In the past year we have learnt a lot about just how much plastic are we producing with our Western lifestyles, what are the consequences of this and that we MUST reduce this as much as possible. We cannot blame others and the generations before us anymore.
The facts and statistics are staggering:
- nearly HALF of all the plastic EVER manufactured has been produced SINCE 2000
- 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded
- And all of the plastic that has come into existence over the past century is STILL on Earth
- About 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions
- LESS than a fifth of all plastic is recycled globally
All these facts clearly tell us, that recycling is unfortunately NOT the solution what we need. We need to reduce our plastic consumption, starting NOW. For a few years running, July is dedicated to a global movement: a challenge to reduce the use of single-use plastic. Any plastic in fact. There are a variety of ways if you want to take part. Being part of this global movement to me is very uplifting, encouraging and it’s a great way to start off. The first steps are the hardest but the reward is great: the vision of a healthy planet.
So, since I’ve been working on our family’s plastic free life for a while now, I thought I’d share my tips with you. These swaps are easy enough to make, in fact anyone can make them. So here are my
Easy Plastic Free July Swaps
Fighting the biggest problems first
The Plastic Free July website refers to single-use plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws as the “TOP 4.”
1 Drinks in plastic bottles: don’t buy them. Carry a reusable water bottle and coffee cup. Refuse plastic cups and takeaway coffee cups. Refuse plastic straws, if you must use a straw (do you really need one, though?), get a reusable bamboo or stainless steal one.
2 Plastic shopping bags: use a canvas shopping bag or any other reusable bags that are not made of single use plastic. If you already have plastic bags at home (we all do, I think), bring them to their maximum lifespan and use them as many times as you possibly can.
3 Plastic food packaging: agreeably this is a complicated mission because nearly everything in the supermarkets are plastic wrapped. Choose to buy vegetables and fruits that are coming without plastic wrap, don’t buy ready made meals, and look for alternative products that are packaged more environmentally friendly. Get reusable produce bags – or make your own using scrap fabric! See if you can get milk delivered in glass bottles to you. If you have fruit and vegetable market locally, try to shop there. Some of the supermarkets and local shops are now offering the option of taking your own containers. There are zero waste shops popping up (mainly in urban areas) – try to see what are they offering. There are a few delivery start ups that offer zero waste food delivery – worth checking it out.
4 Personal care items: regular female sanitary products, wipes and baby nappies are full of plastic. (One estimate is that pads are made of up to 90% plastic – another is that a pack of menstrual pads is equivalent to 4 plastic bags.) Swap for reusable cloth nappies and sanitary pads, try out period wear, menstrual cups (or buy the ones made of environmentally friendly materials), switch from cotton pads to reusable make up pads, swap plastic toothbrushes for bamboo ones, get reusable baby wipes or buy the ones that are biodegradable.
In the kitchen
5 Food wrapping: stop using cling film and swap for beeswax wraps or other alternatives like reusable food containers. (I often just cover leftovers in a bowl with a big enough plate!) Tupperware, or – this is a trick from my grandma – reuse sturdy plastic packaging like ice cream boxes. Stop using plastic sandwich bags or freezer bags – again, swap for a reusable one.
6 Cook from scratch: this is a tricky one too, as I know not everyone is a time millionaire. (Like me, for one.) Processed food is bad for the environment and for your health too. But with batch cooking, being mindful by saving and eating up left overs, and investing a little time in learning to cook healthy and simply dishes, it’s doable. The freezer is your friend: put everything you can in the freezer and try not to waste.
7 Don’t throw away what you already have and can use: whilst buying a new set of lovely jars and metal tins is very tempting and they look cute and all, throwing away plastic containers that you already have and can use just adds to the waste. By all means, when you need a new one, buy glass, metal and wooden items though.
8 Teabags and coffee pods: stop buying the famous coffee machine capsules! They are really very bad as they practically cannot be recycled. Just buy a regular coffee machine instead and use eco-friendly or reusable filter. The teabags also contain plastic – did you know this? So you can swap for loose tea or some brands make teabags without plastic – watch out for those.
9 Say no to snacks: this is a tricky one too, I understand. I love crisps too. But crisp bags are pretty much made of 100% plastic, and those singe portion bags are the worst. Challenge yourself to choose one convenience food item that you love that usually comes packed in plastic, and make it yourself!
10 Reduce meat and dairy consumption: most of the meat and dairy products are plastic wrapped in the supermarket, there’s no way avoiding it. But buy reducing your consumption you do all sorts of good at once: fighting greenhouse gases produced by the farming industry, saving crops fed to animals, saving animals of course plus water and you’ll have a healthier diet. Same applies for fish consumption. Lower overall footprint by choosing plants over animal products.
In the bathroom
11 Shampoo and soap bars: these days shampoo bars are widely available so as good old soap bars, so swap your shampoo and shower gel bottles for these. And the hand washing liquid. There are many shops selling these as well as you can even try to make your own. You can go total pro by sourcing face cleansers coming in jars or making your own. There are a few brands that make plastic bottles from recycled plastic, which is also good!
12 Refuse mini bottles: even if you need to buy a plastic packaged product, avoid the minis – those are such a waste.
13 Cotton swabs and cotton buds: these can be swapped too: as I mentioned before, use reusable make up pads (I have crocheted ones) and if you must use cotton swabs, buy the ones that are made with a paper stick. You can even choose biodegradable dental floss and floss picks.
14 Disposable blades: use a razor with disposable blades, rather than a disposable razor.
In your wardrobe
15 Buy less, buy quality: fast fashion is one of the worst offenders. They are not only produced on an unethical and harmful way, but as they have now become almost disposable, a big percentage of them ends up in landfill.
16 Material matters: buy clothing made with eco-friendly material like organic cotton died with environmentally friendly dies or Tencel. There are quite a few great brands out there to discover, producing clothes both ethically and eco-friendly. Polyester fabric production used in fast fashion creates around 706 billion kg of greenhouse gases per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 185 coal-fired power plants.
17 Buy second hand: buying second hand is another way to save precious resources and using items that are already been produced. Not buying a new clothing item is probably the greenest way. Why not organise a clothing swap?
In your household
Following the idea of a circular economy (the economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources), you can tackle plastic and any other waste by focusing on the “5 Rs”
- Refuse items that you don’t need
- Reduce those you do
- Reuse what you can
- Recycle what’s left
- Rot (compost) everything else
18 Buy or make your own natural cleaning products: swapping them for vinegar and baking soda are a fantastic combination for most cleaning tasks, including washing dishes, removing soap scum from your bathtub, and scrubbing rust off your frying pan.
19 You don’t need a cabinet full of detergents: do not fall for Mrs. Hinch – you don’t need to use antibacterial cleaning products! Most of the cleaning products are packaged in plastic – reducing the number you use (because you don’t need more!) will reduce your plastic consumption too.
20 Buy used goods whenever you can: as I mentioned it before, when you avoid buying new things, you also avoid using all of the production resources and the packaging that comes with new items. Choose the second-hand economy! Shop at charity shops, Ebay, and other second hand shops.
21 Utilise your garden: use your green space in your garden if you have any to produce your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. This is one of the best ways to fight plastic packaging. Don’t have a garden, only a balcony? You can still produce some herbs.
22 Throw eco-friendly parties: swap paper wrapping (they are full of plastic) for cloth wraps (or make your own), don’t buy useless plastic presents, choose biodegradable party wear over single use cutlery and plates, refuse greeting cards and even ask for no presents at all! Throw a “fiver party” buy asking the invitees to chip in to buy one big, meaningful present instead of plenty of unwanted ones. Only buy biodegradable glitter and balloons. (So no helium balloons, sorry!) Generally, don’t buy tiny, collectible, plastic toys for the children.
23 Always look for sensible ways of environmentally friendly consumption and shopping.