Plastic has seeped its way into every corner of our lives over the last few decades. While it does help us in many ways, the effect plastic has had on the health of our planet is extremely detrimental.
Single-use plastic is one of the largest contributors to worldwide pollution, with an estimated 8.8million tons ending up in our oceans every year. We absolutely must cut down on the amount we use in our daily lives if we want to make a difference, however it can be difficult to know where to start!
There are many incredibly small, easy ways that each of us can reduce our plastic consumption on a daily basis. Here are 10 things to get you started!
1. Say No To Straws
Straws look great in a cocktail, make tall glasses easier to drink from and aid those of us with sensitive teeth. But did you know that approximately 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the US and UK alone? Hardly any of these straws are recycled – let’s face it, nobody particularly wants to sort through straws that have been sucked and chewed on, so they get thrown in the bin. I know this first hand, having spent five years working in pubs. In fact, staff in many pubs and bars are required to put a straw in every tall or soft drink as routine, or face failing ‘mystery guest’ tests.
These straws end up on landfills and in our seas and oceans. They are a major hazard to marine life – if you haven’t seen this video of a sea turtle injured by a straw then I implore you to watch. It’s difficult viewing but trust me, you will never want to use a plastic straw again.
Cut straws out of your life by ensuring you ask for no straw in your drink when you order. If you do need a straw to drink from, there are other options! Reusable metal or glass straws are cheap and sustainable options, as well as being extremely easy to carry with you wherever you go.
2. Carry Cutlery
Plastic cutlery dominates our takeaway cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. These items are difficult to recycle as they are very rarely washed of food before being put in the bin, plus in a lot of cases the plastic that is used cannot be recycled anyway.
There are other options out there aside from plastic, for example, compostable cutlery can be reused as fertiliser. It also takes less energy and water to make multiple compostable utensils than it does to create one plastic utensil. For a more permanent alternative, carry a set of reusable cutlery with you, preferably metal. You can buy cutlery sets that come in transportable cases for a very reasonable price online – you could even put your metal straw and a set of reusable chopsticks inside this case to complete the set!
3. Reusable Drinks Bottles
35 million single-use plastic bottles are used in the UK every day, with only approximately half of that amount being recycled. That is a staggering amount, which equates to around 17,500,000 plastic bottles entering landfills, oceans and the general environment every single day. To reiterate, this is JUST from the UK.
Approximately 80% of plastic bottles end up on landfills in the US, despite recycling schemes being in place.
The largest companies such as Coca-Cola, produce 100% recyclable bottles – great news, yes? No. Only 6.6% of their bottles are made from recycled products, and only a handful of their bottles make it to recycling. They have also reduced the amount of reusable products that they produce, practically refusing to look into sustainable alternatives. (Source: Greenpeace) When you consider these statistics, you can see that Coca-Cola’s efforts are pitiful.
The harm doesn’t start at the purchase of a single-use bottle though. It starts at the production line, where 17 million barrels of oil are used each year. Plastic bottles also contain harmful chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), amongst others. These chemicals break down and pollute our water and our bodies.
It’s easy to make the change from single-use to reusable bottles. Carry a reusable bottle on you at all times. If it is a plastic bottle, ensure that it has a no BPA assurance. Refill your bottle from a tap – it’s so much cheaper than bottled water!
4. Reusable Coffee Cups
Disposable coffee cups may look like they are recyclable, but underneath the cardboard exterior of most models lies a plastic inner lining, designed to keep your drinks hotter for longer. Most coffee cups are non-recyclable because of this, as the lining is too difficult and time consuming to be separated from the card. Due to this, less than 1% of coffee cups are recycled in the UK (1 in 1000 out of approximately 3bn coffee cups per year).
Reusable coffee cups are on the rise! Made from materials such as BPA free plastic, silicone, glass, porcelain, ceramic, bamboo…the list goes on. Put them in your bag and carry them with you, you may even be rewarded for your efforts – some coffee shops offer money off when you use a reusable cup.
5. Carry a Shopping Bag
The UK introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags back in 2015, and we saw an 85% drop in the use of single-use plastic bags within 6 months of the charge being introduced. But plastic bags continue to plague us. Just recently, a whale washed up off the shore of Norway with 30 plastic bags found in its stomach. According to theworldcounts.com, we will use 5 trillion plastic bags worldwide this year.
Do you really need a carrier bag for two items? Carry a reusable bag on you, preferably made of a natural material rather than plastic. ‘Bags for life’ can be bulky, but there are plenty of lightweight options available which can be folded up to pocket size.
Lots of local councils won’t accept plastic bags in recycling. You could either reuse the bags you already have, or find a supermarket that runs its own bag recycling scheme!
6. Scrap the ClingFilm
Why do we think it’s a good idea to wrap our food in chemical-containing plastic? It’s time to scrap the cling film and look for alternatives. As well as being non-recyclable, cling film can cause toxins to pass into your food, which can affect your hormones.
Why not wrap your food in reusable wax paper, natural cloth bags or even place within a glass container. It will stay as fresh and will be less susceptible to contamination, as well as producing less waste.
7. Ditch The Disposables
Disposable items are cheaper to buy and handy for short-term use. For example, women’s disposable razors can be bought in packs of 5 for less than one reusable razor handle and a separate pack of interchangeable blades. But what happens to the cheap razors when you are finished with them? You can’t recycle razorblades, even if they are made of recyclable materials. They don’t last as long as a more expensive razor, therefore they are disposed of more regularly, creating more waste.
It’s definitely worth spending a little more on a higher quality item that has less of a footprint on the planet. There are plenty of other items that can be changed for alternatives, for example:
- Plastic lighters – invest in a metal refillable lighter or simply use matches.
- Coffee pods – there is a difference in taste but why not opt for filter coffee or premium bags of coffee instead?
- Cigarette filters – cut down or cut out your cigarette intake and save yourself at the same time.
8. Store Food In Jars
As mentioned before, a lot of plastic contains harmful chemicals and toxins which can transfer to your food when they come into contact.
Whilst plastic storage might seem like a practical and useful method of storing your food, it may be better in the long run for your health to use glass jars and other glass products instead. Glass is easier to clean and get rid of dangerous bacteria from. It doesn’t have the chemicals that plastic does and it is more eco-friendly to produce. Plus, glass is widely recyclable.
To reduce your plastic waste even further, you can take glass jars to shops that have a focus on zero waste and fill them with dried goods such as pasta, rice and cereal. These shops are currently quite limited within the UK, but it’s worth having a look around to see what you can find.
9. Buy Glass Jars
Want more glass storage but don’t want to create more waste? Why not try to buy foods such as jams and spreads in glass jars rather than plastic containers? The empty containers can be reused for storing items such as herbs and spices, pulses, nuts, home-made spreads and lots more.
While you’re at it, check your purchases for palm oil – an environmentally harmful, unsustainable oil. The production of palm oil contributes towards deforestation, global greenhouse gasses and loss of habitats for wild animals. There are ‘sustainable’ forms of palm oil, but ultimately it is better to avoid it where you can. It’s difficult to avoid completely as it is in so many of our every day products. It can also be disguised under almost 200 alternative names, so be vigilant.
10. Avoid Plastic Packaging
Plastic is used so widely in packaging that it can seem impossible to avoid it. A lot of packaging involves plastic film, which cannot be recycled. Most takeaway food is packaged in disposable plastic, some of which can be recycled, some of which cannot. How do you reduce the amount you use?
Firstly, bring your own food with you. It’s great to be able to have a nice lunch when you’re at work from that cafe around the corner, but why not save yourself some money and bring something home made?
If you are going to be buying food from a cafe or a supermarket, try and find the items packaged in the least amount of plastic, or even better, none at all.
Avoid the flimsy plastic bags used for fruit and vegetables – do you really need them?
Always opt for paper or cardboard packaging if you can, and if the options are limited at least try to find something that can be easily recycled.
Let us know how you get on
Try making some of these changes today and let us know your own methods for cutting out plastic from your lifestyle!
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