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Plastic is found everywhere you look, it’s unavoidable. From your car keys, mobile and computer, to milk cartons and your toilet brush.
In fact an astounding About 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally each year. Not all plastic is recyclable, and of the 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste used by consumers in Britain in 2015 only a third was recycled.
Plastic recycling itself is a bit misleading.
“As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it?” – John Tierney
Unlike paper, glass, and aluminum which can be turned into similar objects, plastic cannot. It suggests if we throw a milk carton into our recycling bin, it will be collected and turned into more plastic milk cartons. What actually happens is it is downcycled to produce a lower grade plastic, which is non-recyclable, like doormats or plastic lumber and it usually ends up in landfill.
Until recently (January 2018) China was the dominant country for buying & importing waste, and they imported over 7.3 million tonnes of waste plastic per year. The campaign China launched in July 2017 called yang laji, or “foreign garbage”, restricts the quality of imports and applies to plastic, textiles, and mixed paper. The problem is we don’t have the capacity or infrastructure in place to deal with the amount of recyclable plastic we produce in the Uk, and now that we can’t export to China, this becomes a bigger issue.
Sadly in the interim, as our recycling plants experience chaos, what will happen to these plastics? The options don’t look great as they will either be sent to landfill (taking up space, and taking over 500 years to decompose), incinerated (releasing toxic gases and carbon dioxide), or stored in the hopes a new buyer can be found (which is a huge fire hazard) and doesn’t really answer the problem.
Is it time for a change?
The real issue is about changing the products we use and learning to live a less disposable lifestyle, rather than relying on recycling.
The UK has already successfully introduced a charge for plastic carrier bags and has seen an 80% decrease in the sale of carrier bags as a result
Plastic bottles make up 26% of our total plastic recycling in the UK. Parts of Australia have banned the sale of bottled water, and experts are saying that bottled water is no cleaner than tap water, and could actually be worse for you. A report from the Environmental Audit Committee, recommends that the UK government should make drinking water freely available in public spaces, and there is a call for parliament to lead the way by banning sales of bottled water in their buildings.
How To Minimise Your Plastic Waste This Year
Use reusable shopping bags
With the charge on carrier bags implemented in 2015, many people already use reusable carrier bags. The main issue is having these bags on hand when you need them. If you get into the habit of storing them in your car, or in your bag, they will be ready to use when needed.
Use a reusable bottle
Instead of buying a bottled drink while you are on the go, fill a reusable bottle and take it with you. With the lack of recycling in public spaces, people rarely recycle while out or take their recycling home, so these bottles end up in landfill. These ones from Kleen Kanteen at Babi Pur are on my wishlist for the little two children, and these for the adults and our two eldest children.
Take a reusable coffee cup
If you usually buy a hot drink on your way to work, refuse the disposable cup and take your own reusable cup. Most cafes are happy to fill reusable cups, and some even offer a discount to customers who do. (Pret a Manger, Costa, and Starbucks)
Buy sustainable alternatives where possible
Small changes can make a big difference, look for washing powder in cardboard boxes, or peanut butter in a glass jar. Lots of supermarkets sell loose fruit and veg instead if prepackaged. You can save money by just buying the amount you need to.
Tip – instead of packing your loose fruit and veg into plastic produce bags, use cotton ones.
We use this refillable oil sprayer instead of the disposable alternatives. You can still use different flavours and even make your own infused oils. This is also better for your pocket too!
Where you can’t replace, reduce.
Sometimes it’s not possible to find a none plastic alternative. Due to the risk of contamination, some butchers insist that they use their own plastic bags to package meat. But for the sake of comparison, a small freezer bag leaves a much smaller footprint than a supermarket tray. A plastic bag takes 10-20 years to biodegrade, whilst a plastic tray could take anywhere from 100-1000 years. Edited to Add: Some butchers will pack meat in containers brought from home, it is definitely worth asking. (Thanks to Little Green Duckie)
We have recently switched to vegetable delivery from Riverford Organic Farms, Riverford are committed to sustainability and to reducing packaging where possible.
I find that the biggest percentage of our plastic waste comes from the kitchen. The biggest offenders in our home are milk cartons and plastic meat/veg packaging. Next is convenience food. Biscuits, sweets, cereal bars, and much much more, all come wrapped in plastic. Often the ingredients can be bought in a more environmentally friendly way, and an hour or so of batch-cooking breakfast bars/snacks can result in tasty treats without the excess packaging or preservatives. You can switch your clingfilm to more environmentally friendly beeswax wraps (homemade or bought). Or you can avoid wrapping completely by covering food with a plate or store in a glass jar.
If you were walking around any supermarket here in the UK, you would be led to believe you need LOTS of different solutions for cleaning. From general-purpose sprays to window, bathroom, kitchen, and even stainless steel cleaners. Most cleaning jobs can be done efficiently with baking soda and white vinegar. This will not only save you money, and reduce the number of chemicals that you come into contact with, save space in your kitchen, and its also much better for the environment.
Read more on green cleaning from eco-boost
Switch to reusable sanitary products
Disposable sanitary products come with a lot of packaging, including plastic wrapping and applicators. Some women still believe you can flush tampons down the toilet, but they aren’t biodegradable and are pretty much indestructible – they have to be, so they don’t disintegrate in your vagina. Switching to a reusable option is better for your bank AND the environment. To get started read this guide from Ecofluffymama for sizing, I purchased mine from Earthwise Girls
A Plastic Free Bathroom
There are lots of plastic-free alternatives for the bathroom. This one homemade recipe from goingzerowaste replaces body wash, shampoo, conditioner, and shave cream. I think soap in general is considered old-fashioned, but it’s far from what it used to be even 20 years ago. With lots of hydrating and plant-based formulas, eco-friendly brands are choosing this greener alternative to liquid soaps.
*I replaced the razor above when it dropped and we replaced it with this one
You can also replace plastic toothbrushes with more earth-friendly bamboo ones, and ditch the disposable razor in favour of a safety razor
Related Post: How to have an eco-friendly period with a menstrual cup
Share your top plastic-reducing tips in the comments below.