When David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 showed us the harm plastic pollution was causing our oceans, more than two thirds of us said we’d reduce our plastic waste. But how do we go about making real changes?
Taking action on plastic pollution
Plastic is made from oil. It’s easy to produce and mould and it’s durable. And plastic is cheap, so it’s a disposable commodity; too easy to throw away without much thought for the financial or environmental cost.
Plastic can take over 100 years to break down. And when it enters into the food chain it can poison animals because of the toxins it contains. Not to mention the litter it causes all over our beaches and seas. There are an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ It’s 1.6 million km2 across - three times the size of France.
How to avoid plastic waste
The good news is, there are some amazing innovations to clean up our oceans, like Ocean Clean up:
But while Big Green Tech is sorting the issue of plastic we’ve already thrown away, how do we stop adding to the problem?
Over 14 million people tuned in to watch Blue Planet 2 describe the beauty of the world’s oceans. But we also witnessed the harm caused by plastic pollution in the environment. A staggering 64% of us said we’d change our behaviour to reduce plastic pollution: a fantastic result. So what can we do to make that change?
Plastic is made from oil and is not a renewable material. In fact its popularity is due to the fact it won’t break down easily hence it is such a pollution problem. The accumulation of waste in our waters is so chronic that it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
How we can stop our plastic pollution today
1. Change your shopping habits
67% of plastic use is from packaging that’s often not recyclable. Everything from cauliflowers to shampoo come pre-packed in plastic, while our toothbrushes, razors and sanitarytowels are all piling on plastic waste. So instead:
1. Shop local and seasonal. Market produce is less likely to be plastic-wrapped and using your own bags will achieve a plastic-free shop. Most butchers will fill your containers rather than using more packaging.
2. Use your consumer power: ask the manager at your local supermarket to cut plastic waste and opt for biodegradable, compostable or sustainable packaging. Iceland, for example, has vowed to stop plastic packaging on its products. Greenpeace has a guide to which supermarkets are making positive steps on plastic waste.
Use solid shampoos and shower gels. These are available in most health food shops. Lush have long since offered packaging free, animal friendly, vegan products. For an even more natural product, companies like Wild Sage offer natural solid shampoos packaged only in recyclable and biodegradable containers.
3. Ditch disposable razors: solidly built safety razors work beautifully. The blades are fully recyclable and cost a fraction of the price of disposables.
4. No-waste grocers are gaining a foothold in the UK. Take your own jars, bottles and tubs and fill them up. You can find a list of UK no-waste food shops here.
5. If you absolutely have to buy plastic, larger containers will last longer. Try not to buy travel-sized - if you need a smaller bottle you can decant some from your big bottle into a reused container.
2. Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle
... In that order. We can all buy less, and refuse what we don’t need. It’s also important to bear in mind that recycling is still an industrial process, and reusing what you have is better. Save jars and bottles, repurpose containers, refill where you can. And if you can’t, then definitely recycle.
3. Zero-waste your bag
Out-and-about plastics can be a trap when trying to cut plastic waste. But with a bit of planning you can avoid disposable plastic cutlery, coffee cups and ready meal containers. Choose products like refillable water bottles, bags for life and Tupperware, that can be washed and reused. And who ‘d want to use plastic knives and forks for lunch, when there are alternatives like this gorgeous bamboo cutlery wrap? Alternatively, just pop cutlery from home into your packed lunch and you’re ready to face the day.
4. Choose Natural materials
The materials we choose matter. So if you have to grab takeaway food or coffee, choose biodegradable packaging where possible. Many companies now package their food and drink using products like vegware. Find alternatives to plastic cups and containers.
The materials we buy matter. Find out more about sustainable fashion here.
5. Choose reusable sanitary products
Almost every woman has to pay ‘girl tax’ at some point in her life: that money we have to set aside for period products. But conventional period products contain up to 90% plastic. They’re not recyclable or reusable and many contain some shocking chemicals like paint stripper (yep, you read that right). By switching to eco-friendly products - either organic, natural disposables, a menstrual cup or washable pads or pants, you can stop harming the environment, save cash, and dramatically bring down your carbon footprint.
6. Accept it’s not going to be as shiny
A lot of zero-waste sites - and some links in this article - can suggest that cutting your plastic waste is an opportunity to splash out on bamboo coffee cups and shiny storage jars. And if you have to buy new, you can buy smart. But do we really need to? Sure, those shiny jars look nice, but clean jam jars will do the job just as well. Bamboo coffee cups are great, but don’t throw out the plastic one you already have - remember it’ll be good for another 100 years and if it’s in landfill it will still last that long. Reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle... then buy responsibly if all else fails.
Keep calm and take small steps
Changes can feel overwhelming, and sometimes they can feel like a drop in the ocean. But every change has an impact. And progress on plastics is happening. Try one or two new habits, such as refilling your water bottle every day, and let them sink in. Apparently, it only takes three weeks to become a new habit. Then progress to the next swap: look for a new razor or change your toiletries. Any reduction in plastic waste is a step in the right direction. Every positive change is one the planet - and the next generation - will thank you for.
Featured image: Brian Yurasits, Unsplash
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