Sewer blockages cost the country £100m every year – money which Water UK says could be taken off bills or spent on improving services.

That’s where Water UK’s ‘Fine to Flush’ symbol comes in! Water UK have created a new standard which allows consumers to recognise products that are truly flushable, without causing havoc in our sewers and on our beaches!

So far Natracare’s plastic-free, compostable ‘moist tissue’ (sold in Waitrose, Ocado and independent health shops) is the only product to have been awarded the standard. Let’s hope that this pushes other wet wipe manufacturers to reconsider the materials they use and certainly change the information on their packaging.

If it doesn’t say ‘Fine to Flush’ – bin it!

Find out more about how to reduce plastic pollution from our toilets and our Bog Standard campaign here.

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Scotland’s first International Marine Conference!

This February the Scottish government launched their first ever International Marine Conference, bringing together representatives from more than 10 other nations. Our campaign co-ordinator Jasmine was there to get the low down and find out what we can learn from Scotland.

Kicking off the conference was Scotland’s First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon, reminding everyone present of the importance of the ocean to Scotland – which actually accounts for 8% of Europe’s total coastline! The marine environment surrounding Scotland has huge importance for globally significant species, for tourism and for offshore wind and tidal power.

The first day of the International Marine Conference focused on Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) and Blue Carbon – two areas in which Scotland is trying to show leadership. Under the Convention on Biodiversity there are global obligations to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. Demonstrating their commitment to ocean health Scotland are already protecting 22% of their territorial waters and are aiming for even more. Dr Sarah Cunningham from Scottish National Heritage highlighted that MPA’s must now have flexible boundaries and management across regions, in order to account for the movement of species and habitats in response to climate change.

Scotland is the only country to have made a national marine carbon inventory, looking at how the marine environment can help reduce global greenhouse emissions. Scottish peatlands and fjords store a huge amount of carbon, some of which has been locked in these environments since the ice age, so it’s vital to carefully manage these areas!

Image: JNCC

The second day of the conference was focused on marine litter, where Scotland are also spearheading the way in some areas of policy and planning. As Cabinet Secretary Rosanna Cunningham pointed out:

We’re an innovative species… we’re the ones who invented plastic in the first place! It’s time to solve this problem which we ourselves created.”

Scottish government have banned microplastic in personal care products, will be banning plastic stemmed cotton buds from the summer of 2019, have 300 sea vessels signed up to the Fishing for Litter scheme, and have just released the results of their consultation on a Deposit Return System (where England and Wales are only just opening a consultation to the public). Being the first government in the UK to supply free period products to students, we were very excited to hear that the government is also working to promote reusable menstrual products with Zero Waste Scotland! Great news for Plastic-Free Periods!

Lewis Pugh – Patron of the Oceans UN Environment Committee – swam an inspirational 1km across the north pole (which should be covered in ice) to send a message to global leaders about climate change. As a keynote speaker at the conference Lewis spoke of the importance of belief and absolute commitment to achieving a goal:

When we think about the environment we’ve been diving in with thoughts of victory and defeat at the same time. You cannot confuse your subconscious by preparing for success and defeat simultaneously. Chose success – there is nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”

The International Marine Conference was full of fascinating researchers, inspiring campaigners and grassroots groups made up of people whole-heartedly committed to protecting our oceans for generations to come. Here are just a few of them who stood out for their dedication and passion for the cause:

The Marine Conservation Society and Our Ladys RC Primary School

During her ocean outreach work Catherine Gemmell from MCS met the ambitious year 3 students at Our Ladys RC school. After Catherine’s workshop these inspired students created a campaign called Wild Bottle Sighting Alert! In collaboration with MCS they encouraged anyone who found a littered water bottle to report it on the Wild Bottle Sightings map, helping to raise the profile of plastic bottle pollution and collect valuable data. This campaign was used to send a message to Scottish politicians about why a Deposit Return scheme is so vital. Scotland’s mini rockstars!

School twitter: @OurLadysRRS
  • Fidra

Fidra have been working to reduce plastic pollution from cotton buds for years. They’re a great example of how working with industry rather than targeting policy makers or consumers, can be the way to reach the heart of product issues. One of the reasons our Switch the Stick campaign was so successful was thanks to the behind the scenes work from Fidra, and now Scotland will be banning plastic cotton bud stems this summer!

Zsuzsa and Gerry are both advertising professionals who have worked for Coca-cola, Irn Bru, Honda, Tesco and MasterCard. Luckily for the planet, this committed couple have now turned their talents to anti-littering campaigns in Scotland, with amusing, memorable and award-winning results! Check out their visual campaigns here.

  • Rune Gaasø and Clean Shores

Geologist Rune Gaasø is working with Eivind Bastesen and Clean Shores to identify, log and remove plastic from an entire island off the west of Norway. Currents have washed litter ashore on this island probably since plastic was invented, so it will be a fascinating study. The litter is meters deep and on one dig they found plastic bottles from the UK, remnants of a light bulb from the Netherlands and a chip packaging from Germany. Hats off to Rune and Eivind for mobilising their communities and taking ambitious clean up action that highlights the extent of our plastic pollution problem!

A few years ago Sunnyside’s oldest student group made a photography calendar with David Yarrow about anti-rhino and elephant poaching, they campaigned to get the council to turn their heating down by 2 degrees and campaigned against cetaceans being held in captivity. When it was time for the class to leave primary school, the projects weren’t finished and so they passed them down to the rest of the school to continue taking action towards a more sustainable world. Each year group now focuses on one conservation theme and have since raised money for bears and lions rescued from circuses, become recycling champions and designed light-switch stickers to remind people to switch off their lights and save energy!

As well as passion, successful ocean conservation requires a global and political sharing of resources to allow developing countries to skip straight to best practise. We need to stop reinventing the wheel and start urgently implementing the policies, practises and projects that we know work. This inspiring conference suggested that Scotland fully intend to lead the way in trialling solutions on a small-country scale, which hopefully can be rolled out globally moving forward.

Amidst fears around how our government will act on environmental concerns after leaving the European Union, Nicola Sturgeon re-aussured us that

“… despite Brexit, Scotland is going to continue to maintain EU environmental standards, and to work with partners across the globe.”

We shouldn’t accept anything less from English and Welsh governments. In fact, if Scotland can do it we can’t see any reason why our small island countries of England, Wales and Northern Ireland can’t also follow suit with measures like the Deposit Return System and banning cotton buds.

Sometimes waiting for strong leadership from powerful people makes us feel powerless. Here are some things we can all do to fight for a healthy planet for future generations:

We left Scotland’s International Marine Conference feeling inspired and hopeful, and look forward to working collaboratively for a year of bold action from politicians, community groups and businesses alike!

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GUEST BLOG: Connecting the dots between my shopping basket and beach cleaning bag…

Guest blogger bio: Caroline Bond, known more publicly as Kittiekipper, is an artist and activist from Seaford, East Sussex. She uses her Instagram to share her ghost net fibre art sculptures and designs with her followers, as well as offering tips and solutions when it comes to all things plastic.  

BEACH CLEANING

Beach cleaning has changed me. The way I eat, the way I shop, the way I dress, the way I consume, and even the way I tackle my periods.

Before daily beach cleaning, I hadn’t really considered the implications of my consumer habits in such an in-depth way. I hadn’t realised that I was contributing to a problem I was so passionately fighting. It seems silly now, how long it took for me to make the connection between what was going into my shopping bag compared to what was going into my beach clean bag.

I find plastic tampon applicators regularly. Possibly even daily. And I’m not alone in that… Cruising through the beach clean hashtags on social media you’ll find them colourfully lighting up the shoreline in all the colours of the rainbow, on all the beaches of the globe. That’s right, period product waste has become a global issue. And when you think about it, how long is a tampon applicator actually used for? It has to be one of the speediest uses of single use plastic out there, making it a big offender in the single use plastic rouges gallery.

PERSONAL POLLUTION

Somehow I still didn’t twig that I was part of the pollution problem, even though I’d never flushed one. The thing is – if you’re buying your own period products – you can choose what product and what company to invest your money in. By opting for tampons with an applicator (that I’m sure had been cardboard when I started my period and had somehow morphed into plastic!) I had been generating single-use plastic waste without making the connection to what I was finding on beaches. I was part of the problem, and once I realised this I knew it was time to change.

Instagram: kittiekipper

reusable alternatives

I’d heard about menstrual cups and reusable pads, but had been a little timid in trying them out. I had been really unlucky with tampons in general – my flow somehow seemed to miss the product and leak – so why was I so scared of trying something new? Probably just the unknown.

Monetarily the menstrual cup and reusable pads make a hell of a lot of sense. In the fight against single use plastic I’ve learnt the great value of reusable products over single-use products, that you pay out for regularly only to dispose of them quickly as a waste product. Ownership makes a lot more sense to your wallet than consumption.

This is also true from an environmental perspective. Producing something that you buy once, look after, reuse, and store until your next period, instead of using up resources and creating huge amounts of landfill waste from single use products, can only benefit the environment. Menstrual cups can last up to 10 years which not only saves money but packaging, energy, materials and resources too!

Washable pads are so comfortable to wear at night that you can sleep with confidence without having all that plastic against your sensitive skin while you are sleeping. Purchasing a little pack of three or four washable pads that are designed for your flow, means you can pop the used ones in the wash the next morning and have one ready for the next night. Imagine the amount of landfill waste that could be avoided if women used reusable washable pads JUST for the night time part of their cycles.

Instagram: KittieKipper

making the switch

I will be coming into my second year of plastic free periods this March. When I first got my menstrual cup (mine’s a Mooncup) I read through the instructions, popped it on to boil and after I’d snipped the tail to the length that was right for my body, and I was off. I won’t pretend I got the hang of it first time, but Tampons took me a few tries all those years ago too, and honestly I wasn’t expecting it to be totally simple. But I got there probably by day three of my first period using it. I learnt pretty quickly that if you can feel the cup at all then it’s not in quite right.

I’ve road tested my cup in all sorts of ways from cycling to surfing. If you like to be in the water or being active, the cup is a game changer. Prancing around in a swimming costume, knickers, tiny shorts or a skirt can be done! You can also opt for jogging bottoms, a box of biscuits and a hot water bottle, but for those of you that have been held back by your periods, I seriously recommend the cup.

I’ll be transparent – reusable products don’t agree with everyone. With cups, some experience more frequent UTI’s and some people just don’t like them, how they feel, changing them, etc. Handling a used pad before washing might go against your beliefs, weird you out or make you squeamish. Nothing to be ashamed of, or shamed for, after all we are all fabulously different.

BUT if you are in a position where you can choose which products you purchase, maybe it’s time you took a look at the plastic free options out there. Disposable plastic-free tampons and pads do exist too, benefitting your health as well as the planet.

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money, money, money

Ruby cup operate on a ‘buy one donate one’ scheme so when you buy a cup they donate one to a girl or woman who would benefit from it.

When you shop for reusable pads check out what some companies and individuals are offering women in need too. Mine were from Velvet Moon Pads where the maker uses the profit from selling pads to reinvest in pad for people that can’t afford them. I love that ethos!

Alternatively, if you are buying single use pads or tampons from the shops, then maybe check this idea out… The Red Box Project is spreading across the UK, the idea being that when you buy your period products you buy one extra to donate to a sister in need. It’s a wonderful program reaching far and wide so do check them out if you are in a position to do so.

I’ll keep trying out new Plastic-Free Period ideas as I go, if I stumble across anything extra special, I’ll be sure to pop back and let you know!

Kittiekipper xx

Instagram: kittiekipper
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