Here at Dexam, we are super excited and proud to announce that we are supporting RAW, the plastic pollution charity, during their expedition in South America.
We spoke to founder, Melinda Watson to talk about the goals of the expedition, the aims of the charity and what RAW stands.
RAW = Realising Another World. We believe we can create a world without pointless plastic and waste.
RAW Foundation is an established plastic pollution charity with a proven reputation for raising awareness and driving change by inspiring organisations and individuals to reduce disposable plastics
The Foundation’s mission is to educate, engage and empower young people to identify and accelerate a shift towards sustainable consumption and production. As the root cause of climate change and environmental degradation, we focus on over-consumption and the hidden consequences of our everyday stuff.
We provide a range of learning programmes, campaign and collaborate on priority waste streams and behaviour change. Everything we do is systems-focused, solution-oriented and change-driven.
“Nothing better illustrates our throw-away lifestyle and waste problems than plastic. It is everywhere. It has become one of the most serious environmental and human health problems facing us today.”
When was it that you became aware of the rising issue of plastic, and the need for a plastic pollution charity?
As a mother and sea-lover with African Roots, I was always aware that something wasn’t quite right and that there was a problem looming.
As a designer by trade, I was concerned about the amount of stuff we were promoting and producing to throw-away, especially packaging. Whilst designing packaging I was worried that most designers had no idea about the materials they were using.
As a teacher, my focus on plastic and systems thinking kicked in whilst studying for a Masters in ‘Sustainable Development’ at Exeter University. Following that, I decided to write the only BSc in Sustainable Graphics and Packaging in the UK and a chapter ‘Materials Awareness’ for the Handbook of Sustainable Literacy in 2009 HERE.
A big awakening was when I was sitting on my favourite 17km beach in Turkey about 5 years ago. I must have taken photos of amongst many other items, at least 500 flip-flops on Patara beach – all plastic, single ones …… always only one, just like socks! Patara Beach is a UN conservation area, it’s a nesting site for turtles, and it was at that stage I sat and wept and thought “what are we doing? this has to STOP, this has to stop now!” The flip-flops made me think of our ‘plastic footprint’, and I remember planting my own bare foot into the sand next to it [a flip-flop]. It made me incandescent with anger. How dare we. That moment took me back to when I was 18 and used to sit on top of a hill, looking and worrying about it then, except at last I was equipped to do something about it.
What damage is plastic pollution currently creating to the environment?
As the apocalyptic cousin to climate change – no exaggeration – plastic pollution has reached a crisis point, especially in the ocean. From the depths of the oceans to our rivers, streams, soil and air and living things, it is everywhere. The very industrialization and making of vast quantities of plastic, especially single-use pointless plastic and waste, is contributing to climate change, contaminating precious water systems, threatening marine life, passing up the food chain, affecting human health, impacting wildlife and encouraging a throwaway consumer culture across the world.
How and when did you know that you wanted to create RAW Foundation?
I set up Raw Foundation in memory of my glorious son Rory in 2010. As the wisest man I have ever met, he remains my greatest inspiration and teacher – along with my inspirational daughter and indigenous peoples. I wanted RAW to become an established plastic pollution charity, driven to reduce disposable plastic and engage the younger generation in sustainable production and consumption.
What is RAW hoping to achieve in South America?
The idea is to shine a spotlight on the sheer scale of the problem, the transboundary nature of plastic pollution and the worst offenders. Every 100 km we will be measuring the main plastic culprits (type, brand, item and microplastics including microfibres) forming the pollution and waste, even in remote and spectacular pristine environments and waterways. In addition, we will be informing the public about the extent and dangers of plastic pollution and promoting alternative clean Reuse solutions. We hope that the unchartered data collected on this continent and the Amazon (that provides 20% of all the freshwater entering the oceans worldwide), will question our notion of mismanaged waste – whose mismanaged waste is it really? – and support policymakers to make the right educated decisions based on the data collected.
What do RAW already know about the damage of plastic pollution?
Despite growing awareness of the problem, the flow of plastic waste continues to increase exponentially – across the world. The majority originates from the land – from sewage and storm drains, rivers and estuaries, beach and coastal litter, as well industrial activities, illegal dumping and landfill sites. Most of it is primary microplastics (such as plastic pellets & microbeads) and secondary microplastics (from single-use plastic and packaging), tyres and microfibres. This continual increase of plastic waste calls for action from plastic pollution charities like the RAW Foundation.
The Problems Plastic Pollution Charities Face with the Quantity of Plastic Waste
- Vast quantities of long-term plastic debris and particles litter the world’s earth and oceans.
- Most of the it is primary microplastics (such as plastic pellets and microbeads) and secondary microplastics from single-use plastic and packaging, tyres and microfibres.
Toxicity As Another Problem Faced by Plastic Pollution Charities
- The toxicity of plastic is causing widespread environmental damage and pollution throughout its life cycle:
- Plastic is made from and transported by non-renewable fossil fuels (oil).
- Plastic contains hundreds of highly toxic persistent chemicals that are damaging to human health and the environment.
- Many common plastics (e.g. PET water bottles) can leach toxic chemicals from the plastic into the water they contain, especially in the heat but even in normal conditions.
- Many types of plastic are broken down by sunlight into tiny microplastics that are easily dispersed into water.
- Microplastics act like a sponge, attracting other toxins. These extreme toxic levels can pass up the food chain, contaminating entire ecosystems including our food.
The Need for Increased Recyclability with the help of Plastic Pollution Charities
- Appropriate clean recycling and recovery systems are not keeping pace with the sheer quantity or mixture of plastic produced. An overwhelming 72% of plastic packaging is not recovered at all. 40% is landfilled and 32% leaks out of the collection systems, where chemicals can leach into surrounding habitats, fresh water and marine water systems.
- Most recycled plastics are exported, often illegally, from Europe to Africa and Asia where burning waste in the open air is commonplace.
- China’s ban on imported plastic from Europe in January 2018, has led to a crisis for UK recycling systems and there is a risk of plastic waste being stockpiled or ending up in landfill.
- The majority of recycling processes release toxic emissions or dust into the air and soil.
The Disposability Culture is another Issue Plastic Pollution Charities Face
- Explosive sales in plastic products with a short life span encourages waste on a vast scale. In addition, plastic packaging is almost exclusively single-use.
- Design for disposability has encouraged a throw-away consumer culture, that is disconnected from the environmental consequences.
- Plastics can take a minimum of 500 years to degrade. Ironically, this means that we are using plastic materials that are designed to last, for short-term use.
Sea salt has been reported to be contaminated by microscopic plastic particles , plastic chunks have been found on Artic ice and it is predicted that by 2050 the oceans will contain more plastic (by weight) than fish.
What product is the biggest problem in plastic waste across the globe?
The top 10 plastic pollution products across the world are: plastic bottles, caps and lids, bags, cutlery, straws and stirrers, polystyrene food trays/containers and cups, food wrappers and packets, earbud and lollipop sticks, cigarette butts, fishing line and nets, microfibres and a growing number of wet wipes. Plastic beverage bottles such as Coca Cola have become insidiously entrenched across the world.
What is the easiest way for consumers to begin to reduce their plastic waste?
Firstly, to identify the top 10 single-use plastics they use. By that I mean anything that’s used one time only and then thrown away such as disposable plastic bottles, bags, cups, straws and facewipes etc. Secondly, to make a commitment or ‘plastic pledge’ to stop using or Refuse pointless plastic. Lastly as consumers, to demand a world without pointless plastic and waste from manufacturers and government. The core message is Reuse not single-use.
Going plastic free, what has been the biggest highlight?
Amongst many others, taking and using my cherished ‘Raw in Africa’ stainless steel reusable water bottle all the way from Cairo to Cape Town, without resorting to a single plastic water bottle the whole way!
Including our work within the Festival and Event community, setting up Raw Limited T/A RAW Bottles as the sister organisation to the plastic pollution charity RAW Foundation has been a highlight this year. Set up to support our active campaigning against pointless plastic and waste, provide solutions and drive change. We’ve been doing this work for over a decade, and we work with others to make the change happen. So beyond bottle sales, we support others to make changes and speak confidently about what they believe in. On average, each reusable bottle prevents 167 single-use plastic bottles per year per person.
After your research in South America, what action would you like to see from manufacturers to help plastic pollution charities?
My continuing journey from source to solution and call for action (which embraces people, producers and governments) includes:
- Committing to bans, levies, targets and deposit return schemes to phase out primary micro-plastics and single-use plastics
- Establishing Operation Clean Sweep as guidance to prevent plastic pellet loss
- Moving towards a closed-loop system of design, production and circular economy
- Prioritising reusable packaging and developing innovative delivery systems to encourage high levels of reuse or high-quality recycling
- Replacing plastic products and packaging with clean, reuse materials and circular economy solutions for a rapid reuse transition
- Removing plastic components by substituting alternative clean materials at the same time
- Disclosing the types and amount of plastic used, reused and recycled.
We need urgent, effective and radical responses to our apocalyptic plastic challenge. We can do something and we must. I want to see clean oceans and thriving ecosystems supporting generations of abundant life, including happy healthy humans. There is no time to waste
If consumers don’t change their attitude to plastic – what does the future look like?
The future will be bleak. It’s very simple, if you put toxins into a product they have to come out somewhere. In my opinion, water is precious, water is sacred and water is life – for every living thing on this extraordinary planet – Mother Earth – our only home. We need plastic pollution charities like RAW to raise awareness and prevent this future occurring.
What is next for the plastic pollution charity ‘RAW’ after the expedition in South America?
To disseminate our data upon our return. This data will form the basis of a pollution map, highlighting hotspots, key offenders and migration routes of plastic into the oceans. We will disseminate the data to a wider community to amplify the message and continue to raise awareness and provide solutions and hope to everyone everywhere we can. On a personal level I intend to write my story at last.
If you are interested in RAW, then keep an eye out as we will be promoting and sharing their discoveries throughout their expedition. You can also get more information on RAW and discover more about the disaster that is plastic by visiting their website.
To make a change and start reducing the amount of unnecessary plastic that is in your kitchen, visit our website and make your own contribution to fighting the war on waste. Visit our plastic free shop today and make a small change.
 Jenna Jambeck et al (2015) Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean
 Karami, A et al: The presence of microplastics in commercial salts from different countries, Scientific Reports, 2017