Five easy steps to reduce the plastic you use
It’s a topic that’s gaining more and more attention – our plastic problem. That’s because scientists are discovering the extent of the impact that our relationship with plastic is having on the environment and ocean wildlife. And thanks to social media and documentaries like (my hero!) Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, this sobering message is being brought to the public’s attention. Being aware of the facts is always the first part of any solution, and fortunately the public are responding by making positive changes in consumer habits and we’re slowly turning the wheels of change.
Still, the dream of having a plastic-free society is a long way off, and there are so many more things we can do that can make a huge difference that not many people (including myself until recently) are aware of yet.
So I’ve made a five-step list of everyday things we can do to reduce our plastic consumption and make truly positive impacts on our environment and the wildlife we’re so lucky to share our planet with.
*please note I’ve included some links to companies I use or have heard of, only to make it easy for you to find alternatives to plastic products you might be using. I’m not being paid or sponsored by any of them.
1. Around the house
What better place to start your plastic reduction than at home? After all, that’s where most people use the majority of their plastics. Thankfully, most of us are recycling now, but reducing our use of plastic in the first place is far better, because recycling itself still uses energy and resources, and some plastics (like black plastic and plastic films) aren't widely recycled in the UK.
- Soap The bottles used for our soaps are a significant contributor to our household plastic use and the fiddly pumps or bottle tops are often not recyclable. Did you know there are some awesome brands out there like All Natural Soap Co making soap bars that smell just amazing, and are vegan, cruelty-free and zero plastic? They last longer than liquid soaps, and having an artisan bar of soap by your sink / shower looks way nicer than plastic bottles.
- Shampoo Even shampoo bottles can be replaced by shampoo bars – Friendly Soap make shampoo bars (as well as incredible soap bars) like this lavender and geranium shampoo bar that produce a rich, velvety lather, is gentle to the skin, and nourishes your hair!
- Toothbrushes / toothpaste We’re supposed to replace our toothbrushes every three months. That’s four plastic sticks every year that are thrown out - times by 65million people in the UK equals far too much plastic in landfill (many toothbrushes are still not recyclable). Try switching to a bamboo toothbrush for a classy clean like these awesome ones by Bristle. And to replace the unrecyclable toothpaste tubes? Try Denttabs that come in cardboard packets, available from Anything But Plastic – just pop one in your mouth with a bit of water and voila – toothpaste! (great for travelling too as not liquid).
- Cling film Doing your bit by making your own lunches to take to work to avoid the plastic covered meals at the supermarket? Great! But if you’re wrapping your sarnie in unrecyclable cling film then you can go one step further and use paper sandwich bags like the ones by If You Care. I tend to reuse mine for 2-3 days as they’re pretty durable.
- Straws Lots of the best restaurants, bars and cafes are switching to alternatives to plastic straws which is awesome, as they’re listening to our consumer demands! But what about when we make something that would really benefit from a straw at home? Try ecostrawz for when the need arises – they make reusable straws from strengthened glass, titanium, bamboo, and even wheat! A great way to impress any dinner party guest!
2. At the shops
Wherever we look in town, we're surrounded by single use plastic. But there are ways to avoid it – and the more of us who do so, the more attention the retailers will pay to our consumer demand, and will take more steps to avoid the use of plastics.
- Fruit and veg Wherever possible, try to grab loose fruit and veg instead of ones packaged in plastic trays. And definitely no need to use those dispenser plastic bags, your veg won’t jump out of your trolley!
- Bag for life Single use plastic bags are out thanks to the many petitions and campaigns in the UK. But the 10p bags aren’t much better – they tend to get used a handful of times, then start to deteriorate and get thrown away. Some supermarkets do have recycling points for old plastic bags but most end up in landfill. Try a Turtle Bag that look beautiful, will last years, and are made without any plastic at all – some are even made from recycled materials like cement bags that would have otherwise ended up in landfill... double win!
- Coffee cups Most take-away coffee cups are infused with polyethylene to make them waterproof and so can’t be recycled, which is why 7 million cups each day get sent to landfill in the UK alone. Why not grab an Ecoffee cup, made from bamboo which is light and lovely to drink from, with no plastic after taste. You could be quids-in too, because chains like Pret, Nero, Costa and Starbucks offer discounts of up to 50p per coffee for customers who bring their own cups.
- Refill shops If you’re lucky enough to be close to a shop that sells in bulk, then take advantage! For example, Zero Green Bristol is a zero-waste shop where you bring your own containers and fill them with loose products ranging from pastas and pulses to toiletries. How cool is that? Find your nearest zero-waste store in the UK on The Zero Waster website.
- Sustainable fashion Ask yourself this - do you really need new clothes or accessories? In my experience, people honestly don't notice if you often wear the same clothes (or if they do notice, they really don't care. If they do care, do you really want to hang out with them anyway?). If you do need clothes, try second hand either online or in shops - you're much more likely to find something unique! Or if you want to go for something new, try a brand like Rapanui who use organic cotton and bamboo along with sustainable processing, packaging, shipping, and animal-friendly inks for their awesome clothing line.
3. Staying hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is something we should all try to do, but buying bottled water is an unsustainable solution. The UK alone uses 13 billion plastic bottles a year. Just over a half of these get recycled - the rest are sent to landfill, are littered (often ending up in the ocean), or incinerated.
- Reusable water bottles Grab yourself a bottle that’s made from BPA-free materials and use it again and again for years. Nalgene make really durable water bottles that are BPA-free and look great - perfect for both adventures outdoors or keeping hydrated in the office.
- Water filters – if you want to avoid single-use plastic bottles but are not sure about some of the compounds found in tap water like chlorine and lead, then a simple water filter could be the solution. I use a Brita filter jug and have had it for a few years now. It’s great to keep in the fridge to always have chilled water handy. The money you save on buying bottled water will soon pay for the filters that you need to replace every month or so!
- Refill stations Out and about and running low on water? Loads of restaurants, bars and cafés will be more than happy to fill your water bottle for you. Thousands of establishments across the UK have signed up to the Refill scheme to encourage passers-by to come in to fill up their water bottles for free. Look out for the Refill sticker in their windows or use the Refill app to find them, and they'll welcome you in! Love this idea but still want your tap water filtered? Try the trendy Bobble bottles - the reusable bottles are bpa-free and filter the water as you drink, making tap water tastier and cleaner wherever you are!
4. Plastic pick-up
If you’re doing all you can to reduce your plastic usage, it can be even more frustrating to see litter strewn across the street by less careful consumers. It certainly is for me. But changing your mindset is the key to happiness and protecting the environment. Rather than just ‘tutting’ and angrily walking past it, why not pick it up and pop it in the bin, or even better the recycling? The way I like to see it is that not only can you have a plastic-neutral day by following the steps above, you can actually be plastic-negative… you ecowarrior!
Beaches obviously benefit massively from litter picking as the plastic will otherwise wash into the ocean, where it can cause visible harm to ocean wildlife (such as getting strangled or caught up in six-pack rings) as well as less obvious harm (breaking down over years into micro-plastics which are then ingested by fish).
But if you don’t live by the coast, litter picking in your town or nearby countryside is still really important. Because lots of the plastic in our oceans comes from litter that has blown into streams or rivers and made its way to the sea. It also reduces the chances of land wildlife like hedgehogs, mice and birds hurting themselves. And if you recycle the litter, you’re helping reduce the amount sent to landfill and saving the energy to make the materials from new. Oh and it makes everything look nicer when it's clean too 😊
Some awesome accounts you can follow for inspiration include:
(let me know in the comments if I've missed out any other great litter picking accounts!)
The impact of making these changes yourself is unimaginably positive. But making our voices heard and helping to facilitate policy changes has the potential to make an even bigger difference – think how successful the bans on single use plastic bags and micro-beads have been. Neither of which would’ve happened if it weren’t for petitions and campaigns.
It really only takes a few seconds to sign a petition on the UK parliament website – just search 'plastic' and see which current petitions you’re interested in, then sign and share them to spread the word. At 10,000 signatures the government will respond to a petition, and at 100,000 signatures the petition will be considered for debate in parliament! You could sign and share this petition to ban single use plastic straws and cutlery, or this one calling to install standard microfiber filters in washing machines. While you’re on the website, why not search for other issues that may be important to you, for example perhaps protecting our bee population or protecting race horses from abuse and death.
I'm by no means perfect when it comes to my plastic use and there are still times when I buy products that are either made from or packaged in plastic. But I'm trying my best within reason, and that's all anyone can do! If you have any tips that I've missed then please share them in the comments below. For example I'd love to hear about how you try and reduce plastic use in your office / working environment!