Targeting plastic pollution at the source

Lizzy Carlyle, Head of Environmental Practices Lizzy Carlyle Head of Environmental Practices
National Trust volunteers and staff cleaning Bossington Beach, on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor National Park, Somerset

Many of you wrote to say how pleased you were when we switched our magazine wrapper to a compostable potato starch. You also challenged us on what else we’re doing to mitigate plastic waste. Lizzy Carlyle, Head of Environmental Practices, reports back.

Understanding is growing of the problems caused by single-use plastics. You will almost certainly have heard about the plastic litter affecting our oceans, waterways and roadsides. You may have read some of the scary statistics – over 8 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide since its invention, and over 6 billion tonnes persist as waste. A small portion is recycled (currently less than 10 per cent), but the majority is accumulating in landfills, or ends up as pollution in rivers, seas and land.

Preventing pollution

The National Trust has committed to a plan to significantly reduce, and eliminate where possible, single-use plastic by 2022. In the last few years, we have replaced all disposable hot food and drink packaging with compostable products and switched our magazine wrap from plastic to potato starch, which can be home-composted.

As part of the plan we will also remove single-use plastic drinks bottles, eliminate plastic packaging from our shops and take as much plastic as possible out of our operations. The latter includes finding alternatives for a diverse range of products from name badges and stationary to tree guards and plant pots.

The environmental impact of plastics is a complex global issue, and we are working with our supply chain to encourage innovative solutions. We know there aren’t simple answers to the question of which product is the ‘greenest’. There are many factors to consider, from what land is switched over to producing bio-plastics and fibre alternatives, to the method of recycling these products.

We know that with this rapid switch away from plastics mistakes might be made along the way, but we hope that with our members’ help and feedback, we will find truly sustainable alternatives.

Keeping the coastline tidy

Cleaning up beach litter is important to prevent further damage to our marine and coastal wildlife, but with over 780 miles of coastline in our care, this poses a challenge. We have organised clean-up events at over 40 of our beaches this year, some in partnership with organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society.

The levels of litter these events are revealing are alarming. At a beach clean held at Woolacombe in Devon this spring, our crews picked up 296 pieces of fishing net, 191 wrappers for sweets and biscuits, 150 plastic and polystyrene pieces, 104 pieces of broken glass and 103 cotton bud sticks.

At the end of the day, the greenest material of all is the one we don’t use. We will be thinking about how we can use fewer natural resources and produce less waste overall.

Family volunteers on a beach clean at Formby

Pitch in with a beach clean 

From the gentle crashing of waves to the sand tickling your toes, there's something restorative about time spent on the beach. If you love nothing more than a day out by the ocean, why not join the rubbish revolution and help turn the tide on beach litter this summer?