One of the main objectives of The Bare Alternative is to help reduce the problem of plastic pollution. By making it possible to buy products without the typical plastic packaging used by manufacturers selling to supermarkets and convenience stores, it is possible to fill your own containers to transport and store the products you wish to purchase. As a result, this removes this unnecessary packaging and avoids it becoming pollution in landfill where it can contaminate soil and nearby water sources, but also the oceans.
Many have seen the haunting messages from Sir David Attenborough through his work on Blue Planet II and there are many other examples of recent media coverage that has brought the issue of plastic pollution to the attention of many people. Some of these images can be distressing to view, but it is seeing images like these that led to the opening of The Bare Alternative.
Every year, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced. Much of this is for genuine useful purposes, such as where strong and lightweight materials are needed for reusable or long life situations, but it is single-use items which are problematic and become pollution. Currently, 40% of plastic production is for single-use items. This is an item which is used and discarded within one year, but many are discarded within minutes after they have reached there use. For many items there is no use for the packaging once the contents are consumed, and even though some items have packaging which uses a material that can be recycled, the problem is that this process is very energy intensive which includes the transportation to waste facilities, processing the material and then transportation again to make use of the new material. This can create problems such as recycling rates not been as high as required to create a circular economy of plastic production.
Although great efforts are made by individuals and local authorities in the UK to properly dispose of and recycle as much plastic waste as possible, worldwide 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. This is the equivalent of one rubbish truck dumped into the ocean every minute. These items make their way to the ocean in multiple ways including the wind blowing items into streams and rivers which flow directly into the ocean, or litter left on a beach which quickly get swept into the water at high tides.
All of this rubbish has obvious effects on the wildlife, such as the commonly seen images of animals caught in plastic rings which hold cans together, but the consequences go much deeper. The plastic which makes its way into the ocean breaks down over time into what is known as microplastics. These small plastic fragments can absorb toxins found in the water that can be consumed by fish. These species may then be fished for human consumption where the toxins are passed directly up the food chain when ingested. Marine creatures can also mistake plastic as a food source, which can lead to their stomachs becoming full of plastic resulting in them starving to death.
Plastic is moved around the ocean in gyres, which is how the water in the oceans flow due to wind patterns and forces created by the rotation of the plant. These cycles gather the plastic in oceans in large quantities colloquially known as “garbage patches”. The largest of which is in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii and is the size of the state of Texas. The plastic can escape these cycles where it can then be transported to a beach located anywhere in the world.
Although it could be seen as an unimaginable and almost impossible task of trying to clean up this waste, there are groups out there devoted to the task and employing some innovative technology to find solutions. One of the most impressive is The Ocean Cleanup and the video below breaks down and explains how the system works.