The Reuse Effect
We’ve got a serious plastic problem. There are countless sources and just as many ways in which this problem manifests itself. Today I want to talk about a pretty major one – single use plastic cups at festivals. The scale of this huge – 100 million single use plastic cups are used at UK festivals each year, the majority of which aren’t recycled.
Manufacturing disposable items, like plastic cups, has a huge impact on the environment. In fact, more than 90% of the environmental impact of disposable cups is caused by manufacturing them and then only using them once.
Once used, a shockingly small proportion will end up being recycled. Otherwise, it ends up being incinerated, sent to landfill, or shipped abroad to meet the same fate. Worse still, much of it ends up clogging our waterways and finds its way into the oceans – 8 million tonnes per year.
This plastic doesn’t break down, it breaks up. It gets smaller and smaller, entering our waterways, food systems, and our own bodies. We eat a credit card a week apparently, just fyi.
Plastic production and waste is causing massive environmental, social and economic problems globally. And we can’t recycle our way out of it.
Making the switch
So we know we have to switch to reusables. But there are a lot of different options out there. This graphic by Hope Solutions and Zap Concepts shows the difference between reusable plastic and reusable steel cups. Whatever type of cup you choose, the key to reducing its environmental impact is to reuse it as many times as possible. Reusable plastic cups tend to need downcycling after 75 uses, whereas a steel cup can be used infinitely then recycled.
When you think about the fact that 90% of the impact comes from the manufacturing stage, if we’re using each cup 1000+ times, that’s having a pretty huge impact!
What are festivals doing?
Most festivals are now trying to maximise their recycling rates, and while that’s a great start, they don’t have any real visibility on where these materials are ending up. Out of sight, out of mind.
More progressive festivals are beginning to implement their own cup deposit schemes, which go a long way towards tackling the problem at the source. However, these schemes are often not going far enough for a number of reasons – they’re usually reusable plastic cups, which are not without problems, and deposit systems haven’t proved wholly effective at stopping them being lost or ditched after use because people still see plastic as a disposable item. They also typically cover only a portion of their overall drinks sales.
The festivals leading the way, from an environmental standpoint, have completely banned single-use plastics from their festival sites, and are putting the responsibility back on festival goers - either buy a cup from them, use the deposit scheme or bring your own!
How can you help?
So, if you’re holding an event this summer, think about the long-term impacts of the cups you choose. Not to mention the waste that won’t be generated, the microplastics that haven’t ended up in our food, and all that.
If you’re a festival goer, you are so so important to making change happen. Every time you ask about reusable cups, bring your own, or talk about this issue you’re helping to bring it into people’s consciousness.
Whatever type of cup you choose, the key to reducing its environmental impact is to reuse it as many times as possible.