Plastic is everywhere. When I look around me, I see a gazillion things made of plastic: my computer, my watch, pens, lights, clothes … the list seems never-ending.
Plastic is an incredibly useful and versatile material, however, I have a problem with things being made of plastic when they are intended to be used just once - especially plastic bags, plastic bottles and takeaway coffee cups. Yes, they are recyclable, but unfortunately the UK doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all our bags, bottles and cups and all the other recyclable plastic we are using daily. The consequence is that the UK either burns the excess plastic recycling for fuel or sells the waste abroad to countries that most of the time do not have the capacity for recycling either, resulting in the plastic ending up in the environment and posing a threat to whales, dolphins, porpoises and other wildlife.
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The British Plastics Federation estimates that 46% of the UK’s plastic waste is incinerated, 19% is exported and 17% goes to landfill. That leaves just 18% being recycled. Gruesome, eh? But you know what is great about single-use plastic items? You can refuse to use them!
Plastic Free July is an environmental campaign working towards a world free of plastic waste. Millions of people across the globe take part every year, with many committing to reducing their plastic pollution far beyond the month of July.
Four years ago, I started on my journey to reduce my family’s plastic footprint by making conscious decisions and cutting out one single use plastic item at a time. I started with retraining my brain to make sure to always carry a reusable shopping bag with me. Next, I tackled plastic bottles. I bought a reusable stainless steel bottle for every member of the family and a carbonating machine to make our own sparkling water. Adieu single-use water bottles.
Then I looked at my coffee-drinking habit. Before the pandemic, I had to travel to London frequently and would get a takeaway coffee during the day. The takeout coffee cups are difficult to recycle, as they are made of a mixture of cardboard on the outside and a thin plastic film on the inside to make the cup waterproof, and it’s often the same with those triangular sandwich packs. Separating these layers is difficult. The UK uses 6.8 million of these coffee cups every day, but fewer than one in 400 is recycled - most end up in landfill. So I made the decision to not buy a coffee if I don’t have my reusable coffee cup with me and don’t have time to sit down in the café to enjoy my drink.
I continue to discover new ideas and create habits, including paying more attention to what I buy and how it is packaged, opting for loose fruit and veg where I can, swapping bottles of shampoo and shower gel for shampoo powder (in a recyclable aluminium bottle) and bars of soap, toothpaste for tooth tabs, deodorant in a plastic container for my own homemade version and eventually making body butter instead of buying lotion in a plastic bottle.
I still use too much plastic for my liking, but by saying no to the top three single-use plastics and by making conscious decisions, I am able to have a big impact and reduce the amount of recycling I am producing. During Plastic Free July, I will choose to refuse even more single use plastic and I encourage you to join me. Start somewhere, even if it’s just with small changes: Choose a couple of behaviours from the list below to focus on.
Don’t change everything at once and don’t beat yourself up if you get it wrong. It’s a journey but every small change does count.
|What to avoid||How to avoid it|
|Plastic shopping bags||Remember to bring your reusable shopping bags|
|Packaged fruit and veg||Choose loose products and put into a reusable fruit and veg bag. If you have had to buy something in a plastic bag, keep it and use it over and over again for loose fruit and veg.|
|Takeaway drinks cup||Bring your reusable cup or sit in the café and enjoy a real cup.|
|Bottled water||Fill a reusable bottle from the tap and use the refill app (https://refill.org.uk) when out and about and in need of a refill.|
|Cling film||Use reusable boxes for sandwiches and to store leftover food or use beeswax wrap.|
|Packaged food||Opt for food that is loose or packaged in cardboard that is not plastic-lined or use deli counters and bring your own reusable container.|
|Bottled soft drinks||Reduce the amount you drink or make your own with a carbonator and flavoured syrups or fresh juice or choose glass bottles (and recycle).|
|Filling your recycling bin with plastics||By doing all the above and trying to opting for reusable/refillable options wherever possible|
|Littering: cigarette butts, balloons||Dispose of cigarette butts in the bin (they are plastic and easily make their way to the sea); Avoid releasing balloons (what goes up has to come down).|
|Shampoo/conditioner and shower gel in plastic bottles||Use shampoo/conditioner bars/powder and bars of soap|
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If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us fight plastic pollution