Plastic use is such a normal part of everyday life that most people probably don’t even notice it, however it’s been predicted that if we don’t cut down our usage there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. But there’s still time to make a change, and it’s honestly not as life overhauling as you might think. We’ve put together a list of easy things you can start doing right now to reduce your household plastic consumption (without foregoing modern conveniences all together). And what better time to start reducing your plastic waste than Plastic Free July?
Keep a reusable water bottle and/or coffee cup with you when you’re out and about. There are apps available that locate where you can refill your water bottle nearby instead of buying disposable plastic bottles of water, and lots of coffee shops will even give you a discount for bringing in your own coffee cup rather than taking a plastic or paper to-go cup.
Say no to plastic straws! If a paper one isn’t available (though many places have now thankfully adopted paper over plastic straws) or you’re not a fan of their soggy nature, either carry your own metal straw or just go without – people drank without the help of a straw for literally thousands of years before they were invented.
Rather than using single-use plastic cutlery when eating your lunch, keep a set of reusable metal or bamboo cutlery in your bag/desk. On the subject of lunch, try to avoid pre-packaged foods where possible, in fact it’s better to prepare and bring your own in a reusable container.
Did you know that regular kitchen foil can be recycled? Now that you do, there’s really no real reason to use single-use plastic wrap, so wrap up your sandwiches in foil to keep them fresh, and simply pop in the recycling bin when you’re done (make sure to get rid of any food debris first). If you want to cut out waste all together, invest in beeswax wraps (you can get vegan ones made from soy wax if that’s your thing) that you can wash and reuse to your heart’s content.
It’s not as well known as it should be that most brands of teabag use plastic in the seal. While there are a few brands that have adopted plastic free and/or biodegradable bags, you can always just ditch the bag and go old-school with loose-leaf tea and a strainer for bonus eco points.
Most chewing gum is made from a type of rubber called polyisobutylene – essentially plastic. Once you’ve chewed this gum and popped it dutifully in the bin, it can take an eternity to degrade, adding indefinitely to plastic pollution. Some brands offer plastic-free gum, but if you’re not up to navigating that minefield, there’s always good old hard or soft mints to fall back on.
Under 10% of British households use the traditional glass bottle milk delivery service, meaning a crazy amount of plastic milk bottles are being used on a weekly basis. Doorstep milk delivery services take back the used glass bottles, wash them and refill them, meaning no waste is created. Maybe it’s time to give the local milkman (or woman) a call?
Be aware of plastic food packaging when shopping – some plastic bags can be recycled alongside carrier bags at supermarkets, but it’s best to avoid them all together if you can.
Frozen food packaging is made up almost entirely of plastic; even cardboard packaging has a thin coating of plastic. If you can’t cut out frozen food entirely, only buy a limited number of frozen products – you can always make your own oven chips from potatoes and batch-freeze your own portions of fruit and veg.
Take your own containers to the meat and cheese counter at your local supermarket, and ask the staff to weigh everything into it rather than their disposable packaging. If you can find a proper farmer’s market in your area, you can also use your own containers for fruit and vegetables, or they can wrap it in paper for you rather than plastic.
Always have a reusable shopping bag with you and actually use it – if you do have to use plastic bags then keep reusing them and recycle them when they reach the end of their life.
Use an electric razor, or a metal razor with replaceable blades rather than using disposable plastic ones. A rich, lathery bar of soap should do the same job as shave gel in a disposable canister, and with less packaging.
Swap bottled shower gels/hand soaps for soap and shampoo bars. When visiting hotels, resist the urge to take the cute little complimentary toiletries, and instead bring and use your own.
The US alone throws away 1 billion plastic toothbrushes each year, which leads to around 50 million pounds of waste. Try switching to a bamboo toothbrush instead, that will biodegrade back into the earth a mere 6 months after being thrown away
Really Get Involved
If you live near the coast, there might be a local beach clean being organized, so it’s worth getting involved and doing your bit to help clean up plastic waste on your own doorstep. If there isn’t one, why not organize one yourself and advertise it on social media? If you’re more inland there are always rivers and parks to be cleaned up; keep a look out for apps like Plastic Patrol that list local cleaning events and help you keep track of how much plastic you’ve collected.
Make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t recycle in your local area – if you think the recycling options aren’t up to scratch then make yourself heard – write to your local councilor and tell them. If your workplace doesn’t offer recycling bins for staff to use, take it up with your HR team and see if this can be changed moving forward.
If you’re feeling particularly bold, unpackage food at the checkout and decant into your own containers, leaving the plastic behind. You’re well within your rights to do this, although the checkout operator might not be your biggest fan. If enough people reject plastic packaging, hopefully the big supermarkets will take note and try to find other ways of packaging food.
If you’re passionate about plastic (or lack thereof), let people know – invite your friends and family to clean ups, and share photos on social media to raise awareness. It’s usually advisable not to be preachy, but you never know who you might educate through sharing your experiences with living plastic free daily.