You've probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage patch/vortex and the fact that it's mostly comprised of plastic; the fact that seabirds are mistaking bits of plastic bobbing on the ocean surface for food, feeding it to their babies and killing them; and the fact that plastic never fully biodegrades. Oh, and it's mostly made from oil, you know - that thing we're using up at a rapid pace and going to war over.
Yet, every day we consume and throw away plastic, probably without even realising it. Once you start to think about it, though, you realise with a creeping horror that plastic - like an alien species just waiting for us to turn our backs - has slowly take over our lives. And worse; many types of plastic can't be recycled. What am I talking about, and what can we do about it? Well:
1) Plastic stirrers - why does this tiny little piece of plastic need to be made, packaged and shipped somewhere just so I can stir my coffee with it for about 3 seconds before throwing it in the bin for eternity? Petrol/gas stations and take-away coffee shops: I'm looking at you. It's bad enough that take-away coffee cups aren't recyclable without adding this to the mix. Some places carry wooden stirrers, which are much better, but you can never be sure.
Solution: carry a spoon with you in your handbag.
2) Plastic knives/forks/spoons - they come with take-aways, with meals bought in shops (also in plastic tubs, usually) or even, to my great dismay, in some restaurants. I usually keep them in my bag for weeks, telling myself I'll use them again instead of throwing them away, until they end up snapping somehow.
Solution: carry cutlery with you and make sure you tell the servers at these establishments that you do not want them. Preferably, don't order take-out, because it inevitably comes in loads of plastic packaging.
3) Q-tips/cotton buds - plastic that you stick in your ear for a few seconds or dab with nail varnish remover to clean up your nails. There could be a third purpose for these things that I've missed. With a lifespan of a couple of minutes from when you first use them, these are high on the offending list.
Solution: keep one Q-tip or something of similar width and wrap it in tissue. You can throw away the tissue, at least, without having to throw away the entire bud.
4) Straws - especially straws in cocktails, drinks, double straws with drinks, and straws forced upon
|Straw lamp: Fine, as long as you don't gather straws |
especially to make it
Solution: if you can't refuse them, carry your own (even better - a metal straw) or collect them and turn them into artwork.
5) Plastic cups - including coffee take-out cups, but also conferences and coffee vending machines. My personal favourite was when these were served at a conference I went to on climate change.
Solution: There's really no way out of this if you're using a vending machine (so try to avoid these!), but for the others you can at least buy transportable, washable cups (e.g. from Starbucks) and ask cafes to fill them up for you. If you're organising a party or conference, try these biodegradable and compostable cups made from corn starch bioplastic
6) Disposable razors - again, plastic! Even worse if you use them a few times and throw the entire thing away.
Solutions: plentiful ideas here - for one, get a good quality razor with disposable heads. There are recyclable plastic razors made from yogurt cups, or you can try an electric razor, waxing or hair-removal cream.
7) Bags for vegetables - when I try to place individual peppers, courgettes or onions into my shopping basket, the cashier usually gives that that look and whips out a spare plastic bag from somewhere under the till, as if I were simply too stupid to have realised I could bring my vegetable home in its very own plastic cover.
Solution: There are some shops that are more bio/organic and eco-friendly, but generally I reuse these plastic bags and bring them from home whenever I go shopping.
8) Toothbrushes - Think of all the toothbrushes you've used in your life, and then imagine how many that would be if every human on earth added their lifetime's supply to a landfill. That's a lot of plastic. But what can you do? You've gotta have clean teeth, right? WRONG! Nah, just kidding, you probably should brush your teeth.
Solution: Greener Step at least has toothbrushes with disposable heads, reducing plastic waste. You can also try wooden / bamboo toothbrushes, and make your old brushes last longer by keeping them for brushing your nails or getting into the tough cracks in your bathroom tiles when you're cleaning the house.
9) Vitamin/supplement bottles - I just glanced at my desk, thinking "what else?" and saw my Vitamin C capsules, sitting there in their little plastic bottle.
Solution: I've been trying to research alternatives but I can't seem to find anything... apparently there are a few brands that sell vitamins in glass bottles, but my results are coming up empty. Other than balancing your diet properly so you don't need to take supplements, I'm at a loss here and open to suggestions!
10) Make-up - mascara comes in plastic and you're meant to throw it away every three months. Eyeliner, eyeshadows, foundation - all come in plastic containers, and that's before we even talk about what the products themselves contain. Just like most things on this list, we don't even need these things - they might make life a tiny, tiny bit more convenient or make us feel slightly more attractive, but ultimately - we're creating and disposing of so much plastic for no real reason.
Solution: other than not wearing make-up; apparently there's a brand of make-up called TWINK where you can get make-up in metal tins! You could also try to make your own make-up, if you're feeling adventurous.
I must admit; I haven't taken my own advice on a lot of these items yet. But I'm going to get to it as soon as possible. And as I write this, I realise that there are so many other things I want to add here... shopping bags, bottled water, shampoo and shower gel packaging, deodorant, crappy little toys and decorations that we buy each other but nobody really wants or needs, plastic pens... argh! Why so much plastic?
The thing is, these are mostly very simple changes we can make right now. Say no to a plastic stirrer, a bag or a straw. Bring your own cutlery and a reusable cup with you. Order a wooden toothbrush, recyclable razor and some tinned make-up. They may seem like small, insignificant actions, but the more people who take these steps; we not only reduce plastic waste but we send a message to companies that they need to change their practices and think of more sustainable products and solutions.
Some good resources I found for inspiration on reducing the plastic in your life:
https://myplasticfreelife.com - tips
https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/ - products
http://www.zerowastehome.com - Zero waste lifestyle