11 July, 2024

From grabbing your morning brew on the go to doing your daily shopping, plastics are woven into so many aspects of our daily lives, often without us even realising it.

The heavy burden of plastic waste on the environment, wildlife and society is an ever-growing problem. Everyone now needs to play their part. This Plastic Free July, we are encouraging you to pledge to make small changes in your plastic usage. Join the global effort to reduce single-use plastics in our society.

What is Plastic Free July? 

Plastic Free July is a month-long campaign led by the Plastic Free Foundation aimed at reducing plastic use and pollution worldwide.  

This year, the slogan is “Small steps, big difference” where you are encouraged to make a small change to your plastic use, or pledge to avoid a specific single-use plastic for the whole month of July (and beyond if you can!) 

How can one small change make a difference?  

You might wonder how using a reusable coffee cup can impact the plastic pollution crisis. Indeed, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee estimates approximately 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups are used annually in the UK – with less than 1% recycled. For perspective, these cups lined up would wrap around the Earth 5.5 times!  

Such statistics are alarming, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that such a mammoth task should be left to those with more power and influence. But rest assured, as individuals and communities, we can play an equally important role in the fight to reduce plastic pollution.  

By making small changes to reduce your plastic use, you will join millions of other campaigners across the world.  It is the collective impact of everyone’s small changes together that can drive a major global effort to clean up our planet. 

What is the problem with single-use plastic? 

Single-use plastic products, while cheap, convenient, and versatile, are designed for short-term use and are often discarded immediately. 

Most plastics end up in landfills or the environment, taking hundreds of years to decompose, which often produces microplastics (<5mm in diameter). Microplastics pose a range of problems for the environment, wildlife and potentially human health. 

The properties of plastic alongside mass production capabilities make it attractive for many businesses, from factories to cafes. However, plastic waste, largely from single-use plastics, is a huge environmental and health problem: 

The facts: 

  • Around 4.9 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced in the UK annually with less than 10% recycled. 
  • An OECD report estimated that in 2020 around 152 million tonnes of plastic existed in aquatic environments  
  • UK households on average throw away 1.7 billion pieces of plastic packaging a week, equating to 90 billion pieces annually.  

Does plastic cause breast cancer? 

There is currently no direct link between plastic usage and breast cancer. However, many plastics including those used in food packaging can contain harmful chemicals known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).  

These chemicals can migrate from food packaging into the food itself, which when eaten, then leads to unintentional human exposure. Many EDCs have previously been associated with an increased breast cancer risk due to their effects on the hormone system.  

Microplastics can absorb EDCs and humans are easily exposed through their widespread pollution and ability to enter the food chain. Consumption of meat, fish and fruits and vegetables can lead to EDC exposure and may influence breast cancer risk.  

For more information on EDCs and breast cancer, head over to our Chemicals and Environment page. 

Is there any good news? 

Plastic waste and pollution are a significant problem. The challenges of cleaning up the Earth’s landscapes and waterways shouldn’t be underestimated. 

But there is hope, and campaigns such as Plastic Free July are vital for raising awareness about the world’s problem with plastic. The past five years of Plastic Free July has resulted in a huge 10 billion kilograms of household waste being avoided! 

Politically, many countries have recently introduced bans or restrictions on several single-use plastic items including straws, cutlery and plates. We, amongst others, campaign for these restrictions to extend to all single-use plastic items.  

Globally, 175 nations have agreed to develop a legally binding agreement to reduce plastic pollution and promote sustainable alternatives known as the Global Plastics Treaty which should be released this year.  

What changes can I make to reduce my use of single-use plastics? 

  1. Use a reusable coffee cup: Bring your cup to coffee shops or sit in to enjoy your beverage. Keep a reusable cup at work and in your car so you always have one to hand. 
  1. Choose loose produce. Opt for loose fruits and vegetables instead of pre-packed ones, often available at local greengrocers or farm shops. 
  1. Use reusable bags. Keep bags near your keys, front door, car, or bike, so you always remember them when you go out shopping. 
  1. Bring your water bottle. Use a stainless steel or glass bottle instead of a reusable plastic one to further reduce plastic use. 
  1. Opt for natural fibres. Choose clothes and soft furnishings made from wool, cotton, silk, and linen, which do not shed microplastics. 

Visit Plastic Free July’s Ideas and Solutions page for more ways you can reduce your plastic use.   

How can I get involved with the 2024 campaign? 

It’s incredibly easy! Head over to the Plastic Free July website and pledge to avoid one single-use plastic (coffee cups, food wrap or drinks bottles) for one month.   

The website has lots of resources, tips and tricks to help you complete your pledge, alongside several other ideas for reducing plastic use.  

We wish you the best of luck on your plastic-free journey! 

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