World Environment Day 2023: Beating Plastic Pollution

Hamza Zulfiqar is a Consultant Scientist in the Catchment Management team

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It's World Environment Day 2023 and there is a global need to #BeatPlasticPollution.

In today’s world, plastic and micro-plastic pollution poses a significant threat to our planet’s ecosystems, wildlife, and human health. Single-use plastics, for example, have become a pervasive problem, clogging waterbodies, endangering marine life, and persisting in our environments for hundreds of years. Once plastics break down into pieces smaller than 5mm, they are called microplastics, and these microplastics are now ubiquitous in our oceans, waterbodies, soil and even the air we breathe. Micro-plastics are consequently a danger at every level of the food chain and are particularly harmful to aquatic life. Reducing plastic pollution, including micro-plastics, is of paramount importance for the health of our planet and future generations, and requires immediate action from individuals, organisations, and governments worldwide.

WRc is actively reducing plastic pollution whilst fostering a culture of sustainability. By replacing disposable cups with reusable drinking glasses at water fountains, we have significantly reduced the amount of single-use plastic waste generated within our offices. Waste and recycling facilities have been strategically placed throughout the workplace in order to facilitate proper waste management and to encourage recycling amongst employees. Our dedication to sustainability extends to beyond just our internal practices too. By removing conference ‘freebies’ in favour of pledge book fundraising, we have reduced unnecessary plastic waste and supported charitable causes, aligning with the company’s core values. 

We have also made a significant contribution in empowering consumers to make environmentally conscious choices with our ‘Fine to Flush’ certification scheme that has certified over 100 products as being plastic-free and safe for sewer networks. Our commitment to innovation has played a role in tackling plastic pollution, with the patented WRc Clarity design reducing floating solids, including plastics, by over 80%. This means that the WRc Clarity design actively reduces environmental and plastic pollution being discharged from CSO spills. 

The threat of microplastics is a growing concern worldwide and our Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Queen Mary University London is a world-first, aiming to develop cutting-edge technology to accurately identify micro-plastics and associated chemicals, and subsequently to understand the impact on human health and the environment.

On a personal level, despite having a comprehensive understanding of the dangers that plastic poses, reducing my own plastic pollution has been a challenge. Plastic has become deeply ingrained in our daily lives and as a consumer, finding suitable alternatives to plastic can be difficult with most of the products we buy packaged in plastic. However, I have made a conscious decision to remain committed to reducing my plastic footprint, despite the inconvenience. I seek out plastic-free alternatives where I can, picking products with eco-friendly packaging. I have also made the choice to use reusable shopping bags and water bottles to minimise the use of single-use plastics. This, alongside recycling as much as I possibly can, has been a relatively simple and easy way to reduce to my plastic footprint.

Whilst I understand that my individual contribution to reducing my plastic footprint is important, I believe that systemic changes are needed and consequently governments need to hold major corporations (in particular food corporations) more accountable if we are to see truly meaningful change in tackling plastic pollution.

Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Hamza Zulfiqar

Graduate Scientist

Hamza is an Environmental Modeller in the Catchment Management team. During his time at WRc, he has primarily been involved in the Stroud CSO assessment project for Severn Trent Water, and the Bradford-on-Avon and Bath SOAF investigations for Wessex Water. His experience of SIMPOL ICM, includes model conceptualisation, model building, calibration of models against observed flow and water quality data, the use of calibrated models for running different scenarios and compliance assessment.

2023-06-05 15:30:00