by Justin Standfield
This week in particular, there’s been an explosion in the media telling us that all the plastic recycling we’ve been doing for the last 10 years has been of little value, because by shipping our plastic waste abroad to the Far East, all we’ve done is shift the problem to that part of the world. They have been unable to cope with the amount of plastic being received and have now closed their doors to us. Councils across the UK, including Southampton which is close to where Incendo HQ is based, have told their local news teams that there is little point in putting plastic in recycling bins because it’s headed either for landfill or for incineration.
It’s a real problem right now and we can’t wait for someone else to solve it for us. As much as we can and absolutely should be lobbying retailers, manufacturers and policy-makers in the government, this will all take too long to make a difference soon enough. What we need right now is to take some positive action and at Incendo we’ve been doing more of this since finding out more about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which you can read about in one of our recent blogs, Inspired by a Client to Take Action on Sustainability.
Before I get back to the plastics issue, I’d like to mention the work of Stephen Covey for a moment. As you may know, Covey wrote ‘The Habits of Highly Effective People’ and one of his habits, the first one, was Be Proactive. In this habit, he explains that there are situations that we all feel strongly about and to illustrate this we’ll use the plastic problem. Simply put, if we focus on all the things we’re concerned about but take no action, not only do things stay the same, they actually feel worse because we’re too busy wringing our hands and complaining. Covey suggests that if we identify the things we can do something about and take ‘massive determined action’ (a phrase I’ve borrowed from Tony Robbins) we can have a huge impact on improving the situation because we influence other people at the same time as doing everything in our power to make a difference. So, here at Incendo we’re taking Covey’s advice and are being proactive about this plastic epidemic.
Here’s our list of things we’re doing (and you can too) to make a difference today, in our own homes and workplaces:
Notice each item that we choose in terms of its packaging. Does it have plastic on it needlessly? For example, bananas in plastic bags. If ‘yes’ and you still want to buy it, take the item to customer services and tell them you want to buy it but will be leaving the packaging with them for disposal. If they refuse, as annoying as it might be, leave the shop and go somewhere else and remember to tell them why! The more people who force supermarkets to take responsibility for how their products are packaged, the more swiftly they’re going to react and get it changed for something genuinely recyclable. If you can afford it and it suits your lifestyle, maybe consider shopping the old-fashioned way from greengrocers and butchers etc., where they tend to use paper bags for wrappings.
Prepare to shop in an eco-friendly way
There are lots of little, inexpensive changes you can make to shop better, such as buying reusable mesh bags to put loose fruit and vegetables in (available from Amazon, Lakeland and eBay, to name a few). Move those 5,000 reusable bags you have in a cupboard in your office to your car boot and remember to take them into the shop with you (note to self!). Choose items packaged in cardboard or recyclable packaging wherever feasible; similarly, opt for non-plasticised gift bags and wrapping paper when giving a gift. If your budget allows, choose to buy eco-friendly and refillable cleaning products like those sold by a company called Splosh (visit them at www.splosh.com). We’re using their items at Incendo HQ and they’re really not too expensive, and they provide refills so you’re not buying more plastic bottles each time your product runs out.
Make an eco-brick
We started making an eco-brick this week in the office. We’re still learning, so rather than relying on my non-expert instructions, check out how to do it properly here: Ecobricks website. Simply put, you wash and dry your non-recyclable plastics, chop them up into small bits, and them put them into a big plastic bottle (our first one just happens to be a two-litre Irn Bru bottle) and mash it all down with a sturdy stick, so you end up with a drum-tight bottle rammed with plastic that would otherwise go into the bin. You can then drop your eco-bricks off at a designated collection point if you want to, or you can join the thousands of other people who are building things out of them! Things like shower blocks, bird tables, garden walls, outdoors seating areas, patio tables – all made from eco-bricks covered in cob. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit time-consuming and requires consistent commitment, however, it’s a great exercise to practice mindfulness and it makes you appreciate just how much plastic you’d normally throw away without even realising. I bet it will strengthen your resolve to buy less plastic so you don’t have to do so much eco-bricking in future!
Think about how you can re-use that thing you’re about to throw out
Yesterday, I was about to throw away one of those small drawstring bags that a sleeping bag comes in (but you can never get them back into); it was made of rubbery plastic with a plastic toggle. Normally, I’d chuck it in the black bin (landfill) without a second thought as I don’t like keeping unnecessary things in the house. However, I stopped and put it on the kitchen worktop and decided to leave it there until I could think of something useful to do with it…and I did! I’ve now designated this as the ‘dog poo bag holder’ for when we go on walks with Lucy (which then got me thinking about the plastic bags used to pick up dog poo…but that’s for another blog). This small change in how we think about reusing things in our homes and workplaces can make a massive difference. I’m now looking at anything I’m considering throwing in the bin with a fresh pair of eyes.
Lobby your regular shops and retailers
Telling the companies that you buy from that you want them to change to be more sustainable or you’ll take your business elsewhere is one of the most powerful things you can do. It’s one standard email that you can send to their customer service team and the contact email is usually easily found on their ‘contact us’ web page. To make this even easier, we’ve provided some text for you to copy and paste at the bottom of this blog. When a company receives just one or two emails, they might be tempted to dismiss them as being from ‘crazy eco-warrior’ types; but if thousands of us do this in the coming weeks, they’ll have no choice but to listen and act. Remember Tony Robbins’ expression of ‘massive, determined action’? That’s what we need to encourage, so don’t just do it yourselves, tell your friends and family what you’re doing and why, and help them to do it too.
We’re going to be taking all of our own advice here at Incendo HQ and in our respective homes, and we’ll be doing the above things over and over again in a bid to start taking responsibility for our consumerism and the impact it’s having on our beautiful planet. I believe that we owe it to ourselves to make amends for our slackness and carelessness over the past 30+ years. We’re willing to take ownership and to take massive, determined action to make a positive difference. Are you?
Suggested text for you to copy and paste to email to your regular retailers:
The amount of non-recyclable packaging of your products urgently needs to be addressed in order for me to continue shopping with you. I cannot justify buying from you in future with the current level of plastic you are allowing to be used in your name, given the unbelievable damage this is causing to the world. Please take immediate action to address the use of single use plastics, non-recyclable plastics and to reduce the packaging used needlessly. Thank you for owning your part in this problem and taking responsibility to stop polluting our oceans.