17 December 2018

Africa: Don't Let Party-Time Plastic Give Our Planet a Holiday Hangover

press release

We've all been there. Slumped on the sofa, regretting those extra chocolates, feeling slightly sick and very full. But hey, we've worked hard all year and we deserve our festive overindulgence, don't we? By January, we'll be back in the gym, back on the diet, back on the straight-and-narrow. No harm done.

But if your festive hangover comes wrapped in plastic, it will take more than a New Year's Day jog to undo the damage (although you could try plogging and pick up some plastic on the way).

The festive season, wherever and however it is celebrated, is traditionally the one time in the year when it's acceptable to succumb to temptation. But there is one impulse--using unnecessary plastic--we should all resist because if we don't, we could be condemning the planet to a long-lasting, toxic headache.

The good news is it's easy and fun to cut single-use plastics out of your holiday plans. Here are just a few ideas:

-- Avoid shiny or glittery wrapping paper, which often cannot be recycled, and instead make your own wrapping paper by decorating plain brown recyclable paper with some holiday greenery or fabric ribbons. Or flex your creative muscles and wrap your gifts in funky textiles. Remember: sellotape and glittery gift tags make wrapping paper almost impossible to recycle so find alternatives. If you must use glitter, seek out biodegradable sparkle.

-- Don't use plastic cups and cutlery at parties. Instead, reach out to friends and family (that's what the holidays are all about after all) and borrow what you need.

-- Avoid unnecessary plastic packaging when you shop for festive food. Buy loose vegetables and fruit and bring your own containers to the deli counter. Don't forget your reusable shopping bags for those gift-buying sorties.

-- Don't feel compelled to buy new decorations. Reuse your old ones or have fun stringing pine cones, popcorn, cranberries or other natural wonders onto a garland for a magazine-worthy interior. Or go old-school and make paper decorations.

-- Give the gift of sustainable living: reusable coffee cups or water bottles can be very chic and they are certainly on trend as the cost of plastic pollution becomes ever more apparent.

-- Recycle whatever you can. Check the packaging symbols before you bin your waste.

-- For that traditional post-dinner family walk, complete with teenagers rolling their eyes, why not head to the beach or your local park armed with some recyclable bags and gloves to pick up litter? One could even make it into a game with prizes for the biggest haul.

If you have your own ideas on how to plastic-proof the holidays, do share them on your social media accounts to inspire others.

But maybe you think this is all going too far. After all, what harm can a few days of plastic overindulgence do? Especially if we return to our good habits in January.

The numbers tell their own story: it is estimated that in Britain alone around 177 million straws and 122 million plastic cups will be used this Christmas with around 200 million sheets of wrapping paper dumped after the festivities.

According to waste management company Biffa, Britain creates 30 per cent more waste than usual over the festive period, sending more than 100 million bags of rubbish to landfill.

It's a shocking tally, and some of that waste will definitely add to the eight million tonnes of plastic that are dumped into our oceans every year--the equivalent of one garbage truck per minute.

If we want to turn this toxic tide and preserve the oceans and marine wildlife for future generations, we cannot afford to let down our guard. Not even over the holidays. This year, let's give the planet a holiday boost by ditching unnecessary plastic.

That's a gift that keeps on giving.

UN Environment has been at the forefront of the fight against marine litter through its Clean Seas campaign, which urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; encourages industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calls on consumers to change their throwaway habits. More than 60 countries, representing over 60 per cent of the world's coastline, have joined the campaign since it was launched in 2017.

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