What we learnt from our webinar with Marine Conservation Society

On Wednesday 17th March, Plastic Free Chesterfield held an online talk from Tara Proud, volunteer and community engagement manager (Scotland) at Marine Conservation Society (MCS) on Plastic in our clothes, Plastic in our oceans. Here are the things we learnt from the talk:

  • Individuals can make an impact, but communities can make a bigger impact and it is through political change that really we can see these shifts that we need to really tackle these huge problems such as plastic pollution
  • Every year MCS hold an annual Great British Beach Clean to encourage everyone across the country to take part in a litter pick and litter survey. This year it’s taking place from 17th to 26th September
  • A litter survey is really important to carry out because plastic just keeps on coming back (each week there is more litter), and we’re fighting an uphill battle.
  • A litter survey is about collecting data to quantify what litter there is. This provides evidence that charities such as MCS can use when they lobby government – at a local, national or international level. The data that people collect is the data that our politicians are listening to, and make their decisions based upon when they’re changing laws to reduce the amount of plastic. Governments aren’t going to make laws to make change unless there’s a good evidence base to do so – examples of this are the 5p plastic bag charge, ban on microbeads in cosmetics, and the ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds.
  • It’s important to use the same methodology to collect data globally – It’s great to know that people all over the world are collecting litter and collecting data too. Check out the International Coastal Cleanup
  • The method to collect data is to choose a 100m stretch – pace it out – collect all the litter and write down what you find.
  • MCS have a support team if you’d like to carry this out.
  • The top five offenders tend to be plastic, bottle caps/lids, wet wipes, cigarette stubs, and string
  • 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean globally every year – equivalent to dumping a rubbish truck full of litter into the ocean every minute of every day
  • Plastic never disappears – all the plastic ending up in the sea right now will remain there forever. Plastic breaks up over time into tiny pieces called microplastics – these are smaller or up to half a centimeter across in diameter – which we cannot see because they are so small
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – 3 times the size of France – caused by swirling ocean currents mean plastic gathers together en mass. But about 70% of marine litter sinks down – either floating in the water column or made its way to the surface
  • Nurdles are pre-production plastic pellets – plastic that has not been turned into anything yet, but a lot are spilt accidentally and found on beaches. You can do the Great Nurdle Hunt – if you see nurdles, report them to the Great Nurdle Hunt – who are gathering the evidence.
  • A lot of the litter in the ocean is microplastics – 1.5 tonnes of the 12 million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year are microplastics.
  • 35% of primary microplastics are from synthetic textiles – these are called microfibres. Between 70-100% of deep sea sediments surveyed are microfibres.
  • If you look at the label of any clothing you can see what material it is made out of – if it says polyester, nylon or acrylic – these are synthetic plastic fibres
  • When we wash our clothes, they are shedding these fibres. A single clothes wash can release over 700,000 microfibres in the waste water, which many end up in the ocean – an estimated 65 million microplastic particles are being discharged every day in the effluent from every single waste treatment plant
  • Around 85% of solid materials, including microfibres are being captured as treated sewage sludge. This is then being applied to agricultural land as a fertiliser. Over time, rainwater means these can get washed off and end up in our streams, rivers and then the ocean.
  • Plankton (small marine animals) mistake microplastics / microfibres for food – we cannot see this impact, unlike the plastics we see found in whales, turtles etc.
  • Microplastics are appearing on our plates – 63% of marine shrimp contain microfibres – seafood eaters may be eating round 65,000 microplastics a year (per person)
  • We could stop nine trillion microfibres polluting the ocean every week in the UK by putting filters into our washing machines. Filters catch the microfibres.
    • There are two types of filters – in-drum devices such as guppy bags, and external filters which are fitted inside the washing machine parts
    • Guppy bags are the most effective at catching microfibres – 54%
    • External filters can catch up to 78% of microfibres
  • Fashion accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions – we are in a climate emergency

Actions we can take

  • Please sign the MCS petition calling for washing machine manufacturers to fit filters in all new domestic and commercial machines by law, by 2023, and retrofitted into commercial machines by 2024
  • If you’re a business, make the the business microfibre pledge
  • Check the label of your clothes and choose natural fibres over synthetics – cotton, wool, bamboo, linen
  • Wash your clothes less often and when you do, wash on a full load at 30 degrees
  • Swap from washing powder to washing liquid – powders are abrasive. Also use fabric softener
  • Tumble dry less
  • Buy a guppy bag – though sadly what’s collected must be put in a bin, landfill is better than being in the ocean
  • Buy second hand clothes over new clothes – they will not release as many microfibres as new clothes do
  • Take part in litter picks and litter surveys
  • Take the Plastic Challenge – think about using less single-use plastic
  • Tweet your MP to support a ban on bottom trawling in marine protected areas
  • And finally become a member of Marine Conservation Society to support their amazing conservation work

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