Three colleagues will next week go to the simple life when society was plastic-free. But their month-long attempt to live without any contact with plastic will be anything but easy.
Northumberland Wildlife Trust‘s head of land management Duncan Hutt, conservation officer Naomi Waite and Living Seas officer Aurelie Bohan hope to demonstrate how reliant society has become on plastics.
Their efforts will also highlight the plastics pollution and littering problem, and how plastics have entered the food chain by being ingested by marine life.
“It will mean living without plastic bags, cling film on sandwiches, storage boxes, playing music, kitchen utensils, not being able to have tubes of toothpaste or shampoo,” said Naomi.
“There is plastic in everything from clothes to travel tickets, and it will prove how reliant we are on oil-based plastics, which is not sustainable.
“It is going to be quite a challenge living without it. It’s going to be very difficult.”
Duncan said: “The more we look into it the more worrying the whole picture becomes. Plastic creeps into the most unexpected places and we may find it impossible get some of the basic essentials.
“Take pasta for example, a simple dried product that could come, like flour, in a paper bag or a box. Plenty of pasta, particularly lasagne, comes in a box but it has to have a plastic window to observe the product.
“I pretty much know what pasta looks like, particularly lasagne, so why is it necessary to have a window so it can be observed?
“Another, more tricky, problem is in paper products. When has that paper got a thin plastic coating and when doesn’t it?
“Certainly most drinks cartons have multiple plastic layers in them.
“Our aim is to go plastic free from January 5 completely in one step and sustain this for a month. We will keep all the small errors we make along the way to show all those little places where plastics creep in.”
The goal of the trio after the month is not to go back again to a plastic-consuming lifestyle but to build on what they have learned to maintain a low plastic way of living.
“Hopefully, it will to make everyone think of the problems and solutions to this 20th and 21st Century phenomenon,” said Duncan.
“We have to find products to replace all those everyday things we take for granted so that when the month begins we will still have food to eat and products with which to stay clean.” Ocean researchers have found microplastic particles smaller than five millimetres in size in nearly every litre of ocean water examined across the world.
Because they can resemble plankton, the particles are often ingested by small aquatic life and move up the food chain, accumulating in birds, sea life and humans.
Microplastics have several sources. They weather from drink bottles and shopping bags, are laundered from nylon clothing and wash down the drain from common cosmetics and toothpastes. It has been estimated that 6.4 million tonne of debris end up in the world’s oceans every year and that 60 to 80% of that is improperly discarded plastic litter.
The first oceanographic study to examine the amount of near-surface plastic debris in the world’s oceans, published in 2014, estimated that at least 5.25 trillion individual plastic particles weighing roughly 244,000 tonnes were floating on or near the surface.
Plastic waste floating across the seas gather where currents converge. They collide against one another because of the currents and wave action, and sunlight makes them brittle, producing smaller and smaller bits of plastic that spread far and wide. According to the trade association PlasticsEurope, world plastic production grew from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to an estimated 260 million tonnes in 2007.
There are also concerns about the health risks from the release of compounds used in plastics manufacture.