By now we are all aware that the plastic in our oceans is a staggering problem. We’ve all seen the pictures of plastic waste floating on the surface of the seas, but what is now coming to light is that this may be less than 1% of the problem. Every year eight million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans, and 99% of this ends up sinking deep below the surface, much of it may end up on the ocean floor. This means that ocean clean up campaigns involving big nets scooping up surface debris is simply not good enough, and this begs the question: is it even possible to clean up our oceans?
One of the principal things that needs to change is that supermarkets must reduce their plastic waste. According to Greenpeace, UK supermarkets are responsible for circulating 58 billion pieces of plastic a year. One thing that is clear is that the bags for life initiative was largely ineffective. Bags for life must be used four times to benefit the environment, and last year sales of these bags rose to 1.5 billion, which actually means that the amount of plastic used by supermarkets increased by 900,000 tonnes.
To combat this, Asda has recently become one of the first stores to trial a sustainability shop in which customers can bring in their own containers and fill them from refill stations. This sustainability store will open in May at the Asda Middleton branch in Leeds. Asda Chief Executive, Roger Burnley, states that “[their] first priority will be to look at how we can reduce and remove plastic”, and sees this as ‘a big step’ in the right direction. For this to have any impact, it will be essential that the initiative is replicated, and on a grand scale. The answer simply lies in using less plastic, rather than using reusable products.
Locally in Norwich, there are some shops committed to sustainability and being that necessary change. Ernie’s Zero Waste Shop, in Magdalen Street, stocks all the essential day-to-day non-perishables such as rice, pasta, pulses, cereals and nuts. Customers take their own containers and jars and fill them up using dispensers. There are also washing-up liquid and shampoo refill stations amongst other things. Next to Norwich Market, Natural East also stock non-plastic products such as bamboo straws, coconut bowls and luffa sponges. In the words of Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, it is clear that “more needs to be done”, and the general public must move towards making ethical choices in order to create the change that so many want to see.