SOMETIMES it’s hard to get an image out of your mind.
For Daniel Webb, that sight was a litter-strewn Kent beach he encountered on an evening run in 2016.
The 36-year-old had moved to Margate that summer, attracted by the sea, creative community and small-town feel.
But his plastic-riddled run along the coast one evening that September set him thinking about his own personal impact on pollution – just how much rubbish does one person living alone produce, and how much of it is actually recycled?
Surprised to be told by his local council that no recycling facilities were available at his block of flats, he set out to discover just how much plastic waste he produced in a year.
The staggering answer, chronicled in painstaking detail by researcher and earth sciences expert Dr Julie Schneider, was more than 4,400 individual items of plastic, categorised, weighed and photographed in the form of a huge mural used to launch his Everyday Plastic project.
The pair’s subsequent report, Everyday Plastic: what we throw away and where it goes, created shockwaves around the world as Daniel’s sponsors and supporters helped to spread the word about his key findings:
- The UK throws away over 295 billion pieces of plastic every year
- 93% of Daniel’s collected plastic waste was single-use packaging
- 67% of his throwaway plastic was used to package, wrap and consume food
- 70% of the plastic he threw away in a year is not currently recyclable
- Only 4% of his collection would be recycled at UK recycling facilities
Dr Schneider said: “Daniel’s project was a unique opportunity to finally replace vague assumptions with concrete numbers. For instance, we wanted to know how much of our everyday plastic waste is actually recyclable. Plastic bottles can be properly recycled, but what about the plastic film that wraps our vegetables, pasta and sweets? All the plastic packaging stamped with the ‘not currently recycled’ logo? It turns out that 70% of Daniel’s plastic waste is not currently recyclable! This is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
“I wish everybody could have seen the room where we unpacked one year’s worth of Daniel’s plastic waste. In a massive warehouse in Margate, the floor was completely covered with thousands of plastic pots, trays, bags, films, lids and other everyday items. Everyone that entered the room had the same reaction: ‘Wow, that’s just one person’s plastic waste’.”
But what happens now? As Daniel said at the launch of his report: “We can’t just rely on recycling to fix plastic pollution. Most importantly, we need to produce and use much less plastic. Our fast-moving disposable society means that we are using more single-use things than ever, so we need to rethink how we consume.”
The report was released with the support of Surfers Against Sewage, whose CEO Hugo Tagholm said: “The Everyday Plastic report not only exposes the sheer diversity and volume of single-use plastic we all have to navigate daily, but as alarmingly, the inadequacy of current recycling systems, which only return a paltry amount of material back to shop shelves. Reducing the use of pointless plastics is a priority – there is just too much plastic currently being made. Then, all plastics that remain should be fully accounted for, captured and reprocessed by manufacturers. The future health of people and planet depend on drastically curbing plastic emissions.”
But we can all do our little bit to help, Daniel insists. “If I’d have given up plastic bottles, coffee cups, straws, stirrers, cutlery, carrier bags and swapped shower gel for soap, I would’ve thrown away 316 fewer items in 2017. If only half the UK population did the same thing, we could prevent 10 billion pieces from entering the waste system. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that individuals can’t make a difference!”
And what happens now? Last month Daniel hit his crowdfunding target, raising £4,315 to produce hard copies of the report help set up the Everyday Plastic charity.
“Everyday Plastic has changed my life,” he says. “By doing something weird such as collecting all the plastic I used in a year, I have had the fortunate opportunity to meet, learn from and help hundreds of people. And it’s a journey on which I would love to continue.
“I get to travel up and down the country, sharing my story, my thoughts and learn from amazing people.”