Plastic pollution is the hot new environmental catastrophe on everyone's timeline. But is it really as bad as the moaners make out? I had a chat with the brains behind the Kids Against Plastic campaign, Amy and Ella Meek.
Who just happen to be 13 and 11 years old.
Hey Amy and Ella, what's the problem with plastic?
Amy - Almost every single piece of plastic ever made still exists, either in its original form or as smaller fragments. Plastic is pretty amazing, it's true - but only for items that are designed to be durable. The real issue lies with the single-use items - plastic bottles, cups, straws and lids. After decades of disposable lifestyles, plastic is coming back to haunt us.
Ella - There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the oceans. 4 billion plastic microfibres litter every square kilometre of the sea. Roughly 100,000 sea mammals and 1 million sea birds die every year because of plastic. Worldwide, 13,000-15,000 pieces of plastic are dumped in the ocean every single day.
This problem is humongous and growing. By 2050 there could be more plastic in our oceans than fish.
I like my takeaway coffee - it's not my fault it comes with a plastic stirrer, and plastic lid, right? Do you want me to go without?!?
Ella - Quite often coffee shops give out plastic cup lids with their plastic-lined cups, even if people don't want them. When you ask for a takeaway coffee without a lid they say that they can't due to health and safety reasons.
So we recommend taking a reusable coffee cup with you. There are lots of different ones available, they don't take up much room in a bag, and it's often cheaper too because cafes offer discounts if you bring your own. If you have sugar in your coffee, avoid the plastic stirrer and ask if you can use a metal spoon - there must be one lying around.
I put my plastic bottles in the recycling bin. Sorted.
Amy - Well, this is what we're led to believe. Recycling is often hailed as the solution to plastic pollution - we recycle more, we save the planet. But it's a bit of a red-herring. Recycling is great for items such as aluminium cans, but plastic (single-use plastic in particular) is down-cycled, which basically means that it is made into something of less worth than it was before, like carpets and fleeces. This sounds just as good as recycling, but every time you wash that fleece or carpet, up to 2,000 plastic microfibres come out of it. These make their way into rivers and oceans, and 95% of microplastics (plastic under 5mm in size) in the NE Atlantic were microfibres. So the plastic bottle you put in the recycling bin is actually made into a far more deadly form of plastic pollution.
We chased the UK bottled water companies to find out what percentage of their bottles were made from recycled plastic - the majority of them admitted they used 0%. It's cheaper for them to make millions of new bottles and ignore the consequences.
What's the single most important change we should all be making?
Ella - Choose to refuse any unnecessary single-use plastic items in your life. Take a reusable bag to go shopping, refill a reusable water bottle. Take a reusable coffee mug when you go for a drink. As part of our Kids Against Plastic campaign we are encouraging people to #refuse4good.
Amy - Spread the word. Post on social media, tell the brands you buy what you want them to do differently, and talk to your family and friends about why they should refuse plastic. It might take a bit of effort to convince some people, but it can have such a big impact. The more people that refuse plastic in their everyday lives, the better.
How come two kids are making such a fuss about this?
Amy - Plastic is having a catastrophic effect on the planet, and it's only going to get worse in the coming years. Now, we don't know about other kids, but we don't want our future planet to be plagued with plastic - I think we're going to have enough problems on our hands as it is. This is one of my favourite quotes by two Balinese sisters who're campaigning against plastic: "Our generation cannot afford to sit back and do nothing anymore. We do not have that luxury."
And it's true, we don't. And that's why we're making the biggest fuss we can.
We're going to be doing talks and interactive displays at festivals.
We're also going to pick up 100,000 pieces of plastic litter - that's the number of sea mammals killed every year due to strangulation or from eating plastic. So far, we've collected, with the help of others, over 20,000 pieces!
We're also trying to get UK supermarkets to stock cans or cartons of packaged water instead of plastic bottles. We've started a petition on Change.org that hopes to achieve it.
We may just be kids, but we want to, and need to, make a difference.
There's something disconcerting but rather inspiring about talking to these two. In part, it's the clear understanding they have of the problem, and the evangelical belief that they can make a difference. And with every person they can shake out of cynicism and laziness, and inspire to make practical (surprisingly manageable) everyday changes, they actually are making a difference.
I'm off to find my reusable mug.