'Don't panic on plastics' One Show reporter Lucy will tell Belfast business conference

Lucy Siegle is among the speakers at today's Responsible Business Summit in Belfast
Gary McDonald Business Editor

YOU'LL have seen (or at least read about) the documentaries, and the figures are stark. Shocking even.

Enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the world four times. Some 300 million tonnes of new plastic is produced each year, and more than eight million tonnes of it end up in our oceans, which are currently littered with an estimated 40 trillion pieces of plastic.

In the UK alone, 38.5 million plastic bottles are used every day, while a million plastic bottles are used every minute around the world and 500 million plastic straws are used every year.

Without action, pieces of plastic will actually outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.

Yet One Show reporter, environmentalist and writer Lucy Siegle, author of 'Turning the Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (And You) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again', insists solutions can be found - and her advice is that we shouldn't panic just yet.

Lucy is among a number of speakers taking part in the 2018 Responsible Business Summit today in Belfast's Waterfront Hall, organised by Business in the Community and themed: "Futureproof your Business."

Speaking to the Irish News, Lucy said: "There's plenty to get to grips with around packaging and plastics, but my message to Belfast is that we now realise in our conscience that we must to better, and there is a suite of options by which we can turn this whole thing around."

High profile shows like Sir David Attenborough's Blue Plant and the recent Drowning in Plastic documentary by wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin have catapulted the potentially catastrophic consequences of the plastics problem to the public.

The UK, for example, is the world leader in consumption of wet wipes (10 billion are used every year) and plastic-stemmed cotton buds (13 billion).

"This all adds up to a giant plastic footprint," Lucy says.

"By my reckoning, we each plough through 140kg of plastic a year, three times as much as in the 1980s. Much of it can be deemed unnecessary; some will end up in the marine environment (about 50 items a year). Just a tiny proportion will be recycled.

"The injustice is not only to the planet. Ninety per cent of the cost of disposal of plastic is borne by consumers and just 10 per cent by the manufacturers and retailers who impose it on us in the first place."

Lucy - whose father hails from Belfast - acknowledges that while the figures are alarming, the eco systems can still be saved.

"People have woken up to the scale of the problem and are engaging in change, which is fantastic. And once you engage with plastic, you won't go back to your old ways.

"When we consider our power as influencers - whether at school, the hairdressers, at work or on the bus - we suddenly become part of something significant."

She adds: "When it comes to single-use plastics, we are habitual users, reaching out for plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups, plastic straws and carrier bags multiple times a day.

"Yet if only 12 of us adopt a 'reduce, rethink, refill, refuse' mentality, we could potentially ditch up to 15,000 single items of plastic in a year. That's significant. It represents a real switch. And you won't ever want to go back to your old ways.

"Change is already under way, and the writing is on the wall for all stupid plastic.

"And if people and businesses continue to adopt a more responsible attitude around their use of plastic, we can turn this tide."

:: Lucy Siegle is among 40 speakers and presenters taking part in the 2018 Responsible Business Summit today in Belfast Waterfront (9am to 4pm). Featured companies include the Carbon Trust, PwC, Sky, Tech for Good, Feedback Films, NESTA, Veolia, MADE-BY and Preventable Surprises. Themed workshops include topics such as The Problem with Plastics, The Changing Face of Communication, The Future of Work and Education and Listening in the Workplace.

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