Throughout the month of July I’ve talked about the incredible amount of plastic that is being produced around the world, the amount of plastic in the our oceans and the natural environment (and the damage that’s doing), and the problems of managing the a vast amount of waste we’re producing because of our addiction to plastic. So to finish the month, I decided to write about what we can all do to reduce our plastic consumption.
Before I start that, I’m not going to ignore the giant elephant in the room. We’re consuming so much plastic because brands use it so widely to package their products due to the fact that its cheap and easy to produce. They’ve decided that the convenience of being able to spend less packaging their product overtakes the need for protecting the natural environment from the dangers of plastics. However much we try to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce, it’s incredibly difficult when its everywhere. That change needs to come from the brands themselves to give consumers an option to reduce how much plastic is consumed.
We also need to increase our capacity to recycle all types of plastic easily. It’s great that we can recycle plastic bottles and tubs, but what about the bag inside the cereal cardboard box or the film that’s wrapped around tomatoes? Even if it’s possible to recycle them somewhere, it’s not easy to do and the masses won’t look to do it. Not only that, we’re shipping so much abroad to countries that are dumping it into rivers and then acting like it’s no longer our problem.
In the midst of a pandemic when PPE is being used en masse, small bottles of hand sanitiser are basically considered an essential, and many are turning to single use plastics due to fears on the spread of the Coronavirus, the amount of plastic we’ll consume this year is expected to grow. The oil price crash due to the pandemic has also meant that the cost of producing plastic became much cheaper, allowing petrochemical companies to produce and sell at a much lower price.
To solve the plastic crisis that has spread to some of the most remote areas of our planet, it’s going to take a universal response at every scale. The biggest change may have to come from the biggest companies that still wrap their products in plastic, but what we all do as individuals is just as important. The way we shop and buy products can have a huge impact on the way companies package their products as many will look at the public mood on plastic to make future business decisions.
There are small changes we can all make that will have a huge impact on the plastic crisis and even more we can do if we want to have a greater impact. Three of these include working out just how much plastic we consume and what products they are, better choosing where we shop to reduce the amount plastic we use, and switching to reusable options where we can.
How Much Plastic Do We Consume?
Working out just how much plastic we consume in our homes and exactly what that plastic is is a vitally important step in reducing what we consume. This can easily be done by doing a plastic audit of our homes.
It’s easy to do. All you need to do is go round your house with a pen and paper and right down every product, whether that’s food, cleaning items or beauty products, that is in plastic packaging and whether it can be recycled or not. It’s something that can take just a few minutes in each room but lay an important foundation for knowing what items you need to switch out for more environmentally friendly ones!
Choosing Where We Shop
Go on any trip to the supermarket and you’ll find yourself surrounded by plastic. Almost anything that’s perishable will likely be wrapped in plastic to store it. In some cases, the plastic packaging that holds that food item or liquid are still required without more environmentally-friendly alternatives available. However, the vast majority isn’t required.
Some supermarkets are taking action; Waitrose has extended their ‘bring your own container’ trial in some select stores, Asda are trialling refillable products and Tesco have teamed up with Loop to provide a ‘zero waste shopping platform’ for home deliveries. Most stores have removed plastic packaging from fruit and vegetables that in no way need it as well, but there’s still a huge amount of plastic in supermarkets.
The reason for supermarkets trialling refillable products in their stores is the pressure being put on them by the emergence of zero waste stores. The number of zero waste stores in the UK has grown rapidly over the last decade. These stores give people the opportunity to pick and take the exact the amount of food they want and put them straight into their own containers. This can help reduce food waste and cost as people are able to buy exactly what they need, and plastic with food going straight into reusable containers. If you’ve not visited one yet, they’re brilliant!
On many occasions these zero waste stores also buy locally where they can and, as the majority of zero waste stores are still small businesses, often work with other small businesses nearby helping the growth of the local economy and small businesses thrive!
Switching to Reusables
Single-use plastics make up an estimated 50% of all the plastic produced around the world each year. Some of those pieces of pieces may serve their purpose for just a few seconds, many not for much longer, but all eventually go to waste or end up in the natural environment. There are now more than enough ways of ditching single-use plastics. Water bottles, coffee cups and bags can all be replaced with reusable versions and can dramatically reduce
There is debate over the emissions produced in the production of reusable options as opposed to to single-use plastics. In this blog I won’t go in to whether they have merit or not as I feel that’s a blog in itself. However, what these reusable options do is reduce the amount of plastic going to landfill, ending up in the natural environment or being burnt and producing more emissions. Each day in the UK 38.5 million plastic bottles are consumed. On average that’s just over two bottles per person each day. Imagine how much that would drop if at least none of those were plastic water bottles…
Going Above and Beyond
We can also play an active role in reducing the amount of plastic that exists outside of our homes. Plastic litter is a problem in natural environments all over the world. Here in the UK it’s left or washed up on beaches, discarded in forests, or blown from our urban areas and landfills. An increasing number of people are taking action in an attempt to keep our coastlines cleaner by doing beach cleans. In fact, the number of beach clean groups are increasing all over the country.
These beach cleans can be anything from 2 minutes long to a whole afternoon. Picking up just a small amount of litter on your visits can make a huge difference to the natural beauty of UK coastlines, protect birds and other marine animals that can mistake small bits of plastic as food, and make everyone’s time on UK beaches that much more enjoyable.
Even if you don’t live on the coast, putting pressure on companies and the UK to reduce the amount of plastic they produce and how plastic waste is managed is another way to actively make a difference. Seeing millions of people sign a petition shows countries and business what the public mood is and what they can do to keep the public on their side. It’s something that can take two minutes to do and make a huge difference.
Lastly, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste produced in our workplaces. Many of us have turned to working from home with the pandemic but there will come a time when many of us return to work in office buildings or something similar. Encouraging co-workers and office management to switch from plastic cups to biodegradable options or make it easier to use a reusable alternative is just one example, but there is lots that can be done in an environment where a lot of single-use plastics can be consumed and end up going to waste.
The type of change that we need to lower the amount of plastic being consumed and manage the amount of waste produced better has to come from those at the top. Just because it’s cheap and convenient for us to use doesn’t mean we should given the scale of the environmental damage plastic can do. There are simple steps we can all take to reduce our impact in our own lives and homes, but more we can do if we want to take a more active role in making the changes that are very much needed to protect the environment and this planet.