Plastic is everywhere – how’re you supposed to cut down on it? It almost feels rude to stop the shop assistant in their tracks as they proudly put your purchases into a plastic bag, or to refuse a straw from a bartender as they earnestly make your cocktail look prettier. But it’s time to change that attitude, because plastic is destroying the planet.
Yes, that’s quite a melodramatic statement, but not an unnecessary one. Consider this: if the world continues business as usual, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.
Currently, the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic leaks into the ocean every minute, contributing to the over 150 million tons already in the sea. Plastic is not eaten by bacteria in the same way that paper or wood is, it merely breaks down into what is known as microplastics – 5mm pieces of plastic that end up in the stomachs of marine animals (those that haven’t already been hauled out of the ocean by commercial fishing fleets, that is.)
“But I put all my plastic in the bin”, I hear you say, “How does it end up in the ocean?”
Take a walk down the street and you almost definitely won’t fail to notice litter everywhere, much of which is plastic. When this stuff falls into drains and gets into the sewer, it inevitably ends up in the waterways where it makes its way to the ocean and into one of the notorious garbage patches – swirling vortexes far out at sea where our luxurious excess remains forever.
And if your plastic actually makes it into the bin? It will simply end up in landfill where it will stay for the rest of eternity, eventually breaking down into its toxic components and seeping into the earth.
At this point I can hear the quiet hum of superiority from those who recycle, of which you are definitely entitled to given the circumstances. But recycling doesn’t simply remove the burden of plastic. Far from it.
Recycling in itself is a resource-heavy process – requiring a large amount of energy. Plastic is actually difficult to recycle time and time again as its quality slowly degrades as it is exposed to heat. For this reason it is usually used to create items that are in fact not recyclable. Plastic is not simply reincarnated into new plastic bottles time and time again as many like to think, it just gets a few more uses before it ends up with the rest.
So where is this crusade against plastic leading we hear you asking. If you can’t throw it on the ground or in a regular bin and you should reconsider before recycling, what can we do? That’s right, it’s time to start cutting plastic out.
We can’t keep using recycling as a justification to continue consuming in the same wasteful way that we do – we need to create a clear demand for more sustainable alternatives to plastic by avoiding it wherever possible. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Carry a reusable bag
Yes, this is so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said. But how often do you pay 5p for a plastic bag at the supermarket, justifying it by telling yourself you’ll use the same one next time. Or an even better question: When was the last time you actually did that?
There’s a simple solution to this endless cycle of unfulfilled good intentions – invest in a couple of pretty reusable bags and keep them in your bag at all times. Sorted.
Make your caffeine fix sustainable
Granted, caffeine is important for us to be productive little capitalists, but perhaps we should think more about what we consume it in.
Yes, you’ll probably get some funny looks when asking for coffee in your own flask instead of in a takeaway cup, but maybe you’ll reconsider feeling so self conscious upon learning that Britons throw away around 8 million coffee cups a day, significantly contributing to the plastic waste issue.
Here is the perfect flask to get you started on your no-plastic journey.
Say no to straws
Straws are potentially one of the most useless ways to waste plastic. The USA throws away over 500 million straws a year, contributing hugely to the problems mentioned previously. Did the process of evolution not grant us lips for the sole purpose that straws serve? Just say no.
If you really must use a straw, at least purchase glass ones that can be re-used, or biodegradable ones if the people coming to your party have a lip disorder.
Avoid pre-packaged food
Even the average Joe yet to develop any environmental awareness might wonder why it is necessary for a chocolate bar to be wrapped in several layers of packaging. It seems ridiculous; especially when it is usually the items that cost more money that come presented like this.
That isn’t to mention fruits and vegetables that come wrapped in plastic, which provide the double whammy of both a higher price than loose varieties and yet another opportunity to waste some more plastic. It’s almost like we’re doing it for fun.
Simple answer here, try to avoid pre-packaged food wherever possible. But of course, this will be extremely difficult at first, which takes us to our last but of advice.
Reuse, reuse, reuse
You will inevitably still be using plastic, as it’s more than a bit hard to totally cut it out (although this person has wasted nothing at all for the past two years). But whenever you can, reuse. Plastic containers and bottles have a variety of uses, from plant pots to chandeliers. Get creative.
Almost every one of the world’s problems start at home, but with the right guidance, it is the same place where change starts too. Cutting down on plastic is just one of a million solutions, but it’s a good starting point – let’s get going.