How Technology Can Support Environmental Activism

Guest post: Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life. 


Technology drives the modern age. Since the pandemic, we spend more time staring at screens than ever before. Laptops now help us access education safely from anywhere in the world.

The benefits of technology are evident, and individuals wonder how they may expand. When developing or supporting a social movement, many citizens turn to the web. Though this may present conflict, it also promotes community and action.

Slacktivism to Activism

Society once viewed social media-driven activism as “slacktivism.” The term derives from two words — activist and slacker. Individuals believed social media campaigns were lazy, supporting a cause through simple measures rather than true devotion.

The past few years proved a different use for social media in activism. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more exposed society to the harsh reality of the world.

Technology and Environmental Activism

The online environmental movement has significant effects. In the early years, corporations capitalized on eco-conscious development, spreading misinformation for profit. Cooperatives offer alternatives to proprietor-owned companies.

Rather than working to please investors, environmental cooperatives focus on their mission. They may work with individuals to generate beneficial change. Online spaces provide everyone with a place to speak, regardless of their financial background.

Social Media

Before social media, movements remained local. Today, they can become international overnight. A few tweets and posts generated a significant turnout at Standing Rock.

In 2016, the U.S. government announced plans to install a pipeline crossing the Missouri River. Officials mapped the pipeline route, allowing it to run beneath Lake Oahe. The lake is the Sioux Reservation’s primary water source, and an oil stream could pollute it, causing adverse environmental and health effects.

Individuals on and around the reservation used internet posts to gain the attention of environmental activists. They used #NoDAPL to signify the movement. People from all around the U.S. saw #NoDAPL tweets and posts, making the trip to the reservation with food, medical supplies and other aid.

Social media also provides a supportive space for individuals to connect and get help. At times protesting, researching and connecting can feel defeating. Online communities allow mental stress and isolation to dissipate.

Many environmental activists used social media to distribute a message in lockdown. Greta Thunberg planned a school strike on Earth Day in 2020, and, due to the pandemic, she asked individuals to remain inside. Rather than leaving school to protest, Greta took the day off virtual classes and raised environmental awareness online.

Various activists utilize education, exposing society to ecological degradation. Many people use Facebook live and IGTV to share their values and goals, influencing others to volunteer in local protests. This technique displayed success through the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Film

Video technology exposes individuals everywhere to environmental degradation. Film experts developed the documentary “Chasing Coral” to expose marine damage caused by climate change. The video shows footage of global coral bleaching.

When coral experiences stress from temperature, light or nutrient changes, it expels algae and turns white. The degression leaves it susceptible to disease and death. “Chasing Coral” offers suggestions for lowering society’s contribution to the issue.

Another documentary, “RiverBlue,” breaks the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) wall between fashion consumption and production. The fast fashion industry contaminates 70% of freshwater sources in China. “RiverBlue” explores various regions of Asia, exposing the harm our blind purchases cause.

Another river in Bangladesh located near textile mills and leather tanneries holds the record for most localized pollution. Tanneries utilize harsh chemicals, disrupting the nervous systems and hormones of workers. Few individuals know of these environmental harms when they go shopping. Filmmakers use powerful footage to expose society and promote a response.

Online Voting

The pandemic generated the e-ballot era. Some people preferred to vote from their laptops or phones rather than in person. Though online petitions may lack government legitimacy, they gain success in other realms.

Online petitions successfully raise environmental awareness. Coupling this activism method with community outreach programs, protests, phone calls, organized media campaigns and more can create change. It also helps those without voting rights have a say.

Small Actions, Big Impacts

We are past the days of slacktivism, finding various uses for technology in environmental activism. Though some of the online efforts appear small, together, they generate a significant impact. Like Bernie Sanders and Greta Thunberg, many individuals successfully increase climate awareness and reach voters using technology.

Book Review: What Can I Do (about the climate crisis)? Jane Fonda tells you

Guest post: My name is Hannah Maple and I am a third year Psychology student. Studying this subject has expanded my interests so much. I think it’s really important to learn about the world you live in and understand how your actions influence it.


Jane Fonda is a controversial character but one of her many admirable qualities is how committed she is to elevating voices and influencing causes she is passionate about. Her most recent cause is the Climate Crisis.

Her demonstrations are called Fire Drill Fridays, whereby she and other activists rally in Washington D.C. and commit civil disobedience, risking arrest to stand up for the climate. Their website is full of content from experts on all issues climate: https://firedrillfridays.com.

In the fight to raise awareness she has written a book called “What Can I Do?”. The book outlines the issues raised at the various rallies that took place between October 2019 and January 2020. There can be a lot of confusion about what you, one individual, can do to help the climate crisis and the abundance of issues it refers to. Jane’s book ‘What Can I Do?’ outlines everything so perfectly, step by step of what causes can help and what role you can play.

On reading this book there were so many areas that I didn’t even consider being related to the climate crisis. Ignorance is bliss. But this book has certainly motivated me to get more involved in any way I can, and I just wanted to share the things I have learnt, and encourage you, if you haven’t already, to maybe have a read of Jane’s book.

Some of the issues she raised and what actionable steps we can take:

The Oceans

One of the most common areas discussed when on the topic of climate change is the ocean. The ocean absorbs so much heat as a consequence of global warming and almost half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean so we need to protect it (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/ocean-oxygen.html). In addition to the heating of the waters, it is well understood that many fishing practises are unsustainable and damaging to the areas in which they fish, destroying the ocean beds and habitats.

Furthermore, an area I had never heard of or considered before was the unethical employment of these fishing boats and the human trafficking practises that occur on some.

Actionable steps:

– Eat less fish.

– Use less plastic, particularly single-use plastics

– Write to officials to let them know you care about this issue and you expect them to also care.

Water

Access to clean, safe water was recognised by the UN as a human right in 2010 (United Nations, 2010) but there are so many people that don’t have that and it’s predicted that the vital resource is going to become even more scarce. According to WWF, by 2025 it is predicted that two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages.

Water supplies are being polluted and others drying up. We need to protect this vital resource, needed to sustain life.

The blue communities project is working hard to support the UN Sustainable development goals (particularly, 1 No poverty, 2 Zero hunger, 3 Good health and wellbeing, and 14 Life below water). The idea is to adopt the mindset that water is a public good, “shared by everyone and is the responsibility of all”. These Blue communities are popping up all over the world. https://www.blue-communities.org/About_the_programme

Actionable steps:

– Buy less plastic water bottles, use refillable bottles.

– Avoid using hazardous house cleaners and pesticides that pollute water systems

The Money Pipeline

While movements are being made towards cleaner energy there are still expansions taking place in the fossil fuel industry and our banks are supporting them. One movement, led by students, encouraging colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel organisations has had a huge influence on the development of the fossil fuel industry. Divestment and protesting has become a serious threat to the fossil fuel industry and their ability to bring in money. This is a huge success.

Jane lists some of the big banks still investing in fossil fuels but have a look online. Greenpeace’s article: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/barclays-banks-climate-change-fossil-fuels/

So much was covered in the book, there is no way you could summarise all of it, these are some of the other topics discussed in the book:

– Health and the climate

– War, the military and the climate

– Women and the climate

– Migration and human rights

– Jobs and a just transition

– Plastics

– Fossil fuels

Jane’s book covers a lot of issues prevalent in the US but that doesn’t mean the same isn’t happening here. The particular organisations she raises may not be applicable to us in the UK but there are many organisations here that are doing wonderful things, we just need to go out and find them. For example, Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.uk.

I found Jane’s book really interesting and so inspiring. I hope you have a look https://www.waterstones.com/book/what-can-i-do/jane-fonda/9780008404581

Do You Say ‘What If’ At the Checkout? – My Journey Towards More Sustainable Consumption

My name is Lucy Lavender, and I am a final year Politics and International Relations student with an interest in communications and conflict analysis. Outside of my studies, I am a Global Officer under the GOLD programme for the university’s Dean for Internationalisation, aiming to promote global engagement and increase cultural awareness. I’m also passionate about upcycling and love spending my time repurposing or altering unwanted clothes and materials into new designs. I’m looking forward to getting involved working with the Kent sustainability team and hope to help simplify the complicated world of sustainable living!


DVDs, books, clothes, shoes, folders, a memorable receipt from that one café I used to go to every Friday in Winter of 2019, or in other words; my ‘stuff’. The confirmation that I am someone who keeps up with fashion, who is interested in non-fiction and enjoys peppermint tea. The ‘evidence’ to my claim of who I am. But how can choosing my ‘stuff’, impact both myself the rest of the world?

In 2015, the United Nations set out a UN Resolution called Agenda 2030; a set of 17 targets, all interdependent upon one another, named the ‘Sustainability Development Goals’. They aim to address our biggest global problems, such as Climate Change, poverty and hunger, alongside building economic growth, stronger institutions and community. The goals create a framework of collective action, to be adopted by charities, institutions, states or individuals, willing to grow towards a more sustainable future. But tackling such immense tasks on an individual level can seem overwhelming to say the least.

Or is it? At the beginning of March 2020, I was living in Prague, having packed one large suitcase in September to last me a year. When the COVID19 pandemic hit, I was faced with having to cram as much of the unjustifiable amount of extra clothes, souvenirs and random leaflets I had collected over my study abroad into the same suitcase – so much extra stuff I had originally decided that I would have to go home for a weekend in April and June and then, donate to charity in order to get everything home. But of course, with all plans out the window, and no shops open to buy extra luggage, I had one day to decide what I definitely wanted and what to leave behind.

Surprisingly, the process was easy, for someone who loves ‘stuff’ I immediately knew what I wore, what I liked and what I wanted the most. Stuff I had worn for years and no longer liked as much, stuff I didn’t really wear, stuff I only wore on certain occasions, stuff I had just accumulated without making a conscious decision became clear. These items found themselves packaged into (embarrassingly) three bin bags and a box, to be left for my landlord to send to me at a later date – only fitting for a year such as 2020, my landlord accidently donated everything.

So, all this ‘stuff’ ended up donated and out of my life for good. Although the initial loss of one beautiful coat and the cumulative cost of everything haunted me for a while, I felt, overall, much lighter. I found myself looking at ‘stuff’ with a new attitude. Where I would once see my copy of ‘The Aristocats’ on DVD (a film I have not seen in years, nor do I even have a DVD player that works to watch it anymore) and think ‘what if it’s worth something one day?’ or ‘what if DVDs come back?’ I now saw something I was holding onto, that I knew, would not be something I’d pack in my last-minute suitcase.

In fact, the more I thought about my stuff, the more I saw a pattern occurring; over half of my stuff is a ‘what if’. A ‘what if I want to wear that one day?’ ‘what if that is worth something?’ ‘what if I want to read that?’ all outnumbering the ‘definite’. Even a lot of my recent purchases were based on ‘what if I have an interview one day?’ ‘what if I regret not buying it?’ or ‘what if I can sell it?’ and most of the things that fitted into the ‘what if’ category were things that sit around, just like the things I let go of on my journey back from Prague, that I felt so much lighter without.

So, since this time, I have decided to question my purchases. If I feel as though it is a ‘what if’ purchase, I know it is impulse and, in most cases, going to become another piece of my ‘stuff’ that sits untouched in my room. I feel more in control of my spending and equally all the better for it. As if that wasn’t benefit enough, the enormously intimidating task we discussed earlier; of making a difference individually towards the UN’s SDG goals, becomes something I have found myself invested in working on.

Saying no to such ‘what ifs’ has not only allowed me to be more selective about the stuff that I bring into my life, but allowed me to cut down my individual consumption massively, helping to work towards SDG no. 12 ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’. With charities beginning to refuse clothing donations due to COVID19 and stock room saturation after being on the receiving end of lockdown spring cleaning, even pre-pandemic, with 700,000 tonnes of clothing being sent to UK recycling centres each year. Shifting our focus from how we dispose to how we consume has never been more important. By analysing our purchases, we become more responsible consumers, and so, I encourage you to try it. The next time you are at the checkout, question if your purchase will lead to a ‘what if?’ or if it already is a ‘what if’ in the first place. Perhaps even more importantly, would you pack it in your last-minute suitcase?

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog post #4

Guest post by SDG Ambassador Julia Daly

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Welcome to the last blog post of this plastic reduction series. I’ve seen many undergrads already receiving their final results, and many postgrads, myself included, will soon be handing in (or have already handed in) our final dissertations. With this closure to the academic year, I will also be bringing this blog series to an end. But before I go, I would like to share two shampoo bar products that I have tried and loved. Shampoo bars that work for your particular hair type are, in my experience, the most difficult to find when it comes to plastic free alternatives, so I am THRILLED to have found two that both work.

Today’s focus are shampoo bars from two brands: Eco Warrior and Faith in Nature. Both are available from Holland and Barrett and Boots so very accessible. Eco Warrior are a British brand that make soap which is vegan, cruelty free and eco-friendly using recyclable packaging. Similarly, Faith in Nature are also UK based, cruelty free, vegan and reducing plastic use by using recyclable and recycled packaging. Eco Warrior are a purely soap bar company, whereas Faith in Nature provide a plethora of options: soap bars, liquid shampoo in fully recycled plastic bottles, the option of buying 5 litre or 20 litre bottles of liquid product to reduce plastic consumption and refill stations in stores across the country.

Eco Warrior – Shampoo Bar, Orange and Ginger Essential Oils, 100g for £4.00

A good size shampoo bar that lathered well when wet. As I’ve not had a great experience with shampoo bars in the past, I found that this one was the first to lather well and could be used by directly placing the bar onto my hair without leaving clumps of product behind. It does take a while to cover your entire head and get to the roots, I would say about twice as long as with liquid product. My hair didn’t need a lot of time to get used to the new product, perhaps a week or so, and after washing, my hair felt very clean and oil free. The only thing that wasn’t ideal about the product was that it seemed to half in size after every use, meaning that it only lasted about a month and a half. My hair, being thick and long probably expedited the use of the product so someone with thinner, shorter hair would definitely get a lot more use out of one bar.

Faith in Nature – Shampoo Bar, Coconut & Shea Butter, 85g on sale for £4.34, RRP £5.79

I have only just started using this shampoo bar but needed to include it in this post despite not giving it a full trial. Despite being a smaller bar, it doesn’t seem to use as much product per wash compared to the Eco Warrior bar implying it will last longer (picture shows new, unused bar on the left vs bar used for two washes on the right).

The thing I noticed which was consistent between bars is the necessary for patience to get enough product for a good lather. But once this is achieved, the result is squeaky clean. Both products weren’t particularly drying or moisturising, so you just achieve a neutral clean. Both bars had a pleasant, mild scent which does not linger in your hair once it is rinsed and dried which some people prefer. If you do like to have some scent to your hair or require extra moisturiser, I recommend following up with a conditioner but this is by no means necessary!

Shampoo is a product I personally use a lot of due to my hair length and type so it is great to find plastic free alternatives although they are not 100% perfect! These were definitely a step in the right direction and may work better for you than they do for me depending on your hair type.

Thus concludes my student friendly guide to plastic reduction series! I am so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Sustainability Kent blog as a Sustainability Development Goals Ambassador. Although I will no longer be a student in the very near future, I hope to continue sharing my personal plastic reduction journey perhaps through a newly created blog dedicated to plastic reduction. Thank you to everyone who has given me such wonderful feedback and I hope the series is helpful to students and non-students alike!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Check out Eco Warrior and Faith in Nature below:

https://www.ecowarriorsoap.co.uk/

https://www.faithinnature.co.uk/

The Gulbenkian: Project Zero

Project Zero – The Gulbenkian have been on a mission to reduce all waste where possible from their café, theatre and cinema operations.  Since the start of Project Zero, headed up by Sustainability Champion Daniel Parsons, they have:

• Removed all single use plastic bottles in the café, saving an estimated 50000 plastic bottles since August 2018

• Switched to reusable plastic pint and half pint cups which has significantly reduced their single use plastic cup buying

• Partnered with ‘Too Good To Go’ and sold 626 magic bags. These are bags of food that would be thrown away and instead offer meals to customers at significantly reduced rates

• Sent all their milk bottle caps to a company that reuse the plastic, that’s about 300 caps a week

• Hosted a family day on climate change with thoughts, ideas and pledges shared on the ‘SustainabiliTree.’

The Sustainability Team at the Gulbenkian will be continuing Project Zero into the next academic year and will continue their focus on waste as well as looking at carbon.

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog series

A guide to student-friendly toiletries plastic reduction: blog series by SDG Ambassador Julia

It’s #plasticfreeJuly! There are so many reasons to start reducing your plastic consumption and join the plastic-free hype! Reducing your carbon footprint or plastic consumption may not be the first thing on your mind right now with a global pandemic afoot, but if this something you’d like to try out, this series might be of interest!

Having said that, there are many perks to going plastic free specifically with your toiletries at this particular time. I don’t know about you, but I am still finding that the regular pharmacies or drug stores still don’t stock my go-to products. Why not try something new in a time when we are literally washing our hands to save lives.

For the first blog in this series I’d like to introduce Ethique. I tried Ethique mostly because I had been following them on Instagram for a while and was super intrigued by their products (top tip: how do you find ethical/plastic free brands? Instagram). Their tag line is #giveupthebottle and according to their website, claim to be plastic free, cruelty free, palm oil free and vegan which checked all the boxes for my personal preferences. They are also more accessible as they are sold online at Holland & Barrett, both in store and online and are also now sold by Boots online.

My initial thought was that the pricing was way over what I would usually budget for these kinds of products, but I am willing to invest in a product if it lasts longer than something that I paid less for. I tried a bunch of products, purchased their trial pack for oily skin, a moisturiser and a soap container. I also tried to buy most products when they were on sale.

From personal use, I have two stand-products that I can confidently say they worked well for my skin type. This review is based on my personal experience with the products so I can’t speak for all skin or hair types! For reference, my skin and hair are both oily.

Stand-out product 1 – Star of the show

Ethique Gingersnap Face Scrub. Price: £12.99

I purchased the multipack of Gingersnap Face Scrub without realising it was already included in the trial pack that I had also purchased. I was annoyed at this until I tried one and instead, I was delighted. This scrub is very, very good. I used it once a day, in the shower as a precursor to the facewash and have continued to enjoy the multipack after the trial one was used up. It lasts a while as long as you don’t get it too wet in the shower and is very easy to use. I’d say each bar probably lasted about a month making the 4 pack last about 4 months but may not be as cheap. I have tried many an exfoliation product and this has to be one of the best ones. Considering you average about £3.25 for each individual bar in the pack, I’d say this is around the same price as decent scrub you’d get at Boots or Superdrug.

Stand-out product 2 – Honourable mention

Ethique Sweet Orange and Vanilla Butter Block. Price: £11.99

The butter block was the most luxurious product out of all the products. The scent is quite strong but not overpowering but is sweet smelling – definitely a win if you are a fan of sweet and fruity scents. The instructions say to use it right after showering but I found it would kind of slide off my skin a bit too much. If used on dry skin though, it worked much better. Storage-wise it is a bit tricky. Warm surroundings will cause the oils to seep into whatever container you keep it in so be sure to keep it in something substantial. It is very moisturising and I used it every other day or every two days on my arms and legs. I think for the price it is impractical to purchase this on the regular, but as a gift for a friend or if you find it on sale, a gift for yourself.

Overall, I enjoyed the products that I purchased from Ethique but found that some either didn’t work as well as other products I have used or I found them expensive for what they were and therefore haven’t included them in this budget conscious review. Thank you so much for reading this far and I hope you enjoyed the first post of this blog series. I hope to do a couple more brand reviews as part of this series so watch this space!

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I purchased these items with my own money, they are not a gift nor is this post sponsored.

Ethique’s website: https://ethique.co.uk/

Ethique at Boots: https://www.boots.com/sitesearch?searchTerm=Ethique

Ethique at Holland & Barrett: https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/info/ethique/

It is time to talk about what we put down the loo…

With flushed plastics making up 8.5% of beach litter in the UK and a 400% rise in the number of wet wipes found on our coastlines and river beds, it really is time we stop treating the toilet as a bin.


Research carried out by the Marine Conservation Society during their 2017 Great British Beach Clean identified the shocking figures that despite filters in our sewage system 8.5% of the litter they collected were items that had been flushed. The fear is this number is rising with increasing sewer blockages and over 14 wet wipes being found per 100 metres of coastline.

The most common items found after being flushed are known as the Dirty Dozen by the campaign ‘Think before you flush’:

In the same way that when we place items in the bin we don’t often think about what happens to them next, we are turning a blind eye as to where our rubbish ends up after we flush it down the loo. Whilst the toilet may seem like a convenient way of getting rid of certain rubbish, these items do not just disappear and can cause a number of problems for our sewers and our environment.

1: Clogging up our sewers

Market research by the Absorbant Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association (AHPMA) found that we use 4.3 billion disposable sanitary products every year in the UK. This vast number is not surprising considering there are 15 million women of menstrual age, however it is estimated that a shocking 700,000 panty liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are flushed down the toilet every single day.  It is estimated that blocked drains and sewers cost the UK around £88 million a year and is an issue we face here on campus.

The Estates Department has seen a recent increase in drain and sewer blockages causing maintenance and flooding issues across campus.

Turing sewage drain – blocked with wet wipes

But I thought wet wipes were flushable?!

Despite some products still being labelled as flushable unless they have the ‘Fine To Flush’ logo they should not go into the toilet. Water UK have stated that wet wipes labelled flushable do not break down and are behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers.  In order to gain the approved logo the wet wipes will need to pass strict tests. Manufacturers can have their wipes tested by WRc, Swindon-based independent technical experts who developed the specifications for flushability standards in conjunction with Water UK.

2: An ocean full of plastic

Everyone has seen the recent push to tackling the global scale of plastic entering our oceans however, whilst much of the focus has been on plastic bags, straws and packaging there has not been as much of a spotlight on the plastic entering our seas through the toilet.

Conventional menstrual pads contain around the same amount of plastic as four carrier bags, and depending on where it ends up as waste, it could have a longer life-span than the person who uses it! (City to Sea).

Wet wipes also contain hidden plastic that is often not listed in the ingredients. The material that forms many of our wet wipes is likely to be a woven blend of natural and synthetics fibres with the synthetic ones often being polypropylene polyester or polyethlene

As wet wiped break down in our oceans the microplastic fibres remain and they can be ingested by everything from zooplankton which make up the base of the food chain in the oceans, all the way up to seabirds, fish, turtles and whales (Marine Conservation Society.), with research showing that they can adversely affect the growth and reproduction of our marine species. Microplastics have also been found to have enter the human food chain.

What can I do?

First and foremost, remember, the toilet is not a bin. Only the three Ps should go down the loo and they are poo, pee and paper.

Secondly, try and refrain from using wet wipes if you can. Seek out alternatives and look out for the Fine to Flush logo.

Thirdly, if you use menstrual products please check out the ‘Plastic free Period’ campaign to learn about alternative products that could help reduce the amount of plastic you use each month as well as saving some money!

Plastic straws are a scapegoat. It’s time for big companies to change

Guest post: Mark Roberts is CEO of Conscious Creatives, a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a greater purpose through our work. Saving the planet by producing branding and digital communications packages that place sustainability at their heart and deliver long term revenue.

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There will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in after decades of plastic abuse.

Plastic straws, in particular, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poignant footage of a straw being removed from a turtle’s nose highlights the problem in microcosm.

But of the nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste that hits our oceans every year, just 2,000 tonnes comes in the form of plastic straws. That’s 0.22%. So is banning straws the answer our environment is crying out for?

The demand for change

Recently there has been a wave of support for plastic-free alternatives and for the reduction of plastic use altogether. Organisations like Surfers Against Sewage are helping people turn their local communities into plastic-free zones and companies like Costa Sunglasses are turning plastic waste into sunglasses.

This awareness is fantastic and it helps consumers understand the importance of why they should pay attention to this scourge of the sea. One comment I heard recently though was “I didn’t ask for my products to come in this kind of packaging, it’s not my fault”. Infuriating as the lack of responsibility was at the time, I actually understand why the comment was made.

At a time when climate change has become more and more evident and we have documentaries like Blue Planet 2 highlighting the over-consumption of plastics it now goes beyond the consumer to governments and corporations to do their part.

The role of politics and industry

At the highest level, the United Nations and its member states are working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These include 17 major areas of sustainability that go far beyond just plastic, seeking to eradicate hunger and social inequality as well.

The corporation part comes from the work done by the UN Global Compact, which partners with businesses all over the world to collaborate on the agendas set out by the UN. Some of the largest businesses in the world are part of this group and in theory this is a great step towards the highest authorities taking responsibility.

However, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for the UN Global Compact explained at a recent sustainable business summit that we need to be spending around 2 trillion dollars per year to meet these goals. At the moment, we are well short of that target.

To most of us, 2 trillion USD sounds like an awful lot. Here in the UK, the high street banks pull in 12 trillion GBP per year, with a shadow banking sector adding another 2 trillion GBP. It’s not that the money is not available to solve all of these problems — the reason we have not solved them is that they are simply less important than profits for the elite. If one sector from one country could save the planet, imagine what would happen if the whole world took part.

Single-use plastics: the consumer dilemma

As consumers we are stuck in two minds: either we wait for the giant companies to do something when they feel like it, or we engage our inner activist and make choices that force businesses to listen. The person who made the statement above may feel powerless, frustrated and ultimately a little guilty that their consumer habits are impacting the world in a way they don’t want. But there are reasons for optimism.

One example of a good fight against a giant corporation is Greenpeace’s work against Coca-Cola. With all of their various products they produce an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles per year. They are very much at the centre of this problem.

Coca-Cola, however, have done what many corporations have done — acknowledged the problem but offered no real solution. Coca-Cola Europe have committed to their packaging being 100% reusable or recyclable by 2025, but that’s the only hardened objective that the entire company have set forth.

If we as consumers stopped buying Coca-Cola products then it wouldn’t take long before they noticed. This is where the power of the consumer comes in. Whether we feel like it or not — and it may be very difficult to accept — we do have a choice.

Other organisations like Iceland have vowed to remove single-use plastics from their shelves, so why can’t companies like Coca-Cola follow suit?

Positive action you and I can take today

I offer then a conclusion that lies in action. No longer can we sit on the fence. We have to take a stand and ask ourselves what kind of state we wish to leave the planet in for future generations. The choices we make right now will affect billions of people, present and future.

It is not fair that the giant manufacturers are using our busy lives and desire for a good life as a way of profiteering at the cost of the planet. It’s now time to move past being angry at that fact and face the reality of what needs to be done.

I urge you to find your local zero waste store, explore what they have and ask lots of questions. By local, buy high quality and buy less. Look for the places that offer paper straws instead of plastic straws but understand that while this problem is way bigger than any individual, this is our stand for what we believe in.

If you feel inspired do not stop there. Speak to your local council, your local MPs and your local businesses to see what they are doing to tackle the problems that the environment faces. The more people that show they care, the more likely the big companies will make the changes required so that we as the consumer can have the choices we really want and the planet really needs.

 

The Environmental Impact of Flushing Tampons Down The Toilet

As a regular reader of the blog, Jo Greene, from a family run Kent based business called VR-Sani Co, wanted to share some of her expertise about the not often talked about plastic that ends up in the sea – tampons.

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After years of procrastination, it seems that we’re finally starting to tackle the global issue of plastic pollution. No doubt encouraged by Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II that horrified much of the UK, supermarkets, governments and society as a whole are starting to take measurable steps in order to reduce the amount of plastics we use.

At the heart of the topic has been the humble plastic bag, a symbol for change that has served as a stark reminder that our preference for ease and convenience often comes with a heavy price. Images of turtles, seabirds, and other marine life caught in the aftermath of our weekly shop have helped shine an uncomfortable light on our actions.

The hope is that through education and awareness, the simple act of reusing our bags will make a tangible difference to the amount of plastic that ends up our seas. But while this is a good first step, it opens the debate as to what else we need to consider.

The conversation has naturally extended to our use of water bottles, coffee cups, and even some of the more obscure products we use on a daily basis, including the small plastic beads found in a number of facial scrubs. However it is surprising that the disposal of tampons and their environmental impact hasn’t fully entered into the public consciousness in quite the same way.

The equivalent of flushing a plastic bag down the toilet

On the surface at least, what we do with our tampons may not seem like a pressing concern. After all they’re fluffy, small, and if we “accidentally” flush one down the toilet it probably just dissolves into harmless mulch of eco-friendly nothingness. But tampons, pads and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK alone, and the alarming statistic is that nearly all of them contain plastic. The impact of flushing our tampons down the toilet, while convenient, can have unexpected and often dire consequences, particularly on our beaches and in our seas.

In an attempt to save the hundreds of species from accidentally eating or becoming entangled in the litter strewn across our coastlines, the Marine Conservation Society held a beach cleanup in 2016. During their efforts they found 20 tampons and sanitary items for every 100 metres of shoreline. It’s a significant figure, and overall they estimate that between 1.5bn to 2bn sanitary items are flushed down Britain’s toilets every year.

One of the challenges is that people can often assume that sanitary products flushed down the toilet will be picked up and extracted via the local sewage system. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and they’re not always effectively filtered. As a result sewage-related debris ends up contributing to about 6% of the litter found on Britain’s beaches.

Changing attitudes to reverse the trend

It’s obvious that we must try and reverse this trend, but in order to openly discuss the practical steps that we as a society need to take, we firstly need to address the topic of menstruation without the fear of stigmatisation or disgust. Yes bleeding and cramps aren’t always topics generally considered apt for polite conversation, but that doesn’t mean menstruation needs to be shrouded in secrecy. The topic of periods and tampons may still be a relatively taboo subject, but by avoiding the subject entirely, we’re helping to fuel a huge environmental issue.

Many skeptics would say that this cultural taboo has, at least in part, helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry to thrive. It’s argued that clever advertising messages and a failure to clearly disclose important product information from major feminine hygiene product brands might be responsible for holding women back from disposing of tampons safety, or even considering more environmentally friendly options.

These alternative products, from reusable menstrual cups to organic cotton tampons, could help to support the use of more sustainable alternatives to conventional sanitary products. What’s interesting however is that many of these products have already been on the market for years. Their success (or lack of it) have been hampered by the popular business model that’s predicated on disposability, viewed by most brands as the more attractive option in order to drive repeat purchases.

As a result tampons have been marketed aggressively over the years, purporting the benefits of hygiene and convenience as their primary advantages. In the ever increasing quest for profits, it was always unlikely that companies would embrace a reusable, yet more environmentally friendly product line.

Marketing messages based on profit

Compounding the challenge is that tampons aren’t technically classified as medical products, and as such, companies don’t have to provide detailed product information. However, many of the modern materials used in their production derive from the petroleum industry. The potential environmental impact of these materials finding their way into a delicate ecosystem is unfortunately all too easy to predict.

Against this backdrop, it’s also easy to see why many women feel that it’s ok to flush tampons down the toilet. Anything classified as “disposable” automatically invokes a throwaway attitude, and similar products like wet wipes are often touted as flushable, even when they’re not. From a marketing perspective, it’s probably fair to say that not many people would buy a wet wipe if their strapline was “feel fresh and stick a soiled piece of cloth in your bathroom bin”.

The unfortunate reality is that unhelpful marketing messages have often encouraged us to put convenience above legitimate environmental concerns, but this isn’t impossible to overcome. Critically, we simply need the accurate labeling of products with disposal information, and to take note as a consumer whenever we purchase a sanitary product.

For example, biodegradable 100% cotton tampons are a much greener choice than standard products, but they still can’t be flushed down the toilet. Seeking the more eco-friendly products is always a great start, but typically most products will still need to be disposed of in a sanitary bin.

However relaying this message to wider sections of society has always been a little more challenging. Until we can all overcome our squeamishness towards menstruation, it’s always going to be difficult to discuss any period-related issue without it being viewed as an icky topic. Without doubt, the silence and stigma around menstrual bleeding remains a significant cultural barrier to successfully addressing and discussing a variety of important issues.

But public attitude has undoubtedly turned against disposable plastics; we simply need to be aware of where they exist in our daily lives, and for manufacturers and marketers to be more open and honest in their messaging. If we can all work together, we can help to turn off the tap of throwaway packaging once and for all.

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This post was written by Jo Greene of VR Sani-Co. An established family business that has been providing washroom services and sanitary bins in Kent and Sussex for over 20 years.

Resolutions or not…this really is the right time to ditch the plastic in your life!

Is it just me or is there a large amount of news content about plastic recently?

Whether it is the disturbing sight of plastic bottles ruining the immersion of being in the deep blue as David Attenborough lulled you to sleep on a Sunday night with the incredible Blue Planet 2; the news that China will no longer take our recycled plastic due to pollution concerns; or yesterdays ban of Micro-beads coming into full affect; it seems plastic has finally fallen out of favour.

 

So with it being the new year why not add a truely transformative resolution to your list. Ditch the plastic.

A simple way to do this is to start with any single use plastic that is entirely unnecessary. Do you need that straw in your drink? If Weatherspoons and Jamie Oliver can ditch them for good, so can you! Can Tupperware serve you better than clingfilm? Does your coffee really taste as good out of that disposable?

There are so many things in our everyday life that create rubbish after just one use but with a few simple changes you could do away with single use plastic for good. It will definitely save you money, especially if the government decide to tax all single use plastics such as plastic bottles and the so called ‘latte levy’ which could reduce the 2.5 billion coffee cups we get through in the UK, of which only 1% are recycled.

If you would like to be part of the movement to ditch single use plastic head on over to the Global Good Award’s #pointlessplastic on Twitter to get some inspiration.