Plastic waste is currently one of the biggest climate threats facing our planet. However, with the presence of plastics in almost every aspect of consumer life, it can often be overwhelmingly difficult to know where to start. If reducing plastic waste is on your radar, keep reading to learn our 10 simple ways to reduce plastic use right now.
1. Use your own containers
Start simple: being prepared with your own containers is the best way to avoid unnecessary packaging waste. From preparing your own snacks (so you don’t get caught short and need to buy something plastic wrapped when you’re out), to keeping tupperware handy at home to cut down use of non-recyclable cling film, washable containers and a bit of foresight can make a big difference to your day-to-day single plastic use.
2. Find sustainable/change your local suppliers
Walk around most supermarkets and you’ll see plastic everywhere; single-use bags for pastries and fruit, individually wrapped vegetables and ready meals to name just a few. Next time you need to stock your kitchen, consider splitting your shop across a few local supplies rather than one big supermarket. Greengrocers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers are much more likely to use paper bags (or no packaging at all), so you can get fresh, high-quality food without all the excess plastic.
3. Say no to plastic straws
There’s been a lot of press coverage on the UK ban on plastic straws and drink stirrers, with EU legislation coming into effect in 2021 due to ban them along with a list of other single-use plastic offenders. Until then, refusing a plastic straw when drinking outside of the house is a hugely impactful way to reduce harmful plastic waste. It’s estimated that as many as 8.3 billion plastic straws currently pollute the world’s beaches, with 8 million tonnes of them flowing into the oceans annually. Saying no to plastic straws is an easy win!
4. Bring your own bags to the market
According to online eco education program, Ocean Crusaders, shoppers worldwide are getting through around 500 million single-use plastic bags per year simply by doing groceries. This shocking statistic translates to around 150 plastic bags for every single person on earth, every year. By investing in organic cotton tote bags or by reusing plastic or canvas bags you already own, you can reduce your personal single-use plastic footprint hugely. If you’ve got a collection of plastic bags at home already, you can recycle them in many large supermarkets and switch to cotton or canvas easily!
5. Give up chewing gum
For many, chewing gum is just part of the daily routine, but did you know that most modern chewing gum is actually made of a synthetic plastic not dissimilar to that used in car tyres? These hidden plastics don’t just pollute our streets, it’s estimated that chewing gum alone creates 100,000 tonnes of plastic waste every single year. Next time you reach for a pack of gum, pick up a chewable mint instead.
6. Give reusable diapers a go
Another hidden plastic, baby diapers (or nappies as you might know them), are responsible for around 30% of non-biodegradable waste. In the U.S. it's estimated that 27.4 billion plastic diapers are used each year, and with no way to safely recycle them, all this waste is ending up in landfills. Instead of reaching for the convenient disposables, consider the benefits of natural cloth nappies - switching just one nappy a day for a reusable one could save 900 diapers from going to landfill.
7. Buy yourself a keep cup
With over 2.5 billion coffee cups thrown away each year in the U.K., investing in a keep cup is one of the easiest ways to minimise your single-use plastic consumption. While many people believe that takeaway cups are recyclable, most are coated with a layer of plastic on the inside which cannot be recycled (the paper outer coating can be), so don’t be deceived by the recycle symbol. Whether you’re a keen coffee drinker, like a tea in the afternoon or a hot chocolate on your way home, by bringing your own cup, you can actively reduce the number of plastic cups polluting the environment. Many coffee shops now offer discounts to people who bring their own cups in, so you can reduce plastic waste and save money on your morning brew!
8. Avoid anything containing microbeads
The fight against microbeads is well and truly underway - the UK, USA and Canada have all banned microbeads. Responsible for polluting our food chain with carcinogens (one study found that a quarter of fish contain microplastics in their gut), these tiny beads add toxins into our water sources and attract organic pollutants. If microbeads aren’t banned in your country, take care to avoid products (normally facial scrubs and toothpastes) containing polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon.
9. Invest in a travel spork
Plastic cutlery is considered one of the most dangerous types of waste for birds, mammals and sea life according to a report conducted by the Ocean Conservancy. Billions of single use knives, forks and spoons are thrown away every year, frighteningly most of which don’t even get used. Think of all the cutlery used on every commercial flight or the sets automatically included in your takeout order - this mindless attitude towards plastic cutlery could so easily be changed. Next time you pick up lunch from outside the house, have your own washable cutlery to hand (or in your office desk) so you can cut down on throwing away unused plastic. If ordering takeout, let the restaurant know in advance that you won’t be needing plastic cutlery - the environment will thank you for it.
10. Loose leaf tea instead of bags
Another little known hidden plastic can be found in teabags - usually labelled PLA, these plastics are normally either made from an oil or a biological product in order to heat seal the edges of the bag together. However, more and more companies are now looking to alternative methods to seal their teabags in a bid to get rid of plastics in tea for good. Look out for plasti-free labels or stick with loose leaf tea next time you fancy making a brew. Companies such as Pukka are leading the way for plastic-free tea, instead using a thin stitch of cotton to seal its bags. Keep an eye on your labels and drink your favourite cup of tea with a clean conscience.