This blog post is in collaboration with my friends at adidas Runners Auckland. adidas Runners is a global running network community, which sees like-minded runners coming together to hit the streets of their city in a weekly group run - and is currently up-and-running across more than 50 cities, and on every continent, globally! I’m stoked to have teamed up with the crew as adidas Runners Auckland’s Nutritionist. My personal experience with the community has been incredible so far - the vibes are always positive, supportive, sociable and fun. We meet rain-or-shine, every Tuesday eve at 5:45pm for a 6pm run at the adidas store in Britomart on Custom St East, and have a wonderfully supportive FB community. Come join the fun!
It’s hard to escape plastic. It’s everywhere.
Being a ridiculously versatile material, its uses extend far and wide with critical applications across an array of industries; from electronics, construction, transport, agriculture, medicine to sport and beyond. It’s cheap to produce, light-weight, strong, malleable, resistant and durable.
On the sustainability front, these features can actually offer positive environmental impacts. Resistance and durability means longer-lasting products. Lightness means lower carbon emissions in transport, compared to heavier materials like glass. The ability to keep food super fresh, means less food waste. It has much going for it, really…
…but, it’s a double edged sword
Globally, we’ve become totally accustomed, immune, and arguably addicted, to single-use and disposable plastics (e.g. plastic bags, straws, cutlery, coffee cups, food wrap, water bottles, takeout containers), with this having destructive consequences on our planet.
For many of the reasons plastic’s so darn useful, this also renders it nearly impossible for nature to completely break down. Having the ability to persist in our environment for centuries when not appropriately managed, and with no magic fairies to make it disappear, this puts it under a tremendous amount of environmental scrutiny.
So, where does all this single-use plastic go?
This leads us to the million dollar question. If we collectively produce all this single-use plastic, that’s used once and then thrown away…what the heck happens to it? The answer is a little hard to digest, but numbers help showcase the magnitude of issue:
Research estimates that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced globally since the early 1950’s. Of this, around only 9% has been recycled and while about 12% is incinerated. The rest? 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps, blowing about in our streets or in the natural environment, like our oceans (Geyer, Jambeck & Law).
According to the IUCN, over 300 million tones of plastic is produced every year, with at least 8 million tonnes expected to end up in our oceans. This accounts for up to 80% of all marine debris - from surface water to deep-sea sediment.
Much of this enters the sea via rivers, as direct conduits from bustling busy cities to oceans. There are many reasons this happens e.g. countries may lack facilities to process waste, education on the topic, and also may have more immediate individuals concerns (e.g situations of poverty), making plastic pollution not a pressing issue.
Excessive plastic in oceans comes with environmental and health consequences with many, like the role of micro-plastics, still poorly understood.
Marine wildlife, like seabirds, fish, turtles and whales, can mistake plastic for prey, becoming entangled by debris or ingesting it, leading to injury and death.
Plastic pollution threatens coastal tourism, damaging the aesthetic value of destinations; and can lead to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria.
The presence of plastic, especially micro-plastics (very tiny pieces of plastic), within the food chain is increasing, with more research needed to understand their long-term effects.
What about the biodegradable compostable kind?
While some plastics are engineered to be biodegradable, meaning they won’t persist in the environment as long, they still need to be treated in the right conditions for this to occur.
Compostable plastics are a type of biodegradable plastics, that are either commercially or home compostable. Industrialised compositing facilities provide the tightly controlled environment needed to accelerate biodegradation (e.g. temperature, moisture & presence of oxygen all impact the rate microbes interact with the plastic!). Home compositing is a similar process, but much slower. On top of this, some certified compostable products may struggle to break down, at all, in a home compost pits as they’ve been tested in commercial conditions only. Always check to see if an item is specifically certified for home composting!
As highlighted by the Ministry for the Environment, composting plastic is a current issue in New Zealand. We don’t have the right nationwide infrastructure to ensure commercially compostable plastics are collected and sent to commercial composting facilities to be processed the right way. Therefore, any item that’s repetitively reusable - like a water bottle or a keep cup - is better choice for nature than a single-use items, compostable or not. In other words…
…refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, my friends!
There’s no doubt that much is being done to help tackle this global issue. I can’t dive too deep into this area as it starts to get a little out of scope for my current understanding. But managing plastic waste does feel like a shared responsibility requiring collaborative change, a team effort from all - governments, businesses and citizens:
Businesses play a key role in putting plastic out in the world, providing us with the goods that we both need and want to maintain our standards of living. Yet, these same companies are in highly influential positions to make positive change - using more sustainable options where available, and providing capital to research new solutions where they do not.
Governments have a responsibility of care - to define and regulate what can and can’t be used, while carrying a responsible to protect the environment, foster sustainable economic growth and ensuring societal well-being for future generations.
Citizens have a leading role with both buying power, and our vote - we send signals to the others about the world that we want to live in with these tools - and so we must consciously regulate our own consumption of single-use plastic.
We might feel our impact is just a drop in the ocean. But there’s much we can do ourselves, in refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing and recycling single-use plastic - it all adds up. Here are ten ideas:
Refresh yourself with local recommendations for recycling and handling plastics. It’s easy to sometimes forget! Remember, biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled, so don’t chuck ‘em in the recycling bin. Check out your local council guidelines.
Raise awareness on of the issue of marine plastic waste. Talk to friends, clients, businesses and family about what you know. Encourage them to do their own research on the topic.
B.Y.O.B (bring your own bag), beyond just the supermarket! Keep a stash of bags always handy in the car so you’re never caught off guard when shopping.
B.Y.O. cutlery when buying takeaways. Keep a reusable utensil set in a pouch in your car. There's fabulous bamboo set's available, or other wise take classic stainless steel from home.
Invest in a reusable water bottle and travel mug for coffee and other drinks when out and about. We strongly encourage bring-your-own bottles to adidas Runners, and are proud of the communities commitment.
Say no to straws. One of the most common single-use plastic products making its way into the oceans, with rough impacts on marine life. If you love them, consider a stainless steel set.
Shop responsibly. Consider purchases carefully. Consider what the true cost is of items you buy on the environment. Is it truly affordable when we consider long-term impact?
Carry your own containers for take-out food or leftovers. Many restaurants and cafes are getting on board with this. Next time you're getting sushi, load up a lunchbox rather than a plastic tray.
Support companies and charities doing great work here. Sustainable Coastlines is a NZ charity or coordinate and support large-scale coastal clean-up events, educational programs, public awareness campaigns and riparian planting projects. Through these efforts they motivate volunteers and communities around Aotearoa and the Pacific to look after our much-loved beaches and rivers.
…or organise your own clean up! Head to your nearest beach/stretch of coast with some buddies and pick up all the rubbish and plastic you come across.
Intro to adidas x Parley - finding new use for old rubbish.
Where plastic is a problem, innovation is part of the solution. With just so much of the stuff, we need to be rethinking and repurposing plastic, wherever we can.
From a business side…
adidas is a believer of the power that brands have in using their influence to act responsibly to environmental issues. They’ve teamed up with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans, to take marine plastic trash and turn it into high performance sports gear; unveiling the first concept shoe at the United Nations, New York, in 2015. The plastic is collected by Parley and its global clean-up network, and is then cleaned and processed into a thread that can be used to make shoes and clothing.
Since the first shoe hit the market in 2016, they’ve produced five million pairs of shoes using marine ocean plastic (using more than 2810 metric tonnes of plastic!), and are planning to make another 11 million this year in 2019. Looking ahead they’ve working towards a plastic-free future, with a commitment to phase out all virgin polyester in products by 2024. You’ll also find no more plastic bags in their stores or single-use plastics in their offices (adidas, 2019).
Within the community…
Education is key to fighting the plastic pollution problem. Since 2017, their annual Run For the Oceans (RFTO) initiative has used fitness to raise awareness and fight the plastic problem. For every kilometre ran by participants across June 8th - 16th 2019, a dollar was raised by adidas for the Parley Ocean Schools Education program (capped at a fabulous $1.5m). This programs arms future generations with knowledge on protecting the seas, the issue of plastic trash and ways to take action. Over 2 million individuals participated running over 12,000,00 km - talk about making waves!
We held our adidas Runners Auckland RFTO initiative on June 8th. This started with a 5km run, and then we ended up at Sustainable Coastline HQ for a chat on fighting marine plastics. Loads of fun!
Thanks for reading if you got this far! Sustainability has become a growing personal interest, and I hope to write more on similar topics. There’s so much to be done, and in this case time really does matter. Thanks adidas for the work you’re doing here!