Going plastic-free

After undertaking work placements as part of their Global Development course, Yvette and Molly discovered a shared passion to help protect the environment from the threat of plastic waste. They’re now on a mission to help other people adopt a better, plastic-free way of life.

 

Becoming aware of the issue

Our course, Global Development Joint Honours, allows us to understand struggles surrounding sustainability and how difficult it can be for some people to focus on the environment alongside their economic and social aspects of life. This awareness has led us to volunteer with organisations trying to change the stigma behind zero waste and allowed us to work in Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) which have a key focus on development with sustainability. The course has shown us the benefits and shortfalls of large organisations, NGOs, governments and individuals working towards the common goal of development and has given us the tools to critically analyse varying techniques to allow us to use our own knowledge in the field when necessary.

Valuable work placements

During the summer, I worked with the organisation Ninth Wave Global, a small NGO based in Mexico, which primarily focuses on zero waste and alternatives to plastics. I did this whilst also carrying out research for my dissertation and undertaking a work placement, which is necessary as part of my course. The organisation is dedicated to these issues due to plastics being the lead cause of turtle and marine populations depleting in the area, as well as polluted water systems and delicate ecosystems. The organisation uses many different techniques towards this goal, through a ‘green market’ where trades people are encouraged to use alternative, biodegradable packaging, bulk buy using their own tupperware, or sell organic food and beauty products, as well as handmade jewellery, furniture and much more. The organisation was also promoting composting through collection points and educating people about the benefits.

Also during the summer, Molly carried out her work placement in Cyprus with the recycling organisation Cans For Kids, a charity promoting the recycling of aluminium cans through their organisation, with the proceeds providing medical equipment in the children’s hospital in Nicosia. The charity focuses on promoting recycling throughout the country to divert from landfills, as well as finding alternatives to using non-recyclable materials such as plastic whilst also raising money to help disadvantaged people.

Both of these experiences have taught us about alternatives to use whilst showing us first-hand the negative impacts waste has on the world, and also the benefits that can come from small changes to lifestyle. After returning from summer, we both decided to raise awareness of the issues which are becoming more well-known every day and whilst raising awareness, we also decided to do a sponsored month of zero-waste, with all proceeds going to the organisations which helped us at the start of this journey.

A shared passion

The work placement within our course allowed us to branch out and find our own organisations to work in, giving us the flexibility to independently find our passion. Whilst the key focus of our degree is on development, waste management is a large issue in developing countries which we have found whilst studying. To have the opportunity to see this issue first hand and work with organisations who are trying to tackle waste concerns was very beneficial for our postgraduate ambitions.

The importance of waste

Waste is a global concern which many ignore due to it not having a direct impact on the people using and creating the waste. In today’s society people use plastic every day. Right now, it is estimated that 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. That’s a truck load of rubbish every minute. The disposal of plastics in the ocean doesn’t just impact water quality and marine life, it impacts us too as it’s now made its way into the food chain. We now eat plastic – this chemically produced material is being ingested by anyone who eats seafood.

The worst part is, there are easy alternatives to plastic and if people just focused on using less single-use plastic this would reduce the volume ending up in landfill or the oceans. A reusable coffee cup, a bamboo toothbrush, no straws, tupperware instead of plastic bags and products which are package free. These simple, effective life changes can make a world of difference.

Making an impact

We are both still using our top-tips to reduce our own plastic-footprint and through showing people how easy it is, we aim to make small differences in everyone’s day-to-day life. Our work experiences have led us to have strong relationships with NGOs which gives us opportunities after we graduate as well as valuable work-experience to add to our CV.

Yvette and Molly’s top-tips for reducing plastic waste:

  • Reduce consumption of single-use plastics
  • Replace your reusable coffee cup with a refillable flask
  • Swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one
  • Ditch straws
  • Take your lunch in tupperware rather than buying packaged products
  • Swap your bottles of shampoos, conditioners and moisturisers for bars instead

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