If you read last week’s Sunday Reflections post then you’ll know I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. You’ll never catch me embarking on a new fitness regime or diet on January 1st – goodness knows it’s a tough enough month as it is. However I am making a real effort to reduce the amount of waste I create, especially single-use plastic items.
I’ve already made a few small changes such as cutting out plastic drinking straws and always taking my own canvas shopping bags. Sure every little helps, but after seeing how our oceans are being polluted with plastic it’s time to up the ante. A story that hit the headlines this week was the possibility of the government introducing a 25p “latte levy” on disposable coffee cups. The UK throws away 2.5 billion single-use coffee cups every year, and only 1% of these are recycled.
Disposable coffee cups are technically recyclable, but most are not because the UK has only three facilities that can separate the paper from the plastic lining. There are several coffee shops close to where I work and it’s very tempting to pop in and grab a quick caffeine fix to take out, but lately I’ve been making time to drink my coffee in the shop. Not content to stop here, I’ve been researching how to ditch the plastic wherever possible.
Most plastic gradually breaks down over time into tiny pieces, some of which are small enough to pass through the gut of animals and into their blood vessels and body tissues. Microplastic has spread all over the planet, with one estimate suggesting there are 300 billion pieces in the Arctic Ocean alone. A major study found humans have produced a staggering 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since 1950, creating 6.3 billion tons of waste. Nearly 80% of that waste has been dumped in landfill sites or simply thrown away into the environment.
One piece of good news is the ban on the sale and manufacture of microbeads in the UK from this month. But if you’re anything like me you’ll have loads of half-used products stashed away. One easy way to check if the scrubs you have in the bathroom cabinet contain microbeads is to look at the ingredients. Scrubs containing “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” should be avoided. Rather than wash it down the sink, it’s better to dispose of it in the bin to prevent it getting into the water.
There are lots of small changes we can make that collectively will make a difference. After a while they just become second nature. So here are my 8 easy ways to reduce plastic waste:
There are so many to choose from now. Whether you want a purely functional thermos mug, or something a bit more fun (I have a unicorn travel cup) it’s definitely worth investing in one. Some coffee shops offer discounts for customers who bring their own travel cup, although in the UK only 1 to 2% of coffee drinkers take advantage of this incentive. Pret a Manger recently doubled their discount to 50p…think how much that could save you over the year! Meanwhile, Starbucks are trialling a 5p cup charge in 20 to 25 central London outlets for three months, starting in February. If you absolutely need your coffee to go, buying your own cup could save your a small fortune in the long run.
I’ve never been a massive fan of straws, but it seems you can’t go to a bar or fast food restaurant without being given one. Admittedly, sometimes a nice cold drink on a hot day does go down better with a straw, so why not buy a reusable one? Even better, you can have your own personalised stainless steel straw…no chance of someone else using it that way!
The introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in the UK just over two years ago has massively reduced the usage of single-use bags. I take a canvas bag with me wherever I go, and I keep a load of bags for life in the boot of my car for food shopping. I can’t remember the last time I bought a 5p carrier bag. How cute is this fox print cotton bag?
Invest in a funky printed bottle instead, or one that filters your water. We’re lucky enough to be able to drink water straight from the tap, so why bother with ridiculously expensive mineral water? Buying a reusable one will benefit the environment and save you money.
I’ve amassed loads of plastic cutlery because I save it to reuse, but eventually it breaks and has to be thrown away. Better to buy a set to take with you, such as this compact set that fits into a silicone carry case.
Wherever possible choose paper or cardboard packaing instead. My mum bought me a set of six organic soaps in recycled card boxes a couple of Christmasses ago and I’ve still got one left. Bars of soap last much longer than liquid hand wash, plus they don’t create plastic waste. Another way I cut down on packaging is with fruit and vegetables. A lot of fruit and veg comes in moulded plastic to prevent bruising, but it’s so unnecessary. Buying it loose is much better for the environment and takes up less space in your bags. Plus you get to see exactly what you’re buying.
I think most people are aware of the perils plastic microbeads pose to marine life. There are many biodegradable alternatives, so avoid items with “polypropylene” or “polyethylene” on the ingredients list. You could even make your own with sugar or salt.
This one is quite easy for me because I detest clingfilm, always have. I find it infuriating to handle and impossible to tear off without it getting crumpled. Instead I take sandwiches to work in a tub – a plastic one yes – but one that I reuse over and over. I also avoid sandwich bags and tinfoil whenever possible.