NEW Year Glad Tidings about Plastics!

The world’s target is to halve plastic waste by 2050 and if the human race really wants to achieve this it should be able to succeed and possibly do better.

Currently the world uses 2.5 billion non-recyclable coffee cups a year and the world’s largest plastic straw factory in Indonesia produces 600 million plastic straws a month.

So we must change the relationship we have with plastic right now if it is not to pollute the entire planet and all the food chains on which we depend.

So one of the best Resolutions you can make for 2019 is to reduce your “plastic footprint” and inspire your friends and family to do the same.

Great changes are made by many people making small changes so here are some easy ways to play your part.

Carry your own reusable coffee cup with you instead of buying a non-recyclable coffee cup each time. This will save you money as more cafes introduce a discount.

Three takeaway coffees a week in a reusable cup stops 156 plastic cups a year going to landfill. With a 25p discount a time you will save £39 a year!

Plastic straws are rarely necessary so avoid them. Thankfully there is a campaign to replace the short plastic straws on drinks cartons with paper ones. Congratulations to Cornwall set to become the first county in the UK to ban plastic straws thanks to a campaign aptly named “The Last Straw”.

Plastic water bottles are one of the commonest litter items.

The Rinse Reuse Recycle rule works perfectly if you take your empty bottle into cafés and ask for it to be refilled from the tap. Do not be embarrassed - try it out because this scheme has been introduced in Colchester.

Other towns are re-establishing public drinking fountains which makes good sense.

New technologies are becoming available which have enormous potential. Plastics are polymers made from coal, gas and oil but polymers can now be made from corn and potato starch and used to produce a new class of “bioplastics”.

Non-recyclable plastic can now be turned into pellets which are used in road surfacing.

Less bitumen is needed and the road is slightly flexible which reduces potholes and provides better drainage. The non-recyclable plastic would otherwise have ended up in landfill remaining there hundreds of years and disintegrating into tiny pieces which enter the food chain and finally end up in us.

A team at Portsmouth University have made another major breakthrough by isolating an enzyme from a bacteria which actually digests plastic.

Ideally no recyclable plastic from our homes should end up in land-fill or an incinerator. But which plastics can and which cannot be recycled? It varies all over the country but Colchester Council’s Plastic Waste Recycling instructions are relatively simple: “Put nearly all plastics, including bags and film in the recycling box with bottles crushed to save space”.

In fact Colchester has been praised by David Attenborough for achieving well above the national average for plastic recycling. Many areas have a long way to go. The Government is also introducing Extended User Responsibility which means the manufacturers of plastic will have to pay towards its disposal. This will encourage industries to substitute other materials and use more of the eco-friendly plastics.

Fatalists say it is too late for the human race to turn back the tide of plastic overwhelming the world because as other nations become wealthier they will outweigh our efforts.

Yet China has a recycling rate that matches Europe’s and several Asian and African countries have outlawed plastic bags and fine anyone who uses one. Kenya has now gone even further and anyone caught selling one receives a prison sentence-

so let’s not be apathetic in the UK.

By Dr Laurel Spooner, guest columnist

THIS week’s good news story is that in 2018 a third of UK energy came from renewable sources, and our use of electricity in the UK has dropped to its lowest level since 1994, 25 years ago.

This is despite our population and our economy growing, so how have we done it?

New “white goods” such as fridges and washing machines use up to 75 per cent less electricity than older models, and LED light bulbs can cut electricity use by 90 per cent, so they are well worth buying.

For more information please go to Carbon Brief online.

We are beginning to head in the right direction, but we really need to reduce our electricity use much more to slow down climate change.

By Jill Bruce, Women's Institute Climate change ambassador

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How does plastic affect our use of electricity and climate change?

A. Of course we want to throw away less plastic because we have seen the terrible pictures of dead seabirds and seals with stomachs full of plastic waste, or discarded frisbees stuck round their necks causing awful injuries, but there is another reason to try to use less plastic.

Everything that is made uses electricity in its manufacturing process, and although recycling is much better than dumping waste, recycling uses energy too. By far the best option is to buy less in the first place if you can. For example, we could use foil rather than clingfilm to wrap food, as foil is easier to recycle, or better still, a reusable tupperware style box. It’s a good idea to rinse all food wrap in the last of your washing up water before putting it into your recycling bin to stop your bin getting smelly.

Q. Everything seems to wrapped in lots of plastic now, how can I avoid buying it?

A. If you have access to one, you could buy your food at a market stall, if not, take your own bags to the supermarket. We didn’t have plastic bags in the 1950s so my mum used shopping bags that she kept for years, and a string bag for buying potatoes and other vegetables.

I always buy loose fruit and veg if I can, then I can pick exactly what I want and need and cut food waste too.

Some branches of Tesco sell grapes in zip up plastic bags instead of plastic boxes, and those bags can be reused over and over again for fruit and veg. Or use the paper bags supplied for mushrooms.

If you do need to use the free plastic bags supplied then you could reuse them rather than throwing them away after using them once.

But lots of fruit and veg don’t need to be put in separate bags at all. Bunches of bananas, most fruit and vegetables, are absolutely fine loose in the trolley and on the conveyor belt, and will sit together happily in your shopping bag until you get them home.

Q. Loose food is easy enough, but what about soap and shampoo? I can’t buy those loose!

A.We all used to use solid soap bars, I’ve gone back to using them again. Much less packaging, longer lasting and better for the planet! You can buy shampoo and conditioner bars too. Lush sell them and will put them in a paper bag, Boots have them online but may not stock them in every branch until there’s enough demand for them, or you can find them online from other companies too.

Q. Don’t shampoo bars end up covered in hair? Yuck!

A. No, it’s not like soap for your hands and face. I’ve been using shampoo bars ever since I heard of them, over a year ago, not a single hair has stuck to my shampoo bar. But if you want to stay with liquid, take your old containers to be refilled. Wivenhoe Repair Reuse Recycle now have a shop open on Saturdays at 15 Queen Street, Colchester.

Chris, the owner, sells refillable shampoo and conditioner.

Q. What about cosmetics, hand cream, etc?

A. That’s harder, but you can get every bit out of the tube if, when you think it’s empty, you cut the tube in half across the middle with scissors. There’s probably at least another week's supply in there that you couldn’t squeeze out.

At least then you’re delaying buying more plastic, and the old tube is easier to wash out ready for recycling, and you’re saving money again!

Q. What about household cleaning products? And other food?

A. Wivenhoe Repair Reuse Recycle can help there too. They sell refillable environmentally friendly laundry liquid, fabric conditioner, multi surface cleaner and washing up liquid. They also stock refillable dry foods: oats, muesli, walnuts, almonds, lentils, kidney beans, pasta, Basmati rice, and hopefully more to come.

Q. Is it possible to completely cut plastic out of your life?

A. Probably not, but it’s easy to cut down on some of the obviously unnecessary bits. I’m now down to one bag of plastic waste a fortnight but I’m trying to cut that down further.

Radio 4 You and Yours interviewed someone on Thursday January 3 who had tried for a year to completely stop using plastic. At the end of a year, she had just three bags of plastic waste to recycle. That’s an impressive target for us all to aim for!