If you care about climate breakdown, you should care about plastics.

More than once I’ve heard people say that climate breakdown is a much bigger issue than plastic pollution, or that plastic pollution is a distraction from the wider environmental crisis we face. Add to this a recent BBC interview with George Monbiot in which he slammed switching your cotton buds as ‘pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks’, and I’ve got myself a case for defending plastic pollution’s place at the table of environmental collapse. Sounds like a dinner party to die for. 

In his defence, George was referring to the problem of trying to solve rampant consumerism with more consumerism. And we did have a particularly fun moment when I challenged him on it on stage recently at an event. As the founder of City to Sea, the organisation behind the #SwitchtheStick campaign (which successfully got all UK supermarkets to stop making cotton buds out of plastic and switch to paper instead) I felt the need to call him out on that one.  

And it’s a case in point, stopping over 400 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic, which would have most likely ended up being flushed and making its way into the UK’s rivers and seas, isn’t micro-consumerist bollocks. It’s a big reduction in fossil-fuel based plastic that sent a strong message to not just the supermarkets, but the plastic industry itself, that us ‘consumers’ don’t want 275,000 tonnes of currently non-recyclable plastic a year covering our cosmetic products, food, or anything else. And beyond that, it challenged investor’s assumptions that the plastic industry is a good bet. Pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks? More like awesome macro-systemic transformation. (I thought I made that word up, but apparently, it already exists.)  

Challenging industry assumptions of the infinite growth of demand for plastic – a plastics boom even – is exactly what we’re doing every time we as individuals refuse single-use plastic. And challenge them we must, as over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and most of us are now well aware that we need to keep that stuff firmly in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences from climate breakdown.  

According to one study, this means leaving at least 80 percent of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground, which includes more than 90 percent of U.S. coal reserves and all 100% of Arctic oil and gas. We cannot meet these goals without kicking our global plastics habit. And here’s why.  

Currently, plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production. It doesn’t sound like much does it? Yet the plastic produced from this, or our lack of effective waste management systems, has been enough to wreak utter destruction on marine ecosystems, killing hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, entangling countless others and poisoning our food chain. There are unseen consequences too; degrading plastics on beaches are releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2) and a new study shows that microplastics in the ocean could be disrupting natural carbon storage 

Despite this catastrophe, plastic’s share of global oil use is set to triple by 2050, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals by 30 percent and doubling plastic pollution in our oceans. 

via GIPHY

If the plastic industry has its way, rising plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s about the same as the entire current emissions of the transportation industry – planes, trains, cars, buses and all.  

And the industry push is powerful – currently, over $200 billion is being invested in factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas (from fracking) to supply feedstock to the plastic industry. The need for us to push back is real, and it’s urgent.  

Yet for such a big and ruthless force, they have a major weak spot; they need us more than we need them. They need us to keep buying plastic, they need our governments to keep subsidising them, and they need investors to keep investing in them.  

You can stop buying single-use plastic. You can join a movement like School Strike for Climate or Extinction Rebellion and get your government to subsidise mass ecological restoration and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. And you can make sure your current account provider, investments or pension funds are not funding the plastic industry.  

climate protestor holding sign Image by Jonathan Kemper

Plastic bag bans all around the world, the new EU single-use plastics directive, bans on straws, polystyrene and yes, even the plastic cotton bud, are a red flag to investors that the plastic industry is at risk – that maybe the boom they were hoping to make a buck out of is as dead in the water as the marine life they might one day have gone snorkelling with, had they not ruined it.   

So keep on signing petitions, sharing your zero-waste, plastic-free photos on Instagram, keep on creating a trend for a reusable, buy-less lifestyle and keep on refilling those water bottles. You’re creating a new story, and the more people that buy into it the less attractive the old one becomes … and, a bit like smoking, we quickly realise it really wasn’t that attractive anyway. “Remember the days we used to walk around carrying planet-polluting bottles and sipping coffee out of plastic-lined cups with virgin plastic lids? What were we thinking?”  

It’s time to broaden our perspective on plastic pollution and shift the focus away from its effects towards its cause. Yes, we still need to share photos of majestic, endangered species dying from ingesting plastic, and we also need to be talking about consumerism, capitalism and climate breakdown. Plastic pollution is a symptom not just of a broken waste system, but of a broken society, and it’s in all of our interests to fix it as soon as is humanly possible. 

Natalie Fee is the founder of City to Sea 

Feature Image provided by Bob Blob

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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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Help steer the ship as a Non-Executive Director with City to Sea

Like all good businesses, we never actually set out to become anything. Actually that may not be true, we imagine lots of good businesses started out with a robust business plan and a vision of the future. And yet what started as a frustration in our founder’s head (or heart) has somehow become a thriving not-for-profit organisation, growing award-winning campaigns and doing a pretty good job of getting people and businesses off single-use plastics and switched on to reusables.

One person on a mission became 18 (soon to be 20) people on a mission. In an office. With grown-up things to think about like HR, GDPR, PDRs and all manner of things that need explaining … and all while staying true to our mission to leave the oceans and waterways in a better state than we currently find them.

11/18th’s of the team one sunny day at the office.

It’s true to say that we’ve been building the ship while we’re sailing in it (and at times it’s felt more like a speedboat than a schooner) but we’re starting to feel a bit more streamlined and the wind’s still in our sails – thanks to the continued interest in plastic pollution solutions from our supporters, companies and the media.

So, as we head into 2019, with a new Sea-EO at the helm and a bunch of exciting new partnerships, we’re appointing a non-executive board to help steer and guide us on our way.

If you’re experienced, dynamic and entrepreneurial, and if you think you’d be able to offer some of your time, expertise or guidance and really want to help stop plastic pollution at source – then we’d love to hear from you.

We’re not able to pay our Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), but we will reward you with results – you’ll be able to see the impact of your commitment. We’re planning to meet once a quarter, either here at our iconic HQ on the Bristol Harbourside or in London.

Spot the Banksy …

Have a read of the job description here to see if you think we’re a match and for how to apply, or get in touch with our founder, Natalie Fee, for a chat. Oh and before the end of January would be ideal.

Thanks for reading!

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Launching the Less Plastic Lifestyle Collection

We’re beyond excited to launch our ‘Less Plastic Lifestyle Collection’ with our 1% for the Planet partner, Bear & Bear – an online retailer who sell products that are made for the outdoors and desined for life.  The Less Plastic Lifestyle Collection launches just in time for Christmas so you can find the perfect gifts for friends and family that they can use throughout the new year to reduce their plastic footprint.

Besides having supported our work throughout 2018, Bear & Bear have enabled us to reach an ambition of ours – launching our first ever collection for those looking to reduce their environmental impact and single-use plastic consumption. This ever-evolving collection includes all of the ‘must have’ items if you’re looking to start reducing your single-use plastic use, from bottles, cups and bamboo cutlery to rose gold metal straws and reusable coffee cups made from rice husk. If you’re already on the journey to living plastic free and want some more ideas for smart plastic alternatives, we’re also pretty confident you’ll see products in this collection which you may not have seen before.

Even better, at least 15% of every purchase is going to go towards supporting our campaigns to tackle plastic pollution at source.

Shop the collection here, and join the movement to reduce your plastic footprint. Don’t forget to like, share and tweet your comments and show us what small changes you’re making in everyday life to connect your actions to your oceans.

Running a business and want to get involved in supporting our work? Please get in touch with our Partnerships Manager at Alannah@citytosea.org.uk.

Happy Shopping!

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They axed the plastic tax

In case you didn’t catch the news, on the 30th Nov Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that the UK will introduce a new plastic tax on the *manufacture and import* of plastic packaging that contains *less than 30% recycled* plastic during his Autumn Budget speech. It won’t be implemented for another four years and that’s subject to (another) consultation.

So not a visible tax on single-use items, like coffee cups, at point of sale, like you and almost a quarter of a million people asked for through this petition. And 31% of you went on to respond to HM Treasury’s consultation seeking views on tackling the single-use plastic issue – which had the highest government consultation response rate EVER in government history.

Despite your efforts, and our attempt to persuade the government to take meaningful action on plastic pollution now, they have chosen to ignore us. For now at least. Our sense is that this set-back in England creates political space for devolved governments in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to take the lead. Again.

(When England said no to the 5p bag charge, the Welsh government went and did it anyway, followed by Northern Ireland, then Scotland. Finally Westminster got with the programme … and plastic bag use has since gone down by 86%.)

If you want to hear more, have a quick watch of my video response on Facebook or Twitter here.

 

Thanks for your support – the fight doesn’t stop here!

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Your signature is needed!

We’re calling for a tax on plastic

Our latest petition with 38 Degrees has over 240,000 signatures! Is yours on it? It needs you!

We’re asking the government to introduce a visible tax on throwaway (single use) plastic. Such as coffee cups, pint cups, cutlery  and take away  polystyrene at the point of sale, like the current plastic bag charge. YOU can sign it here.

People ask:

Why charge the customer? We pay enough taxes, the retailers should be held responsible!

Indeed they should, but if the charge went to the retailers experts suggest all they would do is hike up their prices, the consumer would still pay – unknowingly – and it would be business as usual with millions of single use items being used every day.

Millions of sinlge-use plastic items are used in the UK everyday

The levvy is an incentive for people to be able to refuse the charge, along with the item. Just like the plastic bag charge, which has seen an 80% reduction at large retailers where the charge is applicable.

It will also bring the conversation of plastic pollution into the wilder realm. Yes ten million people watched Blue Planet II, but that’s 60 million who didn’t. Sir David Attenborough has been talking about it all over the media, but when we look around in the ‘real world’ it’s clear to see, some places still give out ‘take away’ cups to sit in, more needs to be done!

Just days ago “The Sun revealed that Mr Hammond had privately blasted Mr Gove’s radical approach to cutting plastic waste – arguing that it wrongly targets consumers.” You can read The Sun article here.

This petition needs YOU to get behind it before the Budget, to stand behind Micheal Gove and let the government know this could prevent millions of tons of single use plastics entering our waste stream.

Read the full petition text and sign it here. A last minute rise in signatures may just be what it needs to make it happen, there’s still time to get the conversation on the table where it matters most …. and then in that suitcase!

Header photo by rawpixel on Unsplash. Cup photo by Sagar Chaudhray on Unsplash

Find out what happened in our latest blog post here. 
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