There can be no denying that plastics are having a devastating impact on our environment and our oceans.
This miracle material may have made modern life possible, but it's estimated that 50% of all plastic produced is used just once.
While a complete solution to the plastic problem is likely years away, small changes can make a big difference and all have a part to play in ensuring our word is sustainable and securing it for future generations.
So it's good to see that the Early Years sector is getting on board with an increasing number of settings committing to eradicate - or at least cut back on - single-use plastic.
According to Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), a national marine conservative and campaigning charity that protects oceans, beaches, waves and wildlife, 104 settings have now signed up to its Plastic Free Nurseries programme.
When you consider the thousands of nurseries there are across the UK that number doesn't seem very impressive.
However, becoming plastic-free is a tough call.
Just consider how much plastic waste a typical nursery generates - from glitter to baby wipes, plastic gloves and aprons, to straws, cups and plastic toys.
Going plastic-free is a massive undertaking requiring a complete overhaul of all procedures and processes and a great deal or time-consuming reorganisation.
And it's worth pointing out that in 2017/18 SAS's programme had just one nursery committed to the plastic-free programme.
Open to all childcare providers, Plastic Free Nurseries is part of SAS's Plastic Free Schools programme and is designed to guide settings through the process of ditching single-use plastic through the power of campaigning.
Childcare providers have to complete five objectives. These work alongside the EYFS framework helping children’s personal, social and emotional development, understanding of the world around them and expressing themselves through art and design with a positive environmental message at its core.
The objectives are:
- Explaining the problem of avoidable single-use plastic through storytelling
- Organising a ‘Trash Mob’ - a high-energy litter-pick in the setting’s grounds
- Understanding the single-use plastic problem
- Removing single-use plastic items
- Sharing your work and spreading the message
The programme has led to nurseries taking a number of positive steps to eliminate plastics, from swapping supermarket plastic milk cartons for glass bottles, ditching single-use plastic aprons for washable material or PVC wipeable aprons, banning sequins and glitter and replacing clingfilm with resealable containers.
For any childcare considering tackling single-use plastic in its setting, The Early Years Alliance suggests starting with an audit of your current use of plastic.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many single use items do we use?
- Do we really need all of these?
- What can we re-use or recycle?
- How much plastic do we throw away each week?
- Can we replace plastic bags with fabric ones?
- How is our weekly food shop delivered? Can we bulk buy rather than having lots of smaller packets/cartons?
- Do we use any disposable cutlery, plates or cups?
- Do we really need all this glitter?
Above all, Early Years Alliance says the important thing is to do something – even if it's just making one change.
No one is going to argue with that.