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When we read about the scale of plastic waste clogging our landfills, and polluting our oceans, it’s tempting to feel overwhelmed, and question whether anything we can personally do would realistically make a difference to this mammoth issue.
However, the truth is that even small changes of habit, accumulated over time, add up to a big difference. Then when you factor in that there are lots of like-minded people making the same positive changes as you, to reduce the plastic waste they are creating, you can see that together we can make a massive difference for the better.
It’s a frightening fact that every single piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere on this planet. With plastic there really is no ‘away’.
Whilst we treat plastic as a disposable material, it’s actually indestructible, at least during our lifetimes and for the next few generations to follow us.
Whether plastic waste ends up in landfill, the countryside or the sea, it has devastating effects on wildlife and marine life, who either get entangled, or mistake it for food and choke or starve.
It is estimated that plastic kills over 100,000 marine animals and one million marine birds a year.
The issue is then compounded when the plastic rubbish breaks down into small toxic particles that pollute our water supply and enter our food chain.
Plastic is everywhere in modern life, so it is very difficult to avoid altogether. However most single-use plastic items are completely unnecessary and have only been introduced into our lifestyles relatively recently in the name of convenience.
We think it’s high time we reassess our obsession with convenience, and prioritise sustainable choices that respect our planet.
There are some very simple changes of habit you can adopt today to stem the flow of the plastic waste that your lifestyle creates.
Here are our top 9 tips for living with less plastic…
1. Bring your own shopping bag
Plastic bags are generally used for a matter of minutes before being discarded, and then take hundreds of years to break down. Most of us own reusable bags, but the challenge is remembering to have them with us when we need them. One easy way to remember is to always keep a reusable bag (or bags) by your front door, in your handbag, laptop bag, coat pocket, glove compartment… wherever works for you. If you do forget, instead of accepting a plastic bag on auto pilot, see if you can manage without. Often we can simply carry the items loose. Once you have successfully adopted the habit to always bring your own reusable bag, consider going one step further and persuading your local town to go plastic bag-free! We are currently working with a group of like-minded people to persuade our local town to give up plastic bags, see this blog post for some advice on how to get started.
2. Carry a reusable water bottle
Plenty of research has highlighted that as well as being less eco-friendly, bottled water is actually less healthy than tap water, despite the bottled water companies’ best marketing efforts to convince us otherwise. The bottled water industry is far less regulated than tap water in the UK, so when we buy bottled water we have much less reassurance about the quality of the water we are drinking. Meanwhile the toxins from the plastic water bottles have been found to leach into the water, particularly when the bottle is used more than once, or has been left in the light or heat for anytime, which could have happened during transit. The healthier, and more planet-friendly, option is to carry your own reusable water bottle that you refill with tap water at home, work, the gym, or even by popping into a local café. Most people are very reasonable and will agree to re-fill if you explain your eco-reasons. You could even offer to pay the price of a bottle of water if it makes you feel more comfortable. Our favourite reusable water bottles are made from stainless steel or glass (with protective silicone sleeve) as they are easier to clean, and we prefer not to store our food and drink in plastic. But even a plastic reusable water bottle will help address the waste issues caused by the millions of single-use plastic water bottles discarded every day worldwide – of which only a fraction are recycled, and we simply don’t have the facilities to effectively get rid of the rest.
3. Bring your own cup
Today it’s common to spend our days racing from one commitment to the next without making time for a coffee break, which explains why many of us like to grab a take-out tea or coffee to enjoy on-the-go. However this is relatively new explosion in take-away hot drinks is having devastating consequences on our environment. An estimated 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away in the UK alone every year, which equates to almost 5,000 a minute! Over 99% of takeaway coffee cups don’t get recycled (even the paper cups are lined with plastic which makes them harder to recycle), so the disposable cups and their lids either end up in landfill, or become plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans. The simple way to make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem is to find a reusable cup or insulated bottle that you like, and be sure to carry it with you all the time. You might even save money as there are a growing number of eco-minded coffee shops offering a discount to customers who bring their reusable cups. Choosing a reusable coffee cup might also encourage you to make your own hot drink at home before setting off, and save you the cost of at least one take-out drink a day.
4. Pack your lunch in reusable containers
There are many reasons to take your own lunch to work, school, the park, the beach, or on any outdoor adventure. You will undoubtedly save money by making your own lunch, and you also are likely to make more healthy choices preparing your lunch ahead of time, instead of looking to buy something when you are already really hungry! However for us, the most compelling reason is that buying take-out involves lots of single-use plastic packaging that we can avoid if we bring our own lunch. Which brings us to the next challenge – disposable plastic sandwich bags and cling film don’t make our homemade lunch more eco-friendly than a take-out. For a waste-free lunch we recommend any of the following: stainless steel bento boxes and snack pots, stainless steel thermos food pots, reusable sandwich bags and beeswax food wrap. Our preference is to avoid reusable plastic food containers due to the risk of toxins leaching into our food, plus we think food tastes better when it isn’t served in plastic.
5. Say no to disposable straws & cutlery
Disposable plastic cutlery and straws are among the worst plastic pollution culprits. Just like plastic bags and bottles, single-use utensils and straws are usually used just once, for a couple of minutes, before they are thrown away, and then they either litter our towns and countryside, pile up in landfill, or enter our waterways and oceans. However, it’s actually really easy to get in the habit of carrying your own cutlery with you, and leave a set in the car. There are lots of options, and you don’t necessarily need to spend any money. You could simply grab a stainless steel knife, fork and spoon (or chopsticks!) from your home cutlery drawer and keep them rolled in a napkin with a rubber band around it. Alternatively you could purchase bamboo cutlery in a travel pouch, a spork, or stainless steel cutlery in a travel case – whatever works for you so you have it when you need it. As for straws, we’ve seen graphic videos of a sea turtle having a straw painfully removed from it’s nose, and feel heartbroken that hundreds of thousands (or millions?) of animals are suffering from the consequences of our plastic pollution, which in all honestly we could live without. Either skip the straw (and you have to be quick to say ‘no straw please’, as many establishments serve drinks with straws as a matter of course) or if you really must have one, choose a reusable stainless steel straw.
6 – Slow down and dine in
Our obsession with eating and drinking on-the-go is a relatively recent development. Although modern technology has been positive in so many ways, one of the downsides is that we expect everything instantaneously. We try to cram so much into our days that we forget the simple pleasures, such as slowing down to properly taste and appreciate our food, or taking a lunch hour (or half hour) to catch up in person with a friend or colleague . Why not try structuring your day so you make time to stop when it is time to eat or drink, and enjoy it by dining in your favourite café, pub or restaurant. You will be surprised how much more refreshed you will feel from taking a short break out of your day. If you can’t afford the time, or added cost, of dining in, you could grab one of the reusable glass, stainless steel (or plastic) containers sitting in your cupboards and see if your local café or restaurant will fill it for you rather than using their single-use take-out containers. You could always call ahead to have a chat about wanting to use your own containers if it makes you feel more comfortable. If you work in an office it’s handy to keep a clean, empty food container at your desk for days when you don’t manage to bring your own lunch, and can’t take time out to dine in.
7. Skip the plastic produce bags
When we are shopping for fresh fruit and veg, most of us are in the habit of either choosing the ready-packaged options (in plastic!), or tearing off one of the fiddly lightweight plastic produce bags that the store offers to carry our fruit and vegetables in our basket or trolley to the checkout. However, when you stop to think about it, do you really need a plastic produce bag? It’s really not that much more effort to put your fruit and veg loose in your trolley or basket, unload it loose onto the conveyor belt, and then pack it in your reusable shopping bags along with the rest of your shopping. If you are worried about hygiene, it’s worth remembering that we don’t really know what has happened to our fruit and veg before it is displayed for us to pick (better not to think about this!) which is why we need to make sure we properly wash or peel it anyway before we eat it. If you always buy lots of fruit and vegetables, and think it would be very cumbersome to have them loose in your shopping trolley, you could consider buying some lightweight reusable mesh produce bags to take when you do your grocery shopping. Or look into a local home delivery veg box scheme, as they tend to use less plastic packaging than the supermarkets.
8. Store leftovers in glass jars
As we’ve already mentioned, we really prefer not to use plastic containers to store our food due to the risk of toxins leaching into it, especially when the food is either hot, or frozen. Glass is a very safe food storage option, and we have recently discovered that instead of sending our glass jars to be recycled, we can easily re-purpose them for all sorts of uses including: storing leftovers in the fridge, freezing cooked or uncooked food, storing any dry goods in our cupboards, as take-out containers, and for bringing our lunch to work, or on our travels. You can re-purpose any size or shape of jar, but you will soon find which ones are most useful for you, and may even find yourself buying a particular brand of jam or condiment based on how useful the jar it comes in is, rather than because of its contents! You may also appreciate having a few wide-mouthed mason jars to hand, as they are a great shape for almost any use. Our favourite mason jar is the Le Parfait Familia Wiss Terrine due to it’s wide mouth and easy to clean screw top lid.
9. Share these tips with your friends
We don’t want to preach to others about their lifestyle choices, but it is useful to share with our friends and family the reasons behind why we are making our lifestyle choices: to reduce our contribution to the problem of plastic pollution. Talking about it helps raise awareness of the issues, and may inspire others to choose some waste-reducing habits too. However the most important thing is to have fun in your efforts to reduce your reliance on single-use plastic. It’s obviously a very serious problem, and humanity is going to need to do a lot of work to tackle it over the next few decades, but it’s not helpful to waste time feeling downhearted. We only get one life, so we should focus on making the most of it, and finding ways to make a positive impact on our world. Be innovative, be creative, and embrace your life with less plastic!
You can help us continue to fight ocean plastic by making a donation, we are very grateful for any support you can give.
You can order printed copies of our posters and postcards to display at your workplace, school or in your community, or to hand out to friends, or use as educational materials.
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