In order to tackle this enormous problem head on, habits are exactly the thing we need to change.
For me, it was the image of a seahorse with its tail wrapped around a cotton bud and a video of turtle trying to make a nest for her eggs on a beach that was more plastic than sand.
Toward the end of 2017, millions of people tuned into Blue Planet II every week and I believe that David Attenborough did something truly significant through this series: he brought the truth about plastic devastation into people’s homes. And this has forced us to take a long hard look at ourselves. What we need to commit to off the back of this, however, is action.
Change of heart
Just like with veganism, it’s the doing that matters. Most people disagree with the concept of animal cruelty, but continue to eat animals and products made from them. Similarly, many of us may shake our heads at the footage of an ocean filled with plastic detritus, but don’t actually change our day-to-day habits. But in order to tackle this enormous problem head on, habits are exactly the thing we need to change.
Much of our plastic use is down to ease. Plastic has made our lives easier and that’s how it has taken such a strong and dramatic hold. It’s the same argument many people use for not going vegan, isn’t it? “It’s just too hard.” But where there is a will, there is a way and collectively our actions make a powerful statement.
In a world driven firmly by the economic model of supply and demand, if enough of us stop buying something then production will decrease. Ultimately, if something stops being purchased altogether then the production of it also stops.
So what are the quick wins? The most obvious is plastic bags. In the UK, plastic bag use decreased when supermarkets started charging for them. A great first step. But it’s easy for them to creep back into our lives and, when we’re talking about a product that cannot degrade, every single bag counts.
One easy way to avoid taking a plastic bag is to always have one on you. Canvas bags in the back of your car, a fold-up bag in your handbag or rucksack, your rucksack itself. A bag carried within a bag has become my most trusty method as then I’m never without.
But what about the times you’ve forgotten or popped to the shops on the off-chance? This is where arms and pockets come into play! Before automatically saying yes to the bag offer, consider whether you can carry what you’re buying without one… Will that tin of beans fit into the pocket of your coat? If you’re with a friend, do they have a bag you can use? Consider the options before saying ‘yes’ and your plastic bag consumption will reduce even if you fail to be prepared.
Bottled water has been a curse upon our planet. Whose idea was that anyway? What happened to the good old days of water fountains (which I’m delighted to see are making a bit of a retro comeback)? If you commit to one thing as a result of reading this article, then please let it be this: never buy a plastic bottle of water (or any other drink) again. Ever. This is something I have vowed to myself and I will look for any other option if I am caught thirsty without my re-useable bottle.
But if we’re already carrying a bag around with us to reduce our plastic bag use, then why not tuck a water bottle in there as well? It’s cheaper after all. And if you’re going re-useable, then don’t spoil your good work by choosing another plastic bottle. You can get metal bottles from camping shops that are cheap and easy to keep clean.
Single-use plastic should be a crime. You may think that sounds dramatic, but it’s true. If manufacturers were financially penalised for creating products that are single-use plastic, or come packaged in single-use plastic, can you imagine how quickly we’d start seeing alternatives? Similarly, those manufacturers who are producing and using sustainable products should be rewarded somehow. And this is where choice comes into play. If you can afford to then always choose the product that has less plastic. And if there is ever an opportunity to influence a producer then grab it with both hands.
Surveys, at the cash desk, online: tell them that you will not buy if they are using plastic. You may feel like a lone voice, but if we all take the chance to speak out then our combined voices will be heard. Social media is a fantastic way to influence companies and producers, plus it’s transparent so other customers can see your words. Remember the ripple effect? Let your words ripple, so make them polite, friendly, but firm. “I love your products and would buy them if you could make a commitment to reducing your plastic packaging. Or, better, still, use sustainable packaging. Thank you!”
So what other ways can you reduce your plastic impact?
- Toothbrushes: stop buying convenient, plastic brushes and order bamboo ones online. Yes, this requires planning, but if you buy in bulk then you can have a stash ready when you need them.
- Body wash and soap: consider buying a product that can be used for both and comes in larger quantities. We’ve started buying the large bottles of Dr. Bronner and have replaced all our shower gel and hand soap, so that means fewer single-use plastics in our household. Dr. Bronner still comes in plastic, but our impact is less. Plus we’ve recycled what old bottles and handwash pumps we already had, so they’re not being thrown out. You can also seek out companies like Lush who make a wide range of naked shower gels, soaps and other cosmetics. They also allow you to bring back five plastic tubs to be reused and recycled in store to make new tubs, and you get a free facemask in return!
- Fruit and vegetables: try and avoid those that come pre-packed in plastic. Local veg boxes are a great way to avoid the supermarket, vacuum-packed veggie trap. And if the fruit and veg are unwrapped then don’t reach for one of those flimsy bags off the plastic roll. You’re going to wash those potatoes anyway, so why bag them up in the first place? If you’re shopping with a canvas bag then you can put that into your basket or trolley to stop everything rolling around.
- Reuse what you’ve got: glass jars can be cleaned out to reincarnate as storage containers. Ice cream containers can be used over and over instead of buying new Tupperware. (These also make great travelling water bowls for companion animals.) Think about the possibilities of what you already have before simply throwing away or recycling. Whether it’s a plant pot, something to keep your pens and pencils in, or something you can get crafty with; try and give what you have a second life. Anything that stops it going into landfill or the sea has got to be a good thing.
- Say no to straws and plastic cutlery: like the plastic bottle commitment, this is a decision for now and forever more. Don’t accept them and eventually they’ll have to stop making them.
- Stop purchasing the unnecessary: since the seahorse photo I have never bought another cotton bud. I bought them just because I always had, but that photo was a lightbulb moment that I cannot turn off. Cotton buds are a nice-to-have, not a cannot-live-without. Wherever you can, decide what and how you can live without. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.
- Share your tips with others: we’re all learning and figuring out things as we go along, so if you have a great idea or better purchasing option, then share it online or in person with your mates. Spread the word and let it ripple. If you have any cool plastic-reducing ideas then I’d love to hear them, so shoot me a message today: clea[email protected]