Table of contents:
Over 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds die every year from indigestion of entanglement in plastic litter (source: theoceancleanup.com)
Plastic is one of those things we are surrounded by in our everyday life. It is almost impossible to avoid, being such a cheap and light material used as packaging. But it is also hiding in our fridges, cupboards, and even wardrobes! Who would have thought that the cheap t-shirt we had bought on sale two years ago will not decompose for thousands of years? Or that the candy wrapper we’d just thrown on the pavement could potentially remain there for up to 450 years?
Being such a durable material, plastic has become one of the greatest dangers our planet, and especially its oceans, currently face. It is estimated that the amount of plastic accumulated in Earth’s oceans over the years has now reached 150 million metric tons, and still counting. According to The Guardian, the number increases roughly by 8 million metric tons every year. However, not everyone knows that each one of those plastic bottles we daily throw away, takes up to 450 years to degrade. What makes it even more of a threat, is that despite the scientific evidence on negative impact of plastic on both the environment and our health, we gradually keep producing more and more of it, adding up to a gigantic pile of waste. It is said that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. A study done by scientists from Leipzig University in Germany has proven that there is a close correlation between inappropriate recycling and amount of plastic in rivers, and thus, oceans.
Even you can help reducing plastic waste and help the environment by simply following these easy steps we’ve listed below!
1. Ditch plastic shopping bags
One plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to degrade. When not recycled properly, they’re often being disposed of into the oceans, where they end up getting confused for jellyfish - a food source for many marine organisms. Replacing the plastic shopping bags with a natural fabric bag is one of the most effective way to reduce plastic waste. Those bags can be made out of organic cotton, jute, canvas, felt - there are any options! You can reuse them over and over again, and they will last you years. And, of course, they’re also biodegradable. In case you already own plastic bags - try reusing those as well, and then remember to recycle correctly.
2. Bring your own cup into cafes
In the UK only, we buy over 8 million takeaway coffees a day. Sadly, only 1% of the plastic cups gets recycled, most of them end up in landfill. The most eco-friendly solution to this problem would be bringing your own cup when ordering a coffee to take out. Some companies in the UK will even offer you a discount for reusing your own cup!
3. Use your lunchbox
Whether it’s for your sandwich, a salad bowl, or taking food away at a restaurant - always try using your own container. Ready-to-go options in supermarkets usually come in a plastic packaging, so preparing your own food and packing it into your own reusable container is much more environmentally friendly. There’s also eco-friendly organic food bags available to buy if you prefer a less space-demanding option.
4. Don’t buy water
Due to rigorous water quality standards, tap water in the UK is perfectly safe to drink throughout the country. Bottled water may be convenient, but due to most of the packaging being plastic - cheap, and light material - it is also extremely unfriendly for our planet. It’s worth noting that you should not be refilling a plastic water bottle more than twice, as it starts releasing toxic enzymes. We produce 20,000 plastic bottles per second with only 7% being recycled into a new bottle. The remaining bottles, that take up to 450 years to degrade, stay in the landfill or end up in the oceans. You can reduce plastic bottle wastage by getting your own water bottle - be it a glass one, or one made out of an eco-friendly material such as wheat straw. If you’re not very keen on drinking water straight out of the tap, try investing in water purifying filters.
5. Don’t use plastic straws and cutlery
Due to their size, and the kind of plastic they’re made out of, plastic straws can not be currently recycled. In order to reduce plastic waste, some countries started introducing special programmes demanding straws and cutlery to be made out of an eco-friendly materials, such as wheat straw plastic. You can have your input by using plastic straw alternatives, such as paper straws, or reusable straws made of bamboo, glass, metal or wheat straw.
6. Try avoiding plastic packaging
Wrapping fresh produce items by supermarkets has been a topic of many debates on the environment. When you think about it, why do we pay extra for our fruit, veg, and meat to be pre-packed? All that plastic packaging is often bigger than the item you’re buying, only for it to be thrown away as soon as you get back home. Why don’t you try bringing you own tubs into the butchers? Or a mesh bag for your green produce? It doesn’t only reduce plastic waste, but also a lot of your time you would have otherwise spent on unpacking the shopping!
7. Stop chewing gum
We chew 560,000 tons of gum every year. Chewing gum is the second biggest litter problem after cigarette buds, and the cost of cleaning it off the pavements can be very costly, hence why an astonishing 90% of it due to not being disposed of correctly, lingers out on the streets. Chewing gum is mainly made out of polymers - synthetic plastics that are not degradable. There are now more natural alternatives to synthetic bubble gum that are made from chicle - a tree sap that grows in Central America. Or you can try chewing on some on either peppermint leaves, fresh ginger, cardamom, parsley or liquorice root! All options are way more friendly to the planet.
8. Cosmetics and make-up
We often don’t realise that a lot of our household waste comes from your bathrooms - empty beauty products containers, such as shower gels, shampoos, conditioners, creams, lotions, eye make-up, sponges - they all come either in a plastic bottle or are wrapped up in plastic foil. How can we reduce those plastics? There’s a lot of companies that are very strict about their environmentally friendly packaging. They tend to produce their cosmetics in either a solid form (like shampoo or deodorant bars) that’s then wrapped up in recyclable paper, or offer their products in a recycled and reused plastic bottle, that can be then brought back to the store and reused again - sometimes they even offer you a little gift for reusing your bottles! You can also choose beauty products packed in glass, steel or cardboard, however those options might be a bit more pricey.
These microparticles are the real devil in disguise. They can be found in toothpastes, body scrubs and peelings, shower gels, and even in our clothes! These tiny plastics often break off from the synthetic materials we put in our washing machines and because they’re too small to be filtered, they end up going down the drain, straight into the oceans, where they form massive plastic islands that float around with the currents - and those are only 1% of the litter that gets thrown in the oceans, the rest of them simply sink and are impossible to ‘fish out’. They can also get eaten by marine animals, which means if you’re a fan of seafood, you’re probably consuming microbeads as well. So think twice before buying personal hygiene products that contain exfoliating microbeads, opt for those that contain natural ingredients, like sugar, coffee, oatmeal or salt. When buying clothes, try avoiding synthetic materials such as viscose and polyesters, and go for natural materials, like organic cotton or linen. They’re much more friendly to our environment.
10. Feminine hygiene products
Most sanitary products available on the market are extremely unsustainable, being a single-use items, they’re often made out of synthetic materials and plastic. They’re estimated to produce over 100 billion pieces of waste annually. Even the biodegradable options end up breaking down for many years. The good news is, they’re not the only option out there - there are more eco-friendly alternatives that greatly reduce plastic waste, such as organic cotton cloth pads or menstrual cups. Switching to an eco-friendly option, you can save up to 12,000 pieces of plastic from entering the environment in your lifetime.