We all need to cut down on plastic to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the sea. And on beaches and in rivers. Just because you put it in a recycling bin doesn’t mean it really get recycled – many types of plastic can’t be recycled. The best that happens is it hangs around in a hole in the ground for thousands of years. In other words when it gets into the environment it stays in the environment. We’re better off not using plastic at all.
The size of a continent
It turns into the swirling vortex of rubbish that is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. That ‘patch’ is the size of a continent. Like in a horror story scientists have discovered that there is more than one garbage patch.
Plastic has indeed made our lives much easier and more convenient. But at what cost? For today’s comforts we are putting at risk the sustainability of future generations.
How to cut down on plastic
Bring Your Own Bags. In the UK the plastic carrier bag war has been won (more or less…). However don’t just take your own bags to carry all your shopping, also take a reusable bag just for produce. Or place produce items loose in your basket rather than use those rolls of bags that supermarkets provide. Did you know that a single plastic bag can take a thousand years to degrade? I always carry an emergency reusable bag.
Also bring your own container for meat and prepared foods rather than use the bag that the counter staff automatically provide.
Bring your own containers for food on-the-go and for taking home leftovers. Take your own mug to coffee outlets and keep your own mug and cutlery at work rather than use disposable plasticware.
Buy goods in cardboard boxes instead of plastic bottles. Cardboard can be made into more products than plastic and it’s more easily recycled. But bear in mind that if the box is designed to hold liquid it will have been given a thin coating of plastic (not wax) so the most sustainable option may be a glass container.
Frozen foods are convenient but heavily reliant on plastic packaging. Among the many benefits of opting for fresh food is that it cuts down on your use of plastic.
Re-use glass containers. Whenever you buy prepared foods in glass jars try to re-use the jars to store food. Re-using is always more efficient than re-cycling.
Buy in bulk. This will cut down on packaging, so you save money and reduce waste. Of course you have to remember to bring your own bags and containers.
Even if nearby shops don’t have bulk bins you can cut down on plastic by choosing large packages for non-perishables
Do your shopping in your local farmers’ market. As well as buying fresh and local you’ll be buying without plastic, provided you remember to bring your own bags. And it’s one of the few places you can buy fruit and vegetables without those annoying little plastic stickers…
Cut down on plastic by making it a rule of thumb to avoid all plastic bottles
Avoid bottled water – it’s not just the plastic bottle it comes in but all the resources used to extract, package and ship it. Plan ahead and take a stainless steel or glass water bottle, you can re-use them over and over.
Avoid multiple plastic bottles of specialist cleaners – one for tiles, one for surfaces, one for the windows, etc. . Instead keep some basics on hand (like baking soda and vinegar).
Choose natural cleaning materials – natural cleaning cloths and scrubbers instead of plastic sponges.
Use natural rubber gloves.
Use a wooden hair brush instead of a plastic model.
If you really want to cut down on plastic consider the components of ‘safe’ products too. Use real handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues – every box of tissues comes with a little plastic window.
Choose natural fibre clothing such as organic cotton, hemp or wool. Give less space in your wardrobe to polyester, acrylic and lycra. You may have got the message about plastic bags and single-use plastics but this is an unforeseen horror story – micro plastics in synthetic fibres are flushed from our washing machines right into the ocean.
Avoid facial scrubs containing tiny plastic ‘microbeads’. (Update: the UK announced a ban just a few days after I wrote this article and I hadn’t even posted it – how influential is that…?)
For the smokers among us, learn to use matches. Disposable plastic lighters end up littering the environment. You could always get a refillable metal one if matches feel like the stone age…
Refuse plastic straws. Simply tell your waiter that you don’t need one, even at a drive-in. If you absolutely need a straw you can carry your own bamboo straw.
I love this last tip. When ordering a pizza takeaway, tell them you don’t want the little plastic ‘table’ in the middle of the pizza box 🙂