We know plastic is clogging up our oceans, and spoiling our towns and countryside. It has even been suggested there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.* And we know that more and more animals are being found dead with their stomachs full of plastic.

We also know chemicals contained in plastics are potential health risks, though the effects on our health are not yet fully understood. Plastics can leach into our food from containers. We also consume microplastics, microscopic particles from products which have broken down over time. These contaminate oceans and waterways, and are found in fish, and in our drinking water (including bottled water). Surprising forms of hidden plastic are found in many everyday products, including many cosmetics.

But plastic is also accelerating climate change. Plastic is one of the most greenhouse gas intensive industries, and the fastest growing. Plastics produce greenhouse gases at every stage of their production cycle, from the drilling of the fossil fuels they’re made from (which increasingly come from fracking), to the greenhouse gases it releases as it is incinerated or slowly decomposes – a process that releases methane. According to a recent report by the Centre for International Environmental Law:

“If the production, disposal, and incineration of plastic continue on their present growth trajectory, by 2030, these global emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to more than 295 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants. By 2050, plastic production and incineration could emit 2.8 gigatons of CO2 per year, releasing as much emissions as 615 five-hundred-megawatt coal plants.”

Supporting anti-plastic campaigning is thus something important we can do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, as scientists are telling us we have to. Recycling can be improved, and is definitely worth doing, but it still requires energy and produces CO2: we should only recycle where we cannot reduce our dependence on carbon-intensive production in the first place. And though local recycling services are among the best in the country, existing systems are not able to cope with the scale of the problem. Our waste is contributing to the formation of vast, illegal plastic dumps in countries like Malaysia.

We need to start refusing plastic we don’t need, so companies speed up their plans to stop producing it. Stratford District Council is investigating ways to go greenhouse gas neutral by 2030. One of way we can help achieve this is by reducing our consumption of unnecessary packaging, and other junk we don’t need.

We have the legal right to return any packaging to supermarkets that we do not want. This is something we will be doing from now on as individuals, and we are organising a series of plastic unwraps at local supermarkets to draw attention to this right (see here for dates). Join us and do the same!

* Note: this is obviously only an estimate, based on assumptions that might be questioned. But that a plausible methodology suggests this is even on the cards, whether by 2050, 2060 or whenever, should be deeply shocking. Of course, should fish populations collapse, as another effect of climate change, the statistic would be rendered somewhat moot.