No doubt many of you reading this will have heard about the ‘Attenborough Effect’, sparked by his two latest series, ‘Blue Planet II’ and ‘Our Planet’. Whilst these series have changed the way many of us think about plastic and have made us see that things have to change, it is important that we understand that we, as individuals, have to be part of that change. How? By continuing to ask ourselves questions about the use of plastic in our everyday lives, by using non-plastic alternatives where possible, and most importantly, by addressing our relationship with consumerism.
Plastic serves so many important functions in our lives, which is, understandably, why we have come to rely on it so much. However, our approach to packaging needs to change, specifically with regard to single use plastic. Although many of us have good intentions and recycle our packaging after using it, only 9% of plastic used globally is actually recycled. So in order to really make a difference, we need to reduce the amount of packaging that is produced and used in the first place.
We, as individual consumers, can have a bigger impact on the production of plastic than we think. Following Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II documentary, plastic straws disappeared from restaurants and bars almost overnight, there was a significant drop in single-use plastic coffee cups and a rapid emergence of ‘keep cups’, and supermarkets have started looking at plastic alternatives and are practically competing to be the most sustainable.
- An estimated 9 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced worldwide. Of that, up to 12 million tonnes ends up in the sea each year. It is predicted there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if we continue in this way.
- If the world’s discarded plastic were cling film, it would be more than enough to wrap around the whole planet.
- 2.5 billion coffee cups and 8 billion aluminium drink cans are thrown away every year in the UK.
- It can take 450 years for some types of plastic to break down. One type, PET, while recyclable, does not biodegrade at all.
Why not try doing a ‘plastic audit’ of a typical day, starting from the moment you get out of bed, to the moment you climb back in to bed, listing all the plastic products you use in a day. Drawing up a list like this soon makes you realise just how much plastic you use each day, and is also a useful starting point for thinking about alternatives (some of which, see below).
Food packaging can be particularly difficult. On the one hand, plastic preserves our food which reduces waste. On the other hand, food packaging is one of the greatest sources of plastic pollution, with most plastics being non-recyclable and single-use. So with that in mind, anything we can do to ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ will make a difference to our environment.
How you can REDUCE single-use plastics
- Firstly, and most importantly, think about whether you really need the item you’re buying. As consumers, we’ve been conditioned to think that we need to buy, buy, buy. But by taking a moment to think, we might just find that we can in fact live without our next purchase.
- Buy foods like cereal, pasta and rice in bulk and store them at home in reusable containers, such as glass jars.
- Head down to the UK’s first plastic free supermarket, which has opened up in Belsize Park, and where you can buy more than 1,700 products completely without plastic.
- Buy loose fruit and vegetables, using paper bags if necessary – many supermarkets have started to introduce paper bags as an alternative to plastic ones.
- It’s not only food where we can save on the plastic packaging. Products such as laundry detergent often come in cardboard boxes, which is more easily recycled than plastic.
- Switch to matches, or invest in a refillable metal lighter, instead of disposable plastic lighters.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.
Products you can REUSE
- Stay hydrated using a reusable stainless steel water bottle rather than buying single-use plastic bottles. These can easily be refilled in coffee shops and cafes when you’re on the go!
- Use reusable containers (ideally glass or metal) to store your leftovers in, rather than wrapping it in cling film or aluminium foil which is thrown away afterwards.
- Get a keep cup! There are many places where you can get a discount for bringing in your own reusable coffee cup – Starbucks, Pret, Paul and Leon to name a few. You can find a list of coffee shops and companies which offer incentives here.
RECYCLE those plastics you do use
- Carry a ‘bag in a bag’ in your handbag / backpack. This means that you will always have a bag for your shopping.
- Take your old carrier bags with you on your next supermarket shop and pop them in the specially designated recycling bins.
- Look to buy products in recyclable packaging such as cardboard, and avoid buying products in mixed materials (for example those with a foil top or a polystyrene base) as these are harder to recycle.
- Branch out in your recycling. Most household items can be recycled, for example, envelopes, greeting cards, deodorant cans, mouthwash bottles - even toilet roll tubes! You can look here for a full list of what can be recycled within your home.
We can all take small steps to decrease our carbon footprint and hopefully this blog has provided some suggestions on how you can do that. Plastic is a given in our lives. While we cannot get rid of it completely, we can try to limit our use of it, and where we do really need it, use it in a more environmentally friendly way.