Although we’ve known for years just how damaging plastic is to the environment, there’s no doubt that our plastic problem is getting worse. A recent survey found that nearly three-quarters of the UK’s beaches were polluted with tiny plastic pellets – known as nurdles – which are used to make new, single-use plastic products.
It also recently emerged that there is now another way in which our love of this man-made material is harming wildlife. When we wash clothes made from synthetic, plastic-derived materials such as polyester and nylon, hundreds of thousands of invisible microfibres are shed, which then end up in the water supply. Every year, up to 190,000 tonnes of plastic microfibres make their way into the ocean and into the stomachs of fish and seabirds. Many animals die of starvation because ingesting plastic often makes them feel full.
Professor Richard Thompson from Plymouth University says: “Substantial numbers of fish and shellfish are now contaminated with small pieces of plastic, including fibres. And actually because they don’t degrade, unless we take action to reduce those plastics we are only going to see more and more of them in marine life in the future.”
Not only are plastics bad news for the planet, but they can also have a huge impact on our health. Cancer, endocrine disruption, infertility, developmental and reproductive effects, birth defects and impaired immunity are some of the severe adverse health effects that can be caused by over-exposure to plastics, particularly PVC, phthalates and BPA.
Take one look around your bathroom, the kitchen and the supermarket, and you will be amazed at just how much is actually made from one form of plastic or another. Once you are aware of the plastic problem, it is hard to ignore it. If we really want to do something to help the environment and our health, reducing our plastic consumption is one thing we can all try to do. The good news is there are so many easy ways to reduce the amount of plastic in our lives. If you feel a little overwhelmed, don’t feel you have to make all the changes at once, just do things gradually until trying to avoid plastic becomes second nature. Read on to find out our top tips.
- Take reusable jute, canvas or organic cotton bags to the supermarket. Keep a foldable bag in your handbag so that you always have one to hand.
- Don’t buy ready meals or processed foods that come in excess plastic packaging.
- Buy unpackaged fruit and vegetables where possible. Put them loose into your trolley, or bring your own reusable organic cotton or bamboo produce bags when you go food shopping to use in place of plastic ones.
- Stock up on things like oats, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices at health food shops. Again, take your own reusable bags for them to be weighed in, and store everything in glass jars when you get home.
- For food that you cannot buy unpackaged, try to see if there is an alternative brand that has non-plastic packaging. For example, choose nut butters and olive oil in glass jars, sea salt in glass containers and chopped tomatoes in cardboard cartons instead of BPA-lined tins. If you must buy tinned food, try to look for a brand that is labelled as BPA-free.
- Make your own versions of your favourite packaged foods at home, such as houmous, granola, flapjacks and snack bars. They will likely be cheaper and healthier too!
- Instead of using plastic tubs or cling film, store any leftover food in glass jars or stainless steel tins, or wrap it in tin foil.
- Ditch your plastic lunchbox and invest in a stainless steel box, a glass jar or an eco-friendly fabric one instead.
- Use bamboo eating utensils instead of disposable plastic cutlery.
- Invest in a reusable takeaway cup and keep it in your bag to avoid disposable cups, which although usually made of paper, often contain a plastic lining that is difficult to recycle. If you absolutely must buy your coffee to go and you have forgotten your cup, don’t put the plastic lid on your drink to minimise waste.
- Don’t use straws in your drinks. Over 500 million straws are used every day in the US alone! If you really do need a straw to help you drink, buy some reusable bamboo ones that you can keep in your bag.
- Keep a glass or stainless steel drinks bottle with you at all times to avoid having to buy drinks in plastic bottles.
- Use a bamboo chopping board instead of a plastic one.
- Opt for a stainless steel toaster and kettle instead of plastic, and buy glass jugs, sieves, blenders and food processors.
- Instead of using disposable plastic razors, invest in a metal safety razor.
- Ditch the plastic loofahs and sponges and use a natural loofah or bamboo wash mitt instead.
- Use bar soap instead of hand wash and shower gel.
- Use solid versions of other products such as shampoo and conditioner if possible. Alternatively, if you must have liquid products, see if your local health food shop offers refills so you can reuse your bottles.
- Make as many of your own beauty products as you can and store them in glass jars and bottles.
- Buy bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. They are fully biodegradable so you can just compost them when you need to replace them.
- Avoid plastic-wrapped sanitary pads and tampons which contain even more plastic (not to mention harmful chemicals, fragrances and dyes). Instead choose natural, organic cotton-based products that come in paper wrappers and cardboard boxes. Even better, invest in some washable pads or a reusable menstrual cup.
- Stick to a classic capsule wardrobe to minimise the amount of new clothing you have to buy. When you do purchase new garments, make sure they are made of eco-friendly fabrics. Buy quality pieces that will last.
- Buy organic cotton or bamboo bedding instead of polyester.
- Use natural plant-based sponges and scourers instead of disposable plastic ones.
- Use washable cloths and rags instead of disposable cloths and plastic-wrapped kitchen roll.
- Make your own cleaning products and store in glass bottles, or get your products refilled at a health food shop.
- Use matches or re-fillable lighters instead of disposable ones.
- Don’t buy plastic toys for your dog or cat – they will destroy them quickly which will result in them needing to be thrown away.
- Use bamboo or steel feeding bowls for your dog or cat.
- Don’t give children plastic teethers or toys.
- Use rechargeable batteries to avoid disposable batteries that come in plastic packaging.
- Use shredded paper, cardboard or popcorn when sending parcels instead of bubble wrap or polystyrene chips.
- Buy digital music and subscribe to Netflix to avoid buying CDs and DVDs.
- Reduce your household waste to reduce the amount of plastic bin bags you use. Compost food waste and limit the products you buy that come in non-recyclable packaging. Purchase recycled and/or biodegradable bin bags where possible (and opt for a stainless steel bin).
- Ditch bottled laundry detergent and switch to an eco-friendly alternative such as compostable soapnuts that come in plastic-free packaging.
- Avoid plastic air fresheners and instead use soy aromatherapy candles or essential oils in an oil burner.
Header photo by Imani Clovis via Unsplash. All other photos via Pixabay.