Sustainable swaps?

Plastic reduction is a positive step to tackle pollution, says Simone Codrington – but does it lead to compromises in other areas of sustainability?

Carbon vs plastic

More of the general population are making sustainable changes such as carrying a reusable bottle and switching to plastic-free toiletries. The demand for plastic-free alternatives has highlighted a gap in the market, which new companies have started to fill by starting zero-waste stores. These stores offer consumers the ability to refill existing containers and purchase natural, vegan, plastic-free and cruelty-free options. However, if these stores are not easily accessible via sustainable travel methods, does the waste reduction outweigh the carbon emissions and air pollution resulting from driving? Is it solving the waste issue but contributing to the climate crisis?

Waste vs plastic

Many existing businesses have started switching their single-use items from plastic to paper. However, many people are starting to question: how much more sustainable are the paper versions? Used paper is much more difficult to compost or recycle – especially if it is still lined with plastic. This just creates another waste stream, with circular economy barriers. Equally importantly, how much of an impact are these swaps actually having on plastic pollution? In order to really create a circular economy, the change must be considered in a more transparent, whole-lifecycle assessment.

Fish vs plastic

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050. Fishing nets account for 46% of the 1.6m-square kilometre Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The damage caused by commercial overfishing not only contributes to the plastic problem, but also disrupts our ocean and climate systems, and ultimately exacerbates the climate crisis. We may not yet have the solution to all of these issues but, if we want to see significant impacts, perhaps we should be focusing our attention on reducing our consumption of fish.


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Simone Codrington is co-chair of IEMA Futures.


Image credit | iStock



Management trainee at Willmott Dixon and is writing on behalf of IEMA Futures.

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