The Last Straw – by Sara Cameron

This week I attended ‘The Last Straw’ event run by Facilities Management Journal in collaboration with IFMA UK and RICS

Held at RICS HQ in Westminster I walked through quiet streets as Extinction Rebellion’s protests had pedestrianised parts of London. 

With over 8 million tons of rubbish entering the world’s oceans each year, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be a heavier weight of plastic in the oceans than fish.

FMJ, 2019

Let that sink in.

It is hard to comprehend that statistic. When you break it down, we must realise that we are at the point that our throw-away culture where we simply cannot continue consuming and dumping this volume of single use plastic. 

We all have to act now.

It’s now time to make these changes within the built environment industry collectively.

The decisions we make as built environment professionals shapes the world we live in.  If we all act now to reduce single use plastics, the impact would be immense.

With so many individuals making the effort in their own lives, it’s important that the realms of facilities management, workplace, property, construction, architecture and design is seen to lead by example, embracing and driving a movement that will help to safeguard our planet.

First, we heard from Will McCallum, Greenpeace UK and Author of How to Give Up Plastic: A Guide to Changing the World, One Plastic Bottle at a Time.

Will challenged us to reduce our plastic footprint:

Analyse – what is your current plastic footprint? How much of each type of plastic do you use or buy and in what type of products? How much is recyclable?

Commit – set an ambitious goal to reduce your single use plastics.

Prioritise eliminating plastics that are rarely recycled such as anything coded 3 or higher.

Innovate – invest in and test alternatives and new ways to deliver products so not to rely on single use plastics such as refills services.

Educate – let your customers know about your efforts to reduce single use plastics and urge their support by choosing to reduce and re-use.

Advocate – support policy initiatives that will phase out single use plastics. 

Collaborate – there is complexity and collaboration with NGO’s will help you navigate toward solutions.  We are all in this together!

We then heard from Natalie Fee, an author, broadcaster, producer and environmental campaigner behind City To Sea. Her expertise is in communicating marine plastic pollution, creating partnerships and working with the media to help stop plastic pollution at source.

The first campaign Natalie discussed was #switchthestick – one of the UK’s main offenders when it comes to plastic pollution is plastic cotton bud sticks, which make up over 60% of all sewage related beach litter. 

Thanks to the #switchthestick campaign public support leveraged commitments from all UK retailers that they would ‘Switch the Stick’ and only sell biodegradable paper stem buds. A move which would stop over c.478 tonnes of single-use, non-recyclable plastic being produced each year!

She then talked ‘unflushables’. 

From wet wipes, to menstrual products, to dental floss. 

Our vision is for the world’s waterways and coastlines to be strewn with sticks, sand and seaweed … not plastic!

Our toilets and sewerage systems are not a bin but flushed plastics make up 8.5% of beach litter in the UK, and that figure keeps on climbing each year.  We all seen the horrendous fatbergs made up of flushed fats, babywipes and who knows what else such as the colossal 210ft fatberg removed in Sidmouth https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-47724968.

Plastic pollution and littering from flushed wipes is on the rise – last year the Marine Conservation Society recorded over 14 wet wipes were found per 100 metres of coastline, a rise of 700% over the last decade. And in April this year, over 4,500 wet wipes were found on one 154m sq patch of foreshore.

This is where the #BogStandard comes in: Only flush the 3 P’s – paper, poo and pee. 

Everything else goes in the bin.

Think before you flush, 2019

Finally, and powerfully, we heard from 15 year old youth social activist Amy Meek who set up Kids Against Plastic with her younger sister Ella.

Kids against Plastic, 2019

As we have seen with Greta Thunberg – the level of social and environmental awareness shown by the next generation should shame the majority of us adults. 

They are delivering deeds not words.

Kids against plastic have some simple aims:

  • Raise awareness and understanding of the problems caused by plastic misuse
  • Encourage and support others to become ‘Plastic Clever’ and reduce single-use plastics
  • Empower children and young people to believe they can make a difference
Kids against Plastic, 2019

One of their campaigns #PACKETin uses the freepost addresses of manufacturers to send back the unrecyclable packaging back to them.  When one crisp company alone produces as many as 10 million packets of crisps each day in the UK that’s is a powerful message back to them about their non-recyclable packaging!

The biggest impact for me was Amy’s words about synthetic clothing and the damage presented by this from micro-fibres.

As I sat there listening I realised I was wearing plastic.  Nylon, acrylic, polyester…and every time I do a wash, my clothes shed millions of microscopic fibres into the waste water and straight into the sea.

“One load of washing can release up to 17 million tiny plastic fibres!”

These fibres have been found in the food chain.

Polluting our oceans and harming our wildlife should never be in fashion.

So what can we do about microfibres?

Wash clothes at a lower temperature or on a delicate cycle.

Use a special laundry bag to help prevent fibres escaping.

Do a full load wash as it will reduce the space for items to rub fibres free against each other.

Reduce spin speeds.

Air dry don’t tumble dry.

Install a microfibre filter to your washing machine.

Buy less synthetic clothing!

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