TRT World talks to Greenpeace Mediterranean Project Coordinator Deniz Bayram about how Turkish consumers can reduce their plastics usage and what supermarkets can do to help.
Scientists say 700 marine species are affected by plastics in the ocean. Ninety percent of seabirds and one third of sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs and more than half of the whales and dolphins on Earth consume plastics. The UN Environment Programme says hundreds of thousands of sea creatures die each year because of plastic waste.
Greenpeace Mediterranean Project Coordinator Deniz Bayram has answered TRT World’s questions about waste, plastics, how they affect the environment and what we can do about it. The 33-year-old lawyer specialises in the environment and women’s rights, overseeing projects at Greenpeace Mediterranean for the past six years. She has been the project coordinator there for the past six months.
TRT World: When did the plastic-free campaign begin? How long will it last? What is its aim?
Deniz Bayram: The Greenpeace Mediterranean office has been running different projects about plastics since 2016. These are for banning microplastics, demanding that Coca Cola uses less plastic, and asking 11 world-famous companies to give up on using single-use plastic packaging materials and invest in alternative packaging systems. Greenpeace has gathered 120,000 signatures about issues like these.
Most recently we brought together supermarkets –– that are in the middle of the consumption cycle and that can take on a great role in fighting against plastic use –– with consumers in a questionnaire called “We ask supermarkets”. We laid the path for consumers to ask the supermarkets they shop from on a daily basis about [their] plastic footprint and whether they have an action plan to combat plastic use.
From the 2000s to now, especially in Europe, supermarkets have played a great role in reducing plastic bags as well as realising alternative models. It’s encouraging to see with every passing day supermarkets that offer plastic-free own brands, or feature plastic-free aisles, allowing customers a plastic-free shopping opportunity.
In recent months, Great Britain’s government has come together and made various decisions with supermarket chains to fight against plastic pollution together. We too are looking to see whether ever-growing supermarkets can partake in these good practices. Our goal is to act together with millions of people against such an important global environmental problem and free our seas from plastic pollution.
What kind of problems does plastic pollution cause?
DB: Plastics entered our lives in the very recent past but have become an essential part of our lives. Plastic bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic coffee cups and dozens more… The biggest part of the problem are single-use plastic containers and packaging that constitute about 40 percent of plastics usage. Think about a plastic bag that’s used for two minutes then thrown away. These plastics take centuries to biodegrade. Many plastics, regardless of environmental conditions, do not biodegrade at all.
Unfortunately, 90 percent of the plastics produced to this day have not been recycled. Most of these plastics end up in the seas. Plastics discarded in the environment find their way to the drainage systems and rivers with the wind and rain, and then go on to the sea. Big plastic pieces cause whales, sea turtles and seabirds to choke, little plastic pieces are taken for food by marine animals and are swallowed. In fact plastics even reach our plates via seafood.
Plastic pollution is a global problem that has to be dealt with urgently. Due to the size and urgency of the problem everybody who is part of the problem has to act now. As Greenpeace we request that decisionmakers determine legal policy, individuals reduce plastic use, and companies create action plans to fight plastic pollution.
What do you think about the new charge for plastic bags in Turkey?
DB: The new policy of charging for plastic bags [at supermarkets] in Turkey since January 2019 is a positive step in reducing the use of plastic bags. Already we see even with our daily observations the reduction in the use of plastic bags by consumers. People go to markets with their own bags.
But the fight with plastics is not over. It has just begun. We are thinking of alternatives for a plastic-free daily life and offering up more solutions while we spotlight supermarket chains right in the middle of the consumption chain.
Why are the spotlights on supermarkets now?
DB: Let’s think about our daily shopping routine. We can access all foods, cleaning supplies, and most importantly, our life source water only through packaging (and plastic bottles).
According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s 2017 plastic production data, the most plastic production is the packaging sector. The removal of products from plastic packaging, the reduction of plastic packaging, the meeting of plastic-free goods with the consumer is very important in the fight against plastic pollution.
Both fast moving consumer goods companies and supermarkets springing into action might help speed up the evolution in the fight against plastic pollution.
Supermarkets, especially the greengrocers, cold cuts, and bakery sections, can take steps to help end unnecessary plastic packaging. Plastic bags [in Turkish supermarkets] are being charged, but still in the greengrocer or bakery sections very light plastic bags are being used. Even if you buy [as little as] two lemons, they go into a light plastic bag that is not yet charged for. In the cold cuts section food that you buy in slices is presented to us in unnecessary plastic.
Recently Greenpeace started a media campaign that it shared through social media channels, a questionnaire called “We ask supermarkets” and asked consumers if they would like to know the plastic use at supermarkets they use on a daily basis and whether the supermarkets have an action plan.
In two months alone 26,000 people joined the questionnaire and asked the supermarkets they shopped at these questions. As Greenpeace, we contact supermarket chains and pose consumers’ questions to them. We will share our research report on supermarkets’ role in plastic pollution in the coming months.
What about plastic use around the world? How can we reduce it?
DB: 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. This equals the weight of one billion elephants or 47 million blue whales. In the last 50 years, plastic use has increased twentyfold. If we don’t change this trend, plastic production will quadruple by 2050.
Every year about 12 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the sea. This means a truck full of plastic every minute.
Unfortunately 90 percent of the plastics produced until now haven’t been recycled. Thus decision makers have to determine legal policies, consumers need to reduce their use of plastic, and companies need to create action plans to fight plastic pollution.
Plastic is recyclable and (the new generation) disintegrates in nature. So what is the problem with using plastics?
DB: Only 9 percent of plastics produced to this day have been recycled. Most plastics do not disintegrate biologically and some do so very slowly only if subjected to certain air, water and light conditions. Long story short, the plastics we use for two minutes and discard don’t disappear in nature for hundreds of years.
Can you tell us about your plastic-free campaign? Is it spreading through social media?
DB: Plastic pollution is one of the most-talked about environmental problems of the last few years on social media. We are trying to alert people to plastic pollution through our social media accounts with videos and photographs. You can reach our supermarket survey (in Turkish) here.