Environment - Planet power

The plastic pandemic

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Before Covid-19 the tide was slowly turning on plastic. Something had to give as every day in the UK 16 million plastic bottles end up in our environment, you may have heard the headline statistic that globally a truckload of plastic waste is emptied into our oceans every minute.

Sparked by the devastating scene of a whale grieving her dead calve after it suffocated on ocean plastic in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, since 2018 there has been a Tsunami of commitments, announcements and actions by Governments and business to help kick our plastic habit. Plastic won International Statistic of the year in 2018 with 90.5%: the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled

  • Micro-beads in rinse-off cosmetic and personal care products were banned in 2018
  • Also in 2018 McDonalds and Starbucks vowed to remove plastic straws from restaurants
  • Glastonbury banned plastic bottles in favour of free water taps around the site in 2019
  • A ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds came into force 2020

And we became a nation of re-fillers and re-users – proudly popping reusable coffee cups on the counter of coffee shops across the country, and not leaving the house without a refillable water bottle. With damning thoughts about those who dare be seen drinking from a plastic bottle in public – have they no shame!

Whilst these are all positive steps, they are small steps. People in England alone use an estimated 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds each year. But this is still a tiny proportion of plastic waste, the Government have done the very bare minimum to appease the British public.

Listen, I’m not saying the problem was solved, far from it. Despite some positive rhetoric the problem wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and society just wasn’t moving fast enough to save the ocean from becoming one giant garbage patch. Like the famous analogy of turning a big ship. It takes time. But small, 2°C adjustments by business, government, and the public were putting us on course for a destination that just might possibly, one day, land us on plastic-free shores.

Then something out of the blue, Covid-19. I say out of the blue, but it wasn’t really. Scientists have been warning Governments about a global pandemic for years, but it’s human nature not to believe the science until it’s too late, crossing their fingers that we just might get away with it. Sound familiar? Climate change?

All of a sudden ‘PPE’ and ‘social-distancing’ overnight became part of the daily vernacular. Whilst single-use face masks have been critical in reducing the spread of the virus, they will also be around longer than the virus, much longer – about 450 years actually. In the UK alone, some 748 million pieces of plastic protective gear were distributed to front-line staff between February and April. That’s not including the public, and with the virus mutating and with a long vaccination roll-out period, demand will only increase.

Reassuring to know then that organisations like A Plastic Planet have been working on a fix, launching the first recyclable face-protecting visor earlier this year. Home-compostable and made in the UK. So whilst the Tory party ‘chumocracy’ (yes it’s a thing) was handing out no-questions-asked PPE contracts to its mates (!), it’s good to know others were working for the good of humanity.

However, at £150 it’s a tad on the spenny side, so good job the great British entrepreneurial spirit has ignited a huge market in reusable face masks which is expected to reach USD 7.08 billion by 2027. For those gifted with crafty genes, you can make your own face mask from almost any piece of material, even a pair of socks! I’ll bet my last Oreo biscuits you’ve got a rogue sock in your drawer, waiting patiently for its other half to saddle up alongside. Forget it, make a mask.

Face masks are the new accessory du jour, and with so many available, there is little reason to be using the blue single-use throw away ones unless you’re a front line worker.  It’s about raising awareness of the long-lasting devastating impact single-use face masks will leave on the planet. Once people know this, they will hopefully look for alternatives. They also make perfect stocking fillers, so if you’re looking for last-minute Christmas gifts, here’s a selection of some reusable and sustainable ones.



These plastic-free, zero-waste face masks are handmade in England from organic cotton with fastenings that tie to the back of the neck and head. Available in five different prints.



Made using the ends of fabric rolls these planet-friendly masks come in prints synonymous to Boden clothing and include a wire across the nose for a custom fit.


The Paul Hodges Trust

African-made ethical face masks in vibrant local prints are certified fair-trade with profits donated to small charities working to tackle poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.



Masks for both children and adults. These organic cotton and bamboo masks are biodegradable with profits donated to the NHS.



Sustainably made in the UK using waste fabric, these over the ear face masks come in either blue or red check and are packaged in recyclable materials.


National Trust

Tourism has been devastated by the pandemic but one way to show support is to buy the eco-friendly, anti-fungal face mask.


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