The plastics problem is enormous. Every day we are seeing distressing pictures of the damage already done, especially to aquatic and marine environments.
- Shorelines clogged up with plastic rubbish that may have originated from another continent.
- Seals and dolphins drowned after becoming entangled in discarded plastic netting.
- Seabird and whale carcasses with their stomachs full of plastic items eaten by mistake.
- Turtles deformed because their growth has been restricted by six-pack rings in which they became trapped when young.
The solutions are going to need new legislation, new technologies and new attitudes. None of which are going to happen overnight.
In the meantime, here are a few simple things we can all do to try to reduce our plastics usage. These are tiny measures, but every plastic item that works its way into the environment is a potential hazard. Therefore every time we use an alternative, or reuse a single-use item, we are doing something worthwhile.
Don’t Ask for Plastic Bags When Shopping
The introduction of a tax on plastic bags in the UK has had a huge impact. But still many people, when asked if they want a bag, say yes.
Buy a good strong shopping bag and use it (preferably one not made plastic!) – see here for some great examples. And if you have any old plastic bags laying around the house, keep them folded in your car/handbag/coat pocket in case you need them.
Avoid Using Plastic Bags for Self-Selected Fruit and Veg
If you are just buying a few baking potatoes, or apples, or carrots, you don’t need to put them in a bag. Just weigh them loose at the self-service checkout, and they can go straight in your shopping bag.
Keep a ready supply of paper bags for times when you are buying larger quantities, smaller items or items that are not clean.
Watch Out For Small Tags and Hooks
Many items that seem environmentally-friendly still have plastic tags and hooks (see Little Bits of Plastic). Make sure that these aren’t overlooked and thrown away with rubbish that will end up as landfill. See the above link for a suggested way of ensuring that these get recycled.
Make the Effort to Recycle
It completely defeats the point of having recyclable packaging if people are too lazy to sort their rubbish!
If you buy plastic bottles of drinks while you are out, either look for a bin specially for plastics, or take them home. Watch out for plastic tops on aerosol cans and glass jars. Take the time to separate items that are a combination of cardboard and plastic. And make sure that all those recyclable items do actually go into your recycling box. It takes a bit of effort, but it is the least we can do.
Don’t Buy Single-Use Plastic Straws
You can buy reusable straws made from silicone, bamboo or stainless steel, many of which come in bright colours to please the kids. Some even have their own cleaning brush! See this page at Amazon for many examples.
Avoid Cotton Buds with Plastic Stems
Some cotton buds have a plastic stem. Check before you buy to make sure you are getting ones made of paper or bamboo.
Avoid Tampons with Plastic Applicators
Look for organic tampons, which are widely available. See, for example, Boots
Watch Out for Plastic Cutlery in Coffee Shops
If you visit a coffee shop where they have plastic cutlery or stirrers, check whether these are recycled or just thrown away.
It is easy to wipe your cutlery after use, take it home to wash, and they keep it in your handbag for your next visit.
Get a Reusable Cup for your Takeaway Coffee
Speaking of coffee shops, many people assume that the takeaway cups are recyclable, but they are not. See this page for a great selection of reusable cups – you will probably save money on your coffee as well!
Use a Water Filter Jug
If, like me, you genuinely don’t like the taste of chlorine in tap water, buy a water filter jug instead of buying bottled water. You can keep one in the fridge for lovely cold water. Just make sure you have the cartridges recycled!
These are tiny, tiny steps, but if enough of us follow them it will make a difference.
Remember that every single item that finds its way into the environment now could harm some creature in the future. And every one of these items will be around for a very long time.