2018 was a huge year in raising awareness of the problem of plastic and the effect that it’s having on the environment and to critical ecosystems. The final episode of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II was arguably the biggest moment when a lot of people realised what impact plastic was having on our environment and wanted to make a change. The documentary series highlighted just how plastic was having such an incredible and devastating impact that plastic is having on marine life. Plastic waste discarded into the ocean is now being found on some of the most remote islands in the world and being consumed by a huge range of animals that mistake it for food. There’s even evidence to suggest that it’s now entering the human diet through seafood containing microplastics.
If 2018 was the year to raise awareness, then 2019 is the year to act. We know the effect that plastic is having on the environment, now we need to make conscious changes that reduce the impact we have on the environment and reduce the amount of waste we consume. Below are just a few small, simple changes we can all make that will have a huge impact and lower the amount of plastic we all consume.
This is new to me but makes perfect sense to do when you’re trying to cut down on the amount of plastic used at home. To know where you need to make changes and reduce the amount of plastic you consume, first, you need to work out just how much you do actually use, and that’s where plastic audits can be very useful.
Go into each room of your house, particularly the kitchen and bathroom and look at all the plastic that is currently being used. Write down everything you see that is in a plastic container or packaging and write it down in a list. That could include food containers in the fridge or packaging of fruits and vegetables, to shower gel and shampoo containers. Make a note of it all and from there you can look at each piece and work out how you can begin to reduce the amount of plastic in your home.
Stop with the Single Use!
Single-use plastics are absolutely awful for the environment and we use them in everyday lives, sometimes without even realising. Single-use plastics include plastic cutlery, takeaway coffee cups, takeaway containers, straws and just about anything else you can think of that you use once and then throw away. Almost none of them are recyclable and end up in a landfill or the world’s oceans, as the video below shows.
There is now a huge market for reusable products and plenty of replacements for single-use products that we need to cut down on. Biodegradable cutlery can be reused a number of times before it can be placed in a composter where it will eventually break down. But there also isn’t anything stopping us from using metal cutlery that we’d typically use at home!
Reusable metal straws and reusable coffee cups are also widely available. Many cafes are even offering coffee discounts if you bring in a clean reusable cup that your coffee can go straight in to. It’s all very small changes that can be made, but if we all make them they can have the biggest impact!
Switch where you Shop
Food packaging remains a huge contributor to the plastic problem we are trying to tackle. Many have committed to phasing out plastic in their stores, but many are still years away. Most recently Marks & Spencer have begun a trial of completely plastic-free fresh fruit and vegetable aisles, choosing to offer paper bags to customers and returning to a more ‘greengrocer’ approach to shopping.
A lot of independent supermarkets and farmers markets use a lot less plastic when selling food products than the much larger supermarket chains. Switching to eat more locally grown products that don’t come with all the plastic packaging is much more sustainable, not only because of a smaller plastic consumption but the much lower emissions it takes to farm and transport locally rather than globally.
In the Kitchen
So you’ve found ways to eliminate some of the single-use plastics and you’ve found somewhere you can shop that uses a lot less plastic packaging than the bigger supermarkets. But there’s still plenty more that can be done to reduce plastic.
Plastic containers are often used to store food and can be reused a number of times but are still plastic. If they are used a number of times it can become increasingly dangerous to our health as toxins from the plastic leach into food – a similar problem for plastic water bottles! Using metal containers are much better for storing food and remove the risk of toxins.
Even beeswax wrap can help store and keep things fresh in the fridge as well as be used in the same way clingfilm is. The wraps can be washed and reused a number of times before they can be composted and left to break down naturally. Even foil is a much better alternative compared to cling film as it can be recycled.
In the Bathroom
In an article by the Guardian looking at how we can reduce our plastic consumption, it stated that one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown out in the USA each year. The UK with a smaller population goes through less but the number is likely to still be in the millions. Combine that with plastic cotton buds, plastic shampoo and shower gel bottles and it’s likely that you consume a lot more plastic in the bathroom than you may realise.
Bamboo toothbrushes are becoming increasingly popular and are much better for the environment. Changing to bamboo is a recent change I’ve made personally. They’re just as cheap and can be composted after use, breaking down in around six months. The majority of cotton buds available in stores are plastic based, but there is an increasing number of paper-based cotton bud products that remove the issue of plastic.
Using soap and shampoo bars to wash with eliminates the continual use of plastic bottles. Companies like Lush are even going as far as to not sell these bars in plastic packaging and remove plastic from the supply chain entirely. If you’re aiming for a zero-waste lifestyle then you can even make your own care and cosmetic products!
Unfortunately, no matter how much we try to avoid using plastic and buying products wrapped in plastic, it is still widely used and in some cases unavoidable. There is something we can do with the unavoidable soft plastics, however. EcoBricks are plastic bottles of varying size that are filled with soft plastics and can be reused to build things.
For more information, go to the EcoBricks website where you can find out a lot more information and find out how to create them and where you can deliver them once they’re full. EcoBricks don’t stop the consumption of plastic, but it does mean that the soft plastics that are currently unrecyclable can be reused and not sent to landfill.
Making a Difference
We all have the opportunity to make a difference. We are now aware of the impact we are having on land and in our oceans and we must make changes to stop and even reverse the environmental catastrophe we have created. This blog highlights just a few changes we can make to reduce the amount of plastic we all consume and an example of what you can do with plastic waste that is still unavoidable.
And what better way to round this off than with the words of everyone’s favourite environmentalist, David Attenborough.