Week 3: Ten Easy Steps To Reduce Your Plastic Footprint
I have just completed my 3rd week of my month-long plastic-free challenge and I am so touched by the generosity of my friends, family and others in supporting my campaign for the Marine Conservation Society. I have now raised £431 and am so close to my target of £500 – thank you so much everybody!
In my last two updates I focused on solutions I have found to living completely plastic-free. Take a look at my posts on the weekly food shop and toiletries & household cleaning if you are interested in what I discovered!
This week I thought I would list 10 easy steps for those looking to reduce their use of plastic. These tips are low or no cost and take very little effort, but they all tackle perhaps the most plasticky parts of our everyday lives. If you can implement these tips on a regular basis, you will find you have significantly reduced your plastic waste footprint!
- Water bottles
A recent London Assembly report that described UK capital’s water bottle problem as “out of control”. Having volunteered at a Thames riverside clean-up myself, I can certainly testify that water bottles really are the most noticeable part of London’s plastic pollution. The solution to this one is easy and cheap and just requires making the effort to engrain a new habit. If we rain-sodden Brits can remember to bring an umbrella whenever we head out, we definitely can start packing a reusable water bottle alongside it. Other good places to make sure we always have a bottle to hand are the gym bag, work desk drawer and in the holiday suitcase.
- Coffee cups
2.5 billion coffee cups are used each year in the UK, but only 1% are recycled. This is because of the difficulty in recycling the plastic film that lines the cups (to make them waterproof) alongside other mixed recycling products. So this is a super urgent plastic product for us to cut down on! Reusable coffee cups can be purchased cheaply all over the internet (I like these KeepCups) and, as with water bottles, it is just a case of making sure you have it with you when you anticipate needing to walk about with a hot brew. As an added incentive, many coffee houses (including Starbucks, Pret, Costa and Paul) are now offering a discount on customers who bring their own cups.
- Plastic Bags
Not much I can say here that you probably don’t already know! The impact of plastic bags on marine and bird life is widely documented and even supposedly biodegradable bags are now seen as not a viable solution. The good news is that the UK’s recently introduced 5bp bag charge saw the number of plastic bags used by shoppers drop by a whopping 85% six months after the policy was introduced. As amazing as this progress is, bags are actually another example of a plastic product we can very easily just stop using all together. I now always make sure to have a couple of old sainsbury’s bags tucked away in my work bag, gym bag and coat pocket, ready to use whenever I need. These lovely totes from paperchase are another great option: they come in loads of different patterns and fold up very small.
Pic I took last week of the Thames shore outside my office – plastic galore
- Refuse Drinking Straws
Is there anything more pointless than straws? We use them for about 20 minutes before tossing them away to disintegrate in our oceans for the next 500 years. Straws seem insignificant, but their small size makes them one of the most dangerous plastic pollutants because they are so easily consumed by marine life. This video of scientists removing a straw embedded in a turtle’s nose is a pretty shocking example of their impact. This month I’ve been asking bartenders not to put straws in my drinks. I’ll admit it’s a hard one to remember at first (and I did forget twice!) as straws are so easy to not notice, but once again it is an effortless gesture to adopt as part of a plastic-free lifestyle.
- Don’t flush any plastic!
Like straws, cotton buds, tooth picks and dental floss have a similar impact on marine life in that their plastic elements are so easily ingestible. A quick google search will reveal that plastic-free options for all of these things are widely available, but the first easy step in reducing their impact is to not flush them down the toilet. These items are so small that they cannot be filtered out of the sewage treatment system meaning they end up straight into our rivers and seas. And I can testify to this having picked up a huge amount of plastic cotton-bud handles during my river clean-up. Sanitary pads/tampons are other plastic-filled products that it is essential to stop flushing into our water systems.
- Switch to soap bars
If drinking straws are the #1 most pointless plastic object, then bottled shower gel and hand-wash almost certainly wins 2nd place. I think soap has gained a reputation of being a somewhat austere, frugal method of washing oneself. But soap options sure have come a long way from that grim, greyish bar you might remember sliding around the sink in your primary school WC. From Lush to Body Shop to various online stores, a huge variety of gorgeous-smelling, nourishing and eco-friendly soaps can be found everywhere, even your local supermarket. They are not expensive, usually last much longer than shower gels and save a huge amount of plastic. Added bonus: no need to worry about another liquid in your hand luggage!
All da beautiful soaps at Lush
- Avoid microplastic beads!
The presence of microplastic beads in beauty products is an issue that is getting more attention in the media now, and thankfully the UK government have committed to fully banning their use from the end of 2017. In the meantime, however, you might be shocked to learn how many common high street products still have them in. Face scrubs by Clearasil, Neutrogena, Rituals and Original Source, as well as Oral-B toothpaste and mascara by Rimmel and Max Factor (to name only a few examples, full list here) all still contain microbeads. The beads are a serious threat to the environment as they are washed down our sinks straight into marine ecosystems and are mistaken by fish as food. Nobody yet knows what the long term effects are of micro plastic working it’s way up the food chain, but the UK government was recently concerned enough to launch a review. In order to avoid these nasties in your everyday products, look out for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon listed in the ingredients.
- Plastic-Free Fruit and Veg
Three weeks into my challenge, I now know that it is definitely possible to avoid buying most fruit and veg in plastic packaging by doing a bit of research of the grocery options available in your local area:
- Larger supermarkets are more likely than their “express-sized” equivalents to sell veggies by weight rather than in packaging: make a commitment to do your weekly veg shop at one of these!
- Local independent Asian mini-marts almost always sell fresh fruit and veg plastic-free at great prices – these are a great alternative to Tesco Express or similar if you don’t have a large supermarket nearby.
- Weekly fresh produce market can be found in most towns/city neighbourhoods (in the capital, see London Farmers Markets) and at these you can often buy much more than just fruit and veg plastic-free.
If none of the above options are available then even just making small choices like buying the not-in-a-bag-bananas and loose onions and tomatoes will make a difference over the long term. TIP: get some fresh produce bags like these (or make your own!) to avoid using the small plastic bags supermarkets often provide for loose stuff.
- The Milkman!
This one has got to be the best plastic-free initiative to implement in terms of cost and effort. In fact, it will actually save you effort. Milk&More are an online milkman company operating all over the UK that deliver glass-bottled milk and orange juice to your door up to six times a week. You can also order other groceries such as eggs and delivery is always free! Their very accessible website and phone app allow you to set up recurring orders or pause your deliveries super easily.
- One Plastic-Free Meal a Week
And finally, how about challenging yourself to try coming up with one plastic-free meal a week? I’m usually as guilty as anybody in preferring to heat up some plastic-wrapped Tesco fishcakes on busy weeknights instead of cooking a whole meal from scratch, but this month I’ve been forced to be far more resourceful in cooking quick plastic-free meals. Now three weeks in, I’ve found that this has (a) saved me money, (b) made me eat much healthier, and (c) been not as difficult as I had initially envisaged.
Easy examples include baked potatoes with tuna and baked beans or coconut thai vegetable curry. Even the bog-standard meat and two veg can be done plastic-free easily enough if you stop by the butchers to get your meat instead of the supermarket shrink-wrap aisle. For those who are looking to cut down on plastic generally, committing to cook just one plastic-free meal each week is a great way to start getting into a waste-conscious mindset. It’s also a weirdly fun challenge, so give it a go! What plastic-free creations can you come up with?
I’ve had some lovely messages from friends over the past few weeks asking my advice on how best to start off on a reduced-plastic lifestyle – hopefully these tips will send you on your way! All together, these are low cost and low effort to implement and they tackle some of the most plasticky but avoidable waste products of everyday life. Once you get into the habit of avoiding plastic bottles, coffee cups, bags, straws, shower gel, fruit & veg packaging and milk bottles, you will be surprised how much plastic you will have managed to cut down! If any of you give these steps a go, I would LOVE to learn how you get on – keep me updated!
I have one week left of my challenge and I am within reaching distance of my goal to raise £500 for the Marine Conservation Society, who do incredible work cleaning our beaches and campaigning for solutions to the UK’s plastic problem. If you think our plastic consumption has gone too far and want to help do something about it, please do consider sponsoring my challenge – every little penny counts, and I am so grateful for your generosity!
The ocean thanks you !!