Climate Action Now: What Boards Need to Know

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Reducing your plastic footprint

The climate crisis is everyone's problem, but we don't have to despair – there is also positive action we can take. In the first of our Climate Action Now: What Boards Need to Know series, we share with you facts and information about plastic pollution, and practical changes that your charity or impact organisation can make to reduce your plastic consumption.

Why should we care about plastic pollution?

Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. About 12% has been incinerated, while the rest — 79% — has accumulated in landfills, dumps or the natural environment (source: United Nations Environmental Programme). Furthermore, according to data published by Clean Streets Westminister, we are producing 300 million tonnes every year, almost the weight of the human population, and the problem with that is our planet simply does not have the capacity to hold it.

Single use plastics are made from fossil fuels, and their extraction, creation, and disposal emit harmful greenhouse gases which dangerously contribute to climate change. By 2050, plastic is predicted to account for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic materials also never really go away, they just get smaller and smaller. In fact, when fish mistake these small pieces for food and we then eat those fish, we are also being exposed to the same plastics we are dumping. The effects on human health remain relatively unknown.

In the UK over 5 million tonnes of plastic is used annually, however only 25% of that is recycled. What we don’t recycle will end up in the environment, either in landfills or water systems. Most plastics are not infinitely recyclable like some other materials, such as glass. Even in landfills plastic causes great damage, taking approximately 400 years to degrade [source: National Geographic].

Plastic in the ocean

The picture is equally grim offshore. 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year, with this number is expected to double by 2025.

By 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in our oceans. When the plastic enters the ocean often the currents will pull the rubbish together into huge gyres of plastic islands. The largest is in the North Pacific, containing 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic and is double the size of Texas or three times the size of France

[source: National Geographic].

Once plastic is in the ocean, it is near impossible to get it back. Therefore, the solution is to prevent plastic waste being dumped in our natural environment in the first place.

Sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for their favourite food: jellyfish [source: World Wild Life].

How can your organisation reduce plastic waste?

We have listed below nine simple and straightforward ways that your charity or impact organisation can reduce plastic pollution.

  1. Put together a sustainable procurement policy. This will help to ensure that the use of single-use plastics in your operations and supply chain are reduced.

  2. Reduce consumption of plastic in the office kitchen by using reusable items such as glass or other non-plastic bottles and food containers.

  3. Reduce plastic in tea and coffees, especially if you host in person events or conferences.

  4. Recycle what you can and sort recycled materials properly. Please see this guide for more information:

  5. Buy supplies and products which have less packaging.

  6. Switch from ordering plastic branding and marketing products to more sustainable materials such bamboo.

  7. Consider supporting your local charity retail shop by buying second-hand items.

  8. Avoid purchasing work wear made of polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide, as these are synthetic fibers made using plastics.

  9. Educate your whole board and staff team on sustainability and plastic consumption and encourage them to help suggest further areas or ways that plastic and waste management can be improved.

Join in the conversation.We would love to hear what actions you are taking to implement climate change measures in your organisation.