The Earth's Corr: The truth about plastic will wipe the smile off your face - Shauna Corr

Have you ever seen social media posts or advertisements from firms known to be harming the environment, then shouting about all the great things they are doing that are eco friendly?

Well that’s called greenwashing – and it’s back on the agenda again.

Some will shout from the rooftops about how their products are environmentally sound in a bid to give you and me the impression that what we’re buying is harmless.

Take biodegradable wipes for example – not that long ago I heard directly from NI Water about the real and actual harm they cause to Belfast sewage systems as people think they can flush them down the loo and they will miraculously dissolve. They don’t.

Wet Wipes

Let’s take a look at the term biodegradable and what it actually means.

By Collins Dictionary definition, it means “something that breaks down or decays naturally without any special scientific treatment, and can therefore be thrown away without causing pollution”.

To me, and anyone sensible, that’s spark images of throwing an apple core (without the sticker) over the hedge and knowing wildlife and insects will make short work of it.

So I know you’re now wondering how on earth it can be used to describe anything that may contain plastics, which we have known for decades cause nothing but pollution.

Well, Westminster has set out to answer that question following a call for evidence on the issue in 2019 from their Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy alongside Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Let’s face it – I don’t think the DUP ministers in DAERA and Economy will be getting into it any time soon.

In their summary of responses, the UK Gov start by highlighting how plastic is “ubiquitous” – as in found everywhere in our everyday lives – and a “highly valuable resource”.

Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl is urging everyone to try #plasticfreeJuly

If you ask me, I’d have started with how harmful it is to the natural world, people and wildlife since it can contain harmful chemicals and how its production is also adding to the climate crisis.

Nearly all plastic is made from materials that come from oil and gas, and last month the WWF said that their manufacture creates billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

The UK government go on to say in their summary that “almost half of all plastic placed on the market each year goes into packaging” and that the UN Environment Programme estimates that only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled – with 79% gong to landfill.

I dunno about you – but that’s a chilling realisation.

We have this in a document that seeks to produce standards for biodegradable plastic and if that’s not an oxymoron, I dunno what is.

All I can see is more problems down the line.

But back to greenwashing.

I have to commend the supermarkets that are offering produce that is not smothered in plastic.

But take a look around the isles the next time you do your big shop and what you will see is a sea of every type of plastic imaginable.

I have heard the argument that items stay fresher for longer when cling wrapped – and I’m sure they do. So maybe that’s where we as consumers need to have a think.

We have gotten so used to having everything on hand and fresh as a daisy – but in reality that expectation is causing huge problems.

We have to start somewhere, so my suggestion is don’t go for the plastic fantastic multipacks. Why not buy only what you need as separate items – and shop twice a week – so things stay fresh for longer.

The big brands are taking their time to really act on this issue – and we need to give them a kick up the bum.

What we really need is a complete ban on single-use plastics and those containing harmful substances like phthalates and bisphenols – not finding ways to make them ‘biodegradable’.

That might be a start in reducing their impact on the planet.

Fun fact

It’s time single use plastic was consigned to the history books

Now’s the time to have your say on plastic pollution in Northern Ireland.

Wonders will never cease, but at the end of June DAERA put out a call for evidence as it was promised in the New Decade New Approach deal from January last year that a plan to eliminate it would be developed.

So over a year and a half on we’re seeing some action, but at least they’re now doing two things right (this and planting trees)!

People from all walks of life are being invited to share their views on the issue up to October 1, 2021 at 5pm on the dot.

You can do that through filling in an online form at https://forms.office.com/r/ek31MgR746.

By taking part by email at wastepolicyteam@daera-ni.gov.uk

Or post: Single Use Plastic, Waste Prevention and Recycling Policy, Ballykelly House, 111 Ballykelly Road, Ballykelly

Limavady, BT49 9HP.

More details are available at https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/

Heroes

Recycling uniforms is one way to help cut waste and help families out

A huge shout out to the guys at Foodstock – Community Response West Belfast as well as Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl this week.

Foodstock foodbank has been busy in recent weeks gathering pre-loved school uniforms to give them a new home – both an environmental and huge-hearted move. Not only will it keep old threads from heading to the bin – it will also help families who have a number of backs to cover or are struggling to make ends meet.

A great example of an initiative that is both kind to the environment and the community. Hats off to all those involved.

I also doff my cap to Belfast Mayor Kate Nicholl. Once again the Alliance councillor has put the environment front and centre with her push for a plastic free July.

She said: “Every month I’m taking on a new eco challenge – this month’s challenge was set by Belfast City Council’s Climate Commissioner [and] is plastic free July.

“My worst offence is buying plastic bottles so thank you Tearfund NI for my fancy water bottle which is helping greatly!”

Brilliant examples to all of us.

Quick swap

You’ll need stacks of disposable vs a few cloth diapers

When I was growing up cloth nappies were all the rage – but I do recall that in order to keep them on a huge pin was involved and my poor brother once had the unfortunate experience of getting it stuck in his belly (sorry mum).

Nowadays, reusable for nappies for babies are just something else, and what’s more they could save you a fortune. I know all the big firms who make throw-away nappies work hard on their marketing and telling you how much they’re improving.

But the reality is that an estimated three billion nappies are dumped in the UK every year, which accounts for 2-3% of all household waste, according to recycling charity Wrap. If you have a tot on the way, or even one who has already arrived – as a parent you could make a huge difference to what’s heading towards landfill in NI – while saving yourself a tidy sum.

Some councils here even offer schemes that allows parents to try washable nappies free for two weeks, with a £30 refund on the cost of buying reusable nappies. There are some great ones on the market that are as easy to put on as disposables while being much kinder to the environment.

If you’re interested, advice is available at https://www.facebook.com/clothnappylibrary/

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