Plastic pollution is a global problem. Plastic waste has been found in every sea and ocean and in every continent on Earth, including at the North and South poles. It is has been found inside most sea life including whales and turtles, which mistake plastic bags for jellyfish (their main food source). Microplastics have even seeped into our food and drink, and have been found in the blood of 80% of people who were tested.
Why it's important to go plastic free
During the pandemic, reports found that there could be more masks in the ocean than jellyfish, and that by 2050 there could be more plastic in our oceans than all the fish that live there.
Plastic is not only a big polluter, but it's here to stay. It can take over a hundred years for plastics to decay, and when they do, they don't go away. Plastic breaks down into micro-plastics, which are toxic. They're in our water, our food, and as a result, they're in us too.
Making billions of products from raw plastic not only pollutes our planet but it contributes to climate change too. Plastic is made from oil which needs to be dug up and use energy (often from fossil fuels) to create an entirely new product. And when plastic comes to the end of its use, it is often burnt, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
So what can we do about it?
There are ways out of this. Initiatives have started to take off that aim to clean up our oceans and break down the plastic waste. However, living without plastic, is the only way we can properly get rid of this problem.
Companies have been using plastic for so many years, because it's cheaper to make and use than any other material. It is so convenient for these businesses to use plastic, that it now exists in every aspect of our lives. Every drinks container, food container, cleaning and grooming product is made from plastic.
Even water, which in most countries can be drunk straight from a tap, is being bottled up and sold in plastic bottles.
Businesses are making money from these plastic products, with no accountability to how their products affect the world around them. These businesses benefit from the idea of consumers recycling plastic, as it makes the consumer responsible for the waste product, rather than the business. And although recycled plastic has its benefits, a lot of plastic cannot be recycled due to food waste or because it is made from different plastics.
Most companies use new plastic, processing the oil straight from the Earth, with very few companies making their products from recycled plastic. Even if they do, it doesn't solve the problem.
Unlike glass, plastic cannot be recycled into the same plastic material. It reduces in quality each time it's recycled, meaning that most plastic, at best, is recycled three times, before it cannot be used again and ends up in landfill or being burnt.
As a result, we need to encourage ourselves, each other, and businesses to live without plastic. If you have the means to buy plastic free, go for it! If not, you can still do your part by making your voice heard and demanding better from companies.
The price we pay for plastic
It's worth noting that it's easier to reduce your plastic waste if you have the means and money to do so. Plastic is so commonly used because it's not only the cheapest and most convenient for companies, but for people too. As a result, plastic free products can be more expensive than its plastic equivalence. This can be particularly difficult when the cost of living is as high as it is now.
Sustainable options will become more affordable as more people buy them. However, if you can't at the moment, don't let that eco-anxiety wear you out. There are still things you can do to help in the battle against waste.
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How to go plastic free: break it down room-by-room and item-by-item, replacing each one with a plastic free option, until you are plastic free!
How to go plastic free
Although this seems like a big task, to live completely without plastic, there's no need to feel over-loaded. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Step 1: Check your plastic use
The first step is knowing how much plastic you already use, in order to see where and how you can start to be plastic free.
Tally up all your disposable plastic products in each room of your house, and note down alternatives. You can create a tick list with alternatives you could use that are plastic free, where to find these items, and when create a realistic plan of when you could go and swap them.
Start slowly, swapping one item per week for a reusable or plastic free alternative. Don't try to go plastic free overnight. Instead introduce gradual changes in your habit that are easier to stick to.
Monitor your plastic waste
You may already be aware of how much plastic waste you create, but if not it can startling. It's said that the average person throws away 66 pieces of single use plastic every week!
It can be important to look at the plastic you are recycling too. It's estimated that only 55% of plastic in the UK is recycled there, with the rest sent to other countries, where it could be buried in landfill.
So, instead of throwing your plastic waste away and forgetting about it, put it in a clear bag (separating recyclable and non-recyclable) and keep it for a week. Don't be disheartened if you find it's a lot. Use this as a marker for how much you're going to reduce!
You could even send your waste back to the companies that made them. Some of the biggest plastic polluters are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Unilever, which produce 502,000 tonnes of plastic pollution per year. That's 81 football pitches covered in plastic every single day.
Step 2: Easy plastic-free swaps
Swap the easy ones first. We all know to bring our bags when we go shopping, rather than taking them home in plastic bags, and use reusable water bottles rather than plastic ones. So it works to incorporate these into our daily habits first.
There are plenty of other easier swaps too, including shampoo bars and cleaning products. Take a look at some other Tried and Tested Products here.
Go through your list from step 1, and see which plastic products you can live without. Some easy ones could be:
take a bag with you, so that you don't need a plastic shopping bag
bring a reusable coffee cup with you
use a reusable water bottle instead of buying a single use plastic bottle
say no to plastic straws (if you don't need them)
bring a packed lunch to work
get a bamboo toothbrush, when your old one needs replacing
swap to shampoo bars without plastic packaging (works for soap too)
swap your toilet paper for one that is sustainable and has plastic free packaging
Step 3: How to Go Plastic-free in your bathroom
Our bathrooms can be full of plastic. There are so many products, each one packaged in disposable single use plastic bottle. Supermarkets sell a whole range of bathroom products: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap, face masks, body cream, body butter, beard oil, hair gel, hair mousse, bubble bath, bath salts...the list goes on.
So the first step in going plastic free is not only to reduce the amount of plastic we use, by swapping it for plastic-free option, but also reducing the amount of products.
So how much do we actually need?
Obviously we all need to take care of our skin, hair and teeth. So have a look for:
plastic free soap
plastic free hair products
plastic free toothpaste
plastic free deodorant*
plastic free lip balm
plastic free toilet paper, such as Who Gives A Crap
Alongside this, have a look for plastic free alternatives for hair removal. Using a razor uses the least amount of plastic, compared to hair removal creams and waxing. And, new razors are being put on the market with plastic free handles, helping us to use use less plastic.
The next step is to separate the products in your bathroom between the those you need, and those you like, and use the non-essential products less, such as a self-care treat. Not only will you help the planet, but you'll appreciate them more when you do have them.
You can even swap your favourite plastic bathroom products for plastic free ones. Etsy have a whole load of plastic free items from plastic free lip balms to dish soap.
You could reduce your waste even further and cut out shampoo, and conditioner, and go "no-poo".
If that seems a bit much, you could reduce the amount you wash your hair, or use less of them.
If you menstruate, try to swap your tampons for moon cups, or sanitary pads for period pants. Traditional period products like tampons and sanitary towels include plastic. Moon cups and period pants, like ModiBodi*, Wuka, Cheeky Wipes, and Thinx.
Although they are more expensive than tampons or sanitary towels, they have been getting cheaper. And if you can afford one, they can often work out as being cheaper in the long-term, as they can be used for a few years.
Take some time to find the right plastic-free option for you. Just like traditional products, some plastic free products are going to work for you, while others wont.
Make a list of the top 3 plastic-free options for each plastic item, that way if you don't like the first one, you have have others to try before you have to revert to the original plastic one. You don't have to do this immediately, but it's there for when it's the right time for you.
Step 4: How to Go Plastic-Free in your Kitchen
Most of our food that is cheap and convenient use plastic packaging; from microwave meals, to snacks and cereal, to our cartoons of milk and juice. So it can be incredibly difficult, and more costly, to go for plastic free options.
However, there is something you can do. Ask your companies to change. Whether you do that by sharing a plastic product on social media, or talking to a manager in the store.
You also don't have to go plastic free, just using less plastic than you did before is a great step!
Here are some ways you can live without plastic in your kitchen.
Buy Dry and Buy in Bulk
Dried produce takes up less space than its freshly made or cooked equivalent, so it's easier to buy in bulk. As a result it uses less plastic to transport it, as well as the reducing its carbon footprint. It's also often cheaper per kilogram too, and lasts longer, which can help to reduce food waste.
You might already be buying dried pasta, but you could also by uncooked rice, beans, and lentils and cook these at home (rather than using microwaveable bags or tins).
Even better, dried pulses, fruit and cereal can often be bought from zero waste stores (so remember to bring your reusable containers).
If you're in the UK you can find your nearest zero waste store with this list of zero waste stores by ecothriftliving. While Rob Greenfield, who wore all his plastic waste for 30 days, has a list of the zero waste stores in the US. There are also plenty of zero waste stores online both in and outside of the US.
Loose fruit and veg
Instead of buying that bunch of bananas in plastic produce bags, buy them loose or bring your own containers. The same goes for apples, potatoes and onions.
Although it wont work towards going plastic free, you can help the environment by reducing your food waste. Here are 17 ideas for making your food go further by using your food waste.
Plastic and the fishing industry
Most of the plastic that is in the ocean are from fishing nets. One of the best things you can do to reduce your plastic use is to reduce the amount of fish you eat too.
The following steps for a plastic free lifestyle require more time and money, however they also have a very big impact when it comes to living without plastic.
Grow your own food
Growing your own food in your garden or windowsill can be plastic free, zero waste and a use emit less carbon dioxide. Read here how to get started growing your own food.
Plastic free meals
Cooking from scratch rather than buying ready made meals is one of the best ways to going plastic free in your kitchen. Buying fresh fruit and veg loose from a local farmers market, reduces the amount of plastic needed to transport it and supports local businesses.
If you still eat meat, then you can buy from a local butcher, and bring your own reusable container. (Keep an eye out for a future blog about meals that can be made without using plastic packaging.)
Although sliced bread comes in plastic bags that can be recycled at most major supermarkets, it's still better to remove plastic from your lifestyle if you can. Try swapping for freshly baked bread at a local bakers, where you could bring your own container. If you're feeling super energetic, you could even bake your own bread at home!
Step 5: Plastic free cleaning products
If you go through your cupboards, you'll find all your cleaning products are kept in plastic bottles; washing up liquid, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaners. One method of reducing the use of plastic bottles is to look to buy cleaning products with plastic free packaging, such as Spruce* and Smol. Here you can switch from disposable, single use plastic to plastic-free refillable and reusable containers.
You could also make your own cleaning products using products from home such as baking soda and vinegar. It might take a bit of searching online and trial and error to find the one that works for you, but it's so much better if it helps you go without plastic. It also contributes to a more natural planet-friendly life.
Step 7: Plastic free Clothes
Did you know that most clothes are made of plastic? If you check the label, the majority of clothes sold on the high-street (and online) are made from polyester, nylon, acrylic and polyamide. All of which are types of plastic.
Every time we wash our clothes, tiny threads of plastic (microfibres) wash off our clothes, pass through our washing machines, and go into our water.
These micro-plastics are then eaten by the animals in the water, which are then eaten by us and other animals.
So how can we stop this?
Keep your clothes for longer, or buy second-hand, as the largest amount of microfibres are produced in the first few washes
Wash at lower temperatures, as it causes fewer microfibres to wash off
Air dry rather than tumble dry, not only are you saving electricity, but also stopping the microfibres from becoming loose
Put your clothes in a special bag that collects the microplastics, preventing them from going in the water
Fill the washing machine. A larger load results in less space to move, reducing the amount the clothes rub against each other, and rub off microfibres
Reduce spin speeds, the slower the clothes move, they less they get bashed around and knock off the threads
If you're the sort of person who love new clothes, read this blog: steps to quitting fast fashion.
Step 8: Plastic free shopping
You've gone shopping with your reusable bag, bringing your reusable coffee cup with you, and you're about to buy a product. Great! Not quite. If you've ever walked into a store during re-stocking, then you'll likely see plastic packaging on the floor or on crates, as the employees unload the boxes.
Most major stores import their products weekly from a large depot using large trucks, and when they do, the items often come in plastic packaging. A lot of it. The companies pack the products with plastic packaging to prevent them from getting damaged, however it creates a plastic problem.
The same thing happens when you buy online. Smaller retailers, like those selling through Etsy, often advertise that they use little or no plastic packaging. So aim to buy from local or online stores that are reducing their plastic packaging.
Step 6: Make a Plastic Free Plan
Having a plastic free home is great but what do we do when we're out and about?
How to go plastic free when not at home
First off, create a plan. Over a week, write down all the places you use disposable plastic. Do you still use plastic coffee cups? If so, make a note to bring a reusable coffee cup.
Do you buy a meal deal for lunch? Make a plan to make lunch at home the night before, and bring it with you.
If you still use a plastic shopping bag, get into the habit of bringing a reusable bag with you.
Take a look at the following ways to help you go plastic free.
Major retailers like Amazon, not only still use plastic packaging but also emit millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air, contributing to climate change. Use alternatives to Amazon that support sustainable practices.
Having a baby can be plastic-intensive. However, more and more people are now raising children more eco-consciously. Read the story of this new mum, and her tips for using less plastic.
The pandemic changed a lot about our lives. Although things are going back to normal, you can read here about to use less plastic during the pandemic.
Reduce your impact further
You could even start to reduce the amount you consume by moving towards minimalist living, which can make you happier and reduce your carbon footprint.
Step 9: Pressure your stores
If there are products that you love but they come in plastic packaging, ask your store (in person or online) if they would change to sustainable packaging. You could even give your plastic back to the companies that made them. Lush, Boots Opticians and H&M all have some recyclable and re-usable schemes already in place.
Share the best (and worst) companies for using plastic on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and TikTok.
Companies will change to meet demand (and go where the money is), so if they think people will only buy from them if they're sustainable, they will change.
Step 10: Talk about it!
Tell others about the plastic problem and how to go plastic free. We're more likely to make a change to our lifestyle when we see others doing the same. And even little things can build up to have a big effect, whether it be taking your reusable shopping bag to the store, or having a plastic free house.
For other actions that help the planet. Sign up to The Climate App. Launching soon!