Can Museums Reduce Their Use of Single-Use Plastic?
August 15 2019
By Manuel Charr
Since the introduction of single-use plastic in 1960, it has been a major marine pollutant. While its invention improved the shopping industry, it has caused more harm than good. We all know that marine-plastic interaction endangers the marine ecosystem. There is a prediction that in the next 20 years the oceans will have more plastics than fish.
Majority of the plastics produced end up in landfills and pollute the environment. The trend is due to the lack of an effective method to get rid of the non-biodegradable material. While you may want to use recycling as an excuse to continue using plastics, you should realise that only 9% of plastics undergo recycling.
Good news is that efforts to curb the use of plastics are gaining momentum. Many people and organisations are reducing the use of plastics, and we are already witnessing their efforts. Reducing reliance on single-use plastics at the organisational-level will have a far-reaching impact. It creates a positive change in all the stakeholders of the organisation.
Museums are not late to the party and are adopting sustainable ways of dealing with waste. Their efforts are creating positive ripple effects in the society. Read on to find out how various museums are reducing the use of plastics. You will get valuable tips on how to deal with single-use plastics in your museum.
Horniman Museum and Gardens
The Horniman Museum and Gardens, in south London has always been sensitive to environmental issues. They have made tremendous strides toward ecological sustainability. Their most recent campaigns aimed at reducing reliance on single-plastic use within the museum. Here are three key initiatives that the Horniman Museum is adopting to lower plastic pollution.
1. The Horniman café offers tap water refills and canned water
In April 2019, the museum eradicated the use of bottled water in a bid to lower and eventually get rid of single-use plastic. Therefore, if you are thirsty, you can refill your reusable water bottle (aluminium can) from their taps. They have a water refill point within the museum. Therefore, guests do not have to carry water in plastic bottles. Also, they stock canned spring water instead of plastic bottles in their cafes. The move from plastic to aluminium is because aluminium is recyclable and has a less negative impact on the environment.
The cafes are also adopting the use of plant-based alternative packaging. The vegware products, including straws and takeaway coffee cups, lower the use of plastics in packaging. Besides, vegware products like takeaway packaging, cups, and cutlery are made from polylactic, which decomposes. Guests who bring a plastic bag into the museum pay a fee. The proceeds go towards their coral conservation research.
2. They have a “beat plastic display” section
The Horniman Museum and Garden is committed to the reduction of plastic pollution through raising awareness. Their exhibitions and events are geared toward educating people on the harmful effects of plastic waste.
The beat plastic pollution pop-up exhibits play a crucial role in educating visitors. The display illustrates the impacts of single-use plastic. For instance, in the aquarium, instead of visitors just seeing fish and other sea creatures, the exhibitions include plastic bags and bottles floating in the water. Of course, they get rid of the plastic before they cause any damage. However, visitors get a visual illustration of the extent of plastic pollution.
Another typical illustration is the removal of jellyfish from the aquarium during the display. In its place, plastic waste is dumped into the aquarium. The display shows the dangers of plastics in the water. The turtle fish feeds on the plastics instead of the jellyfish. Consumption of plastic leads to severe blockages and endangers their existence.
The role of the pop-up display is to illustrate vividly the harm caused by single-use plastic waste to marine life. They have garnered positive responses from the visitors. Most of them pledge to reduce their plastic usage.
3. Declaration of a climate emergency
While the Horniman Museum has always been concerned with environmental sustainability, they still have a long way to go. Declaring a climate emergency is a pledge to do more for the environment. By taking steps to conserve the environment, they inspire their guest to follow their example.
With the museum being kid-friendly, their goal is to teach the kids about the harmful effects of plastics and start shaping a sustainable future. Encouraging guest to do away with plastics goes a long way in reducing the amount that ends up in the water; after all, every little effort counts. In their declaration of a climate emergency, they vow to focus on environmental issues in their exhibitions and events. Also, they aim to create a sustainable culture by encouraging people to take action.
Mystic Seaport Museum
The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut is America’s top maritime museum founded in 1929. The museum has a spread of about 19 acres with over 60 historic buildings. Every inch of the property is meant to inspire and create an appreciation for America’s maritime.
With the museum being located on an estuary, they have to be vigilant in protecting the waters. We all know that museum single-use plastic is a significant water pollutant. In an attempt to reduce human impact on the ocean, the Mystic Seaport Museum recently launched an initiative to eradicate sing-use plastic.
The initiative is a joint effort with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and a sustainability committee runs the program. The sustainability team began working on the program since 2018. They aimed to find affordable alternatives to single-use plastics. Also, their objective is to find ways to inspire the public to adopt sustainable changes. The initiative saw the introduction of paper bags and paper takeaway containers to replace plastics. Besides, plant-based straws and cutlery were introduced to curb the use of plastics. The initiative suggested the recycling of plastic bottles to reusable shopping bags. Catered events are leading by example and eliminating plastic by using wooden and glass utensils.
Launching the initiative is the first step in a long journey of dealing with plastic. Therefore, the museum vows to continue with their efforts of reducing plastic by introducing environmental-friendly methods. They are also encouraging their guest to reduce their reliance on plastics and embrace recycling.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum’s scientists and the Royal Holloway University of London conducted research about pollution in the Thames River. It revealed a worrying level of pollution and impacts on the fish inhabiting the waters. Due to the recent concerns on the use of single-use plastics, the Natural History Museum is taking steps to reduce water pollution. The museum pledged to eliminate single-use plastic bottles from their facilities. All the buildings in the museum will adopt the new policy and ensure they provide environmental-friendly options to the guests. The introduction of a water fountain for water refills and pre-packaging water in reusable bottles is bound to reduce plastic waste significantly. Guests are encouraged to carry their reusable water bottles.
Also, the museum facilities are prohibited from offering plastic straws to their visitors. Being at the forefront of the fight against plastic pollution is expected to yield significant results. The museum gets over four million visitors annually, and through their online platform, they have a global outreach. Therefore, embracing environmental sustainability encourages many people to join the movement and work towards a sustainable future.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has a passion for nature. They work towards maintaining the beauty of nature and inspiring the surrounding communities to love and take care of their environment. The recent move to foster environmental conservation has led to the elimination of single-plastics from the site. Before eradicating plastics, the Denver Museum has been part of numerous initiatives aimed at reducing waste in landfills.
In a bid to ditch plastics, the museum is promoting the use of aluminium cans instead of water bottles and biodegradable cups instead of plastic takeaway cups. Aluminium is easy to manage and is recyclable, unlike plastics. The compostable takeaway cups are from plant material and poses no environmental risk. The use of plant-based products is gaining momentum and lowering the reliance on plastics. The best part about plant-based utensils is that they take less time to decompose. Plastics, on the other hand, take hundreds of years to degrade, and they release toxins to the environment.
The initiative to eliminate plastic is in collaboration with the Ball Corporation. They are offering sustainable alternatives to plastics and acting as good examples in waste management through their recycling efforts. The Ball Corporation provides environmental-friendly solutions for packaging. Their efforts have diverted tons of waste from the dumpsites.
Tips on How Museums Can Reduce Their Reliance on Single-Use Plastics
The above initiatives introduced by various museums to eliminate plastic waste have had a significant impact. However, tons of plastics are still produced each day, and they always find their way to water bodies. Therefore, museums should continue their efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Here are a few tips to take you a step closer to environmental sustainability.
1. Reduce plastic toys in gift shops
Most toys in the market are purely plastic since metal is becoming expensive. Therefore, eradicating plastic toys is a huge challenge. Finding sustainable materials to manufacture toys is hard. So what can museums do? Well, to reduce the plastic toys from the gift shop, you can assess the product longevity. For instance, if a plastic car can be thrown out within a day, you should remove it from the gift shop. Keeping durable plastic toys reduces the amount of waste in the environment.
However, if the thought of plastic sickens you and you want to eliminate it. You can find toys made from rubber. The toys are affordable and safe. If you stock rubber toys in your museum, the kids will love them since they are colourful. Crotchet dolls are also available; though costly, they can be an excellent addition to your gift shop.
2. Inspire the staff through talks to embrace environmental-friendly initiatives
Creating awareness is the first step when dealing with a problem. Therefore, if you go around imposing laws about the eradication of plastic without emphasising the benefits of your action, you will not achieve much. The museum employees need to understand the extent of damage resulting from the use of plastics. Holding a talk or training session goes a long way in creating awareness. You can get an environmental expert or organise a workshop that will encourage the staff to make changes. The inspiration will lead them to take action.
3. Organise a river clean up
Sometimes the best way to get full cooperation is by letting people experience the problem first-hand. Cleaning up the parks and beaches is an excellent place to start. Chances are you will find plastic waste in the water. Getting rid of the trash will reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.
4. Encourage use of filtered tap water
Plastic water bottles contribute to the highest amount of plastic waste found in water bodies. The trend is expected since we use about one million bottles every minute globally. So where do the plastics go? Introducing tap water in museums reduces reliance on bottled water. Besides, tap water is usually filtered and poses zero health risk.
5. Encourage the use of recyclable products
Maintaining a sustainable environment requires joint efforts to achieve excellent results. You can start by presenting the museum employees with reusable products. Occasionally give everyone a reusable water bottle. Alternatively, you can gift them takeaway containers and utensils. Encouraging eco-friendly habits go a long way in reducing the use of plastic products. A gift also gives them a nudge towards environmental sustainability.
6. Measure the results
As you begin your journey in eliminating plastics, you need to set goals and timelines for the achievement of those objectives. Carry an audit regularly to determine whether you are going in the right direction. For instance, since you introduced tap water, how many plastic bottles have you reduced? What is the next step to ensure you sustain the goals? Even a small reduction of waste goes a long way in taking care of the environment.
Museums should always lead the fight against plastic waste since their role is to preserve both culture and nature. Therefore, their efforts can create a positive effect on the environment.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.