Be aware – small things can make a big difference

Blue Planet II has so far has been the greatest force for tackling environmental problems in decades. The first episode was viewed by over 14 million people within the first week, and numbers are continuing in the same vein. We’ve seen baby turtles caught up in plastic bags, coral reef ecosystems dying due to rising ocean temperatures, and even a stillborn baby whale, poisoned by its own mother who inadvertently consumed toxic chemicals from our poorly disposed plastics. Blue Planet II is forcing the layman to understand that every cog in the wheel of ocean ecosystems is vital. Damaging the tiniest part of the food chain can have dramatic knock-on effects and change life in our oceans as we know it. Ocean ecosystems are majestic, awesome, but delicate. I urge a change in not only human action, but mentality. Think about the effects that your everyday actions will have.

Be recycling-conscious

People in the UK are very gradually starting to realise that recycling waste properly isn’t uncool – it’s easy, and important. The sad fact is that there is just not enough education on the importance of recycling, what can and cannot be recycled, and the benefits it has for ecosystems worldwide. If our planet’s ecosystems dye, we are in danger!

Crisp packets are non-recyclable, but the plastic trays that grapes come in are. The plastic film in the front of a sandwich box is not recyclable, but take that out and the cardboard bit is. Think about these things before you carelessly throw things in the general waste. And don’t throw non-recyclables in the recycling either. It wastes time for recycling plants. Look for the little recycling sign!

Our ‘garbage’ can sit in landfill forever, or until it degrades. What a waste of material! Not to mention the toxins leaking into the ground and eventually into water systems. Recently, a Surrey woman was fined a total of over £2500 for putting non-recyclable rubbish in a community recycling bin. I am not suggesting this is always the correct course of action, but it does demonstrate the rising importance of recycling and how seriously some councils take it – and so they should. If it takes monetary sanctions to convince people to do something as simple as dispose of their waste correctly, then so be it.

It is not all our fault, though. So many different councils have different rules about what can and cannot be recycled, that how are people meant to know? Central government needs to start taking this seriously. While we will no longer need to reach this target thanks to Brexit (the environment will also suffer from Brexit), the UK had agreed to an EU target of achieving 50% of household waste to be recycled by 2020. According to the latest public government statistics from DEFRA, the ‘waste from households’ stat actually fell by 0.9% from 2014-15, from 44.8% to 43.9%. Without European legislation to guide us, surely this will only get worse?

In fact, much of Europe is far better at recycling than us. As of 2015, Germany had a staggering 87% recycling rate. Along with other countries such as those in Scandinavia, their Pfand system of recycling bottles is an example of a monetary way of encouraging recycling. Let’s have that here!

E-Waste – let’s change our consumer mentality

Recycling is vital in a consumerist society. But we must also take responsibility for our own consumption. Recycling sometimes is not enough. We need a change of mentality entirely regarding how much we consume, as our waste doesn’t just disappear. We can take E-waste as just one example.

Do we really need that new phone upgrade? And if we do, do we just chuck the old one in the bin, or insist that the company we bought it from take it back and dispose of it properly, as they are lawfully obliged to do? 80% of the electronic waste we send for recycling in the UK each year ends up being shipped (some legally, and some not) to emerging and developing countries. Unfortunately for us (and our conscience), countries such as China are now starting to tighten up their regulations, now recognising some E-Waste as ‘hazardous’ material, and so putting many e-waste recycling firms out of business. This just means the waste is moved on illegally, to countries like Ghana. Not only do the people working on illegal waste facilities suffer with pathetic wages and risk of disease from toxins just to clear up our mess, but the environment does to.

Stand up to the norm

Be the first in your family or group of friends to take a stand. Do we need those plastic cups, or can we wash up our glass ones? Become part of a repair economy – make do with your old phone for a bit longer than your friends do. With a new consciousness of where it ends up, I hope we can all start to rethink the way we dispose of our waste. It doesn’t magically disappear. If it can be recycled, recycle it. Don’t take shortcuts. The Earth hasn’t got time for them.


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Graduate in Geography from Jesus College, Cambridge (2017). Passionate about making a difference to the environment.

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