My war with plastic – Ten ways I’m trying to reduce plastic wastage
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
It seems we can’t get away from dreaded plastic; before David Attenborough opened our eyes, many of us existed in ignorant bliss, I know I did to a certain extent. I recycled and lived as low impact as I believed I could, but now with my eyes wide in shock, I cannot un-see plastic’s devastating impact and the extra changes I must now make.
This isn’t a bad thing; we needed a wake-up call. When the final episode of Blue Planet II aired in 2017, I cried myself to sleep that night.
So ashamed was I of being human and letting this happen on my watch. Once you’ve seen an albatross pair feeding plastic to their chicks, you can’t go back.
Since then, the world has gone to war with plastic. A report produced by Waitrose supermarket in 2018 stated that, “nearly nine in 10 people (88%) who saw that episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II have changed their behaviour since. Waitrose has seen an 800% increase in questions about plastics from customers”.
The episode clearly sparked a plastic-free revolution and it’s moving fast. Waitrose’s report also stated that “more than 60% of people use reusable water bottles more now, than they did in 2017 — and over 70% of those are 18 to 24-year-olds”.
In just a year, it’s incredible to see a new generation of environmentalists emerging from this tragedy.
While change may be rapid, it’s not instant; plastic is a globally used material and large-scale change will certainly be linked with industry and consumerism. Right now, we can all do our bit by reducing plastic wastage at an individual level. If we mindfully buy less plastic, we will inevitably throw away less too. My personal war with plastic waste has begun and research had led to some interesting conclusions. Below I’ve listed ten great tips I’ve learnt in trying to reduce my own plastic wastage.
Ditch the crap toilet roll packaging - toilet rolls themselves have no harmful wastage, but I find the plastic wrap they come in very unnecessary. I now use rolls from Who gives a Crap. These rolls are made from 100% recycled paper, wrapped in plastic-free packaging and 50% of profits go towards building toilets for those in need. The rolls are slightly more expensive than the stuff from the supermarket; 24 double-length rolls come in at an acceptable £24. Other products include tissues and kitchen roll, so stock up the cupboards. From plastic to fantastic, finally toilet roll packaging can be as easy on the eye, as it is the environment.
Brush like a plastic-free pro - we’re advised to change our toothbrushes every three months; if you’ve stuck to that, at 35 you might have already thrown 140 toothbrushes away. Times that by billions and the problem becomes apparent. Toothbrushes are generally made of 100% plastic and aren’t recyclable. To combat this, I have recently moved to a bamboo toothbrush. It’s beautiful to look at and very tactile in the hand; the wood feels luxurious in comparison to plastic so no compromise. Once I’m done with my wooden brush, I can throw away and everything but the bristles will biodegrade over time. It’s not 100% perfect but it’s a good deal better than the alternative.
Find alternatives to wet wipes – keeping on the bathroom theme, I’ve also changed my wet wipe habits. Born out of convenience, I was a slave to wet wipes a few years ago but since discovering their plastic content, I’ve been significantly put off. Not only are they packaged in plastic, they also contain plastic and are reported to make up 90% of the material causing sewer blockages in the UK. This is why they’re first in line to be banned under Michael Gove’s plans to eliminate plastic waste. I’ve found many ways of avoiding wet wipes, from face washes to reusable cloths, but there are still occasions when they’re handy to have. For this I have an emergency pack of biodegradable wipes. While still packaged in plastic, the wipes themselves are much better for the environment and will degrade over time. It seems the old camping ‘squaddie-wash’ isn’t lost yet.
No more plastic sanitary items – one for the ladies but good to know for the gents. While a period is a completely natural process, the products available to women at this time of the month has become a serious plastic problem. Manufacturer Natracare, estimates that conventional sanitary pads are up to 90% plastic and a pack of menstrual pads is equivalent to 4 plastic bags. Tampons also contain plastic, up to 6% in some cases. Recycling is not an option, but what choice do we woman have? As it turns out, quite a few. Biodegradable pads and tampons are now available however an increasing number of women, myself included, are turning to silicon sanitary cups such as the Mooncup or Lily Cup. These are purchased once and then used for years. There’s also an increase in washable liners and period pants from companies such as Thinx and Modibodi. These both have a higher upfront cost, but in the long-term result in a win for the purse and planet.
Only buy vegetables and bakery items loose or in paper – moving away from the bathroom, we enter the kitchen. This one is fairly obvious but well worth a mention. As much as possible, I now steer clear from plastic packaged fruit and vegetables. It’s impossible to do 100%, but where there is the option, take it. Luckily, supermarkets are stepping up to the challenge. Sainsbury’s is leading the way in sustainable packaging initiatives and as of September 2019, the supermarket plans to remove all plastic for loose fruit, vegetables and bakery items. Instead, they’ll offer paper bags or encourage a bring-your-own system. Changes like this will have a significant impact on plastic wastage and I hope we see other supermarkets follow suit.
Be choosey about chewing gum – this was a shocking revelation to me; I didn’t know that chewing gum was essentially made of plastic. Minty fresh breath or not, this was enough to kick the habit. The good news is, plastic-free gum is making a comeback and one brand that’s caught my eye is Chewsy. I’m a sucker for a play on words but not only that, the branding is sexy and the morals behind the product are even better. No plastic, 100% natural gum – what’s not to like.
Hit the bar, not the bottle with soaps and shampoos – This is a switch I am in the process of making. Lined up on my bathroom shelf are rows of plastic bottles, containing shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash and shaving gel. As more businesses develop ways around plastic packaging, it is becoming easier to switch to an alternative. I plan to move to bar soaps, taking a step back in time for a plastic free future. Lush stock the widest range of shampoo bars, which feel more like a treat than a compromise, and there are plenty of funky small businesses with hand-made products on offer. If you want to go a step further, you can even make your own.
Make your own snacks bars – we all love a snack bar, the healthy and unhealthy kind; it helps us get through the day. But unfortunately, the wrapper is usually plastic. To combat this, I’m going to try and make my own snack bars using a few different recipes I’ve found online. The nutritionist in me knows this is a great way to control how much sugar I consume, and I can also package them in cute tiny Tupperware or tins; who doesn’t like those! From my own health to the planet’s, everyone’s a winner. When I’ve tried a few recipes, I’ll add the links to this post.
Leave the house prepared to eat and drink – this is probably the most discussed habit change we hear about on the news and in media. Reusable cups are seeing a huge increase in popularity, with companies such as Argos reporting a 537% increase in sales from December 2016 to December 2017. There’s even a reusable cup made from 100% recycled coffee cups – talk about the circle of life. Bamboo or metal travel-size cutlery sets are widely available, along with funky water bottles and reusable straws. All of this is good for the environment and the handbag business - I need a bigger bag to carry it all! However, despite the extra baggage, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that being prepared ensures I’m less reliant on single-use plastics while on the move.
Make your cuppa count – Last but not least, my research had led me to teabags. I have been unknowingly composting my teabags without realising that an estimated 96% of them contain polypropylene. Not only is polypropylene known to harm the body’s endocrine system, it doesn’t decompose; not good for my compost heap or hormones. Luckily, there are several brands who have caught on to this and now produce plastic free bags, including Clipper, Tea Pigs and Pukka. I mention these three brands, because all of them have also made sure their packaging is plastic free too. My afternoon cuppa never tasted so good.
And that’s all folks – I hope this list is useful. I am at the beginning of my war with plastic and change won’t happen overnight. But, I hope that these ten tips inspire you to also alter your habits, and open the door to exploring even more ways to reduce waste in the future.