Plastic has become a big part of our lives, over recent years it’s use has grown exponentially. The issue of plastic disposal has come into the public eye more recently, for example in mainstream television like Blue Planet II. Many people feel that a lot of time and money has to be spent in order to reduce your plastic waste but this is not the case! As with all changes, it is best to start off small and then once you have conquered that, move on to bigger things. I took this approach with reducing my use of plastic, starting with single use plastic and unnecessary plastic specifically within the area of food and drink as this is one of the biggest culprits. These are some of the changes I made to reduce my plastic waste, that you can do too!
- Don’t use plastic bags for loose vegetables. Many supermarkets are guilty of tempting people to use more plastic than they need for a potentially speedier checkout. When I shop for fruit and vegetables in a supermarket, I try to pick those without any plastic wrapping and then put them into my basket. They don’t need a plastic protection when you are going to wash/ peel them anyways. If the supermarket has paper bags then brilliant! However nowadays most places do not. Another alternative is to purchase reusable fabric produce bags and take them to the supermarket with you.
- Reusable coffee mugs. As someone who used to drink my body weight in coffee I understand the caffeinated struggle. However every time you buy a coffee that plastic lid just gets thrown away. Next time if you can try taking a thermos, ceramic, or reusable plastic cup with you. If this is not practical for you then try getting your coffee from somewhere using PLA compostable and biodegradable paper cups and ask for your drink with no plastic lid.
- Check local recycling guidelines. There are very large differences between the materials available for recycling in different areas of the UK and I’m sure globally the variation is even larger. For example in Hampshire less can be recycled easily into household waste bins than in Manchester. I have to be very careful due to living between the two, to remember that I can recycle a lot more plastic when I am living in Manchester than when I am in Hampshire. A large proportion of waste goes to landfill or to incineration when there is no need for it, the biggest step is being bothered to sort your waste.
- Cotton bags not plastic bags. This one is super easy and I’m sure most people will be doing this anyway since the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge – bring cotton bags to the supermarket. Not only does it save you money but you can put them over your shoulders and carry more at once as they don’t dig into your hands as much. Stylish, cheaper in the long run, and easier, what’s not to love? Side note: if you get grocery shopping delivered select the option for no plastic bags.
- Refuse drinks straws. I have worked in pubs and restaurants on and off for about 5 years. It wasn’t until I worked in a student bar that I realised the huge quantity of plastic straws used every day. Most companies will include straws in presentation as part of their drinks training. This means that bar staff are often told that in order for a drink to be served to the correct standard expected they must present it exactly as taught including straw(s). This is especially common with mixed drinks like cocktails and mocktails. The trick here is to ask the server for no straws BEFORE they start making your drink – if you wait until the drink has been served those straws will have to be disposed of regardless of if you use them.
- Keep cutlery in your bag. My friends often laugh at me for eating food with chopsticks unnecessarily. The truth is that I keep chopsticks and/or cutlery in most of my day bags. I do this to prevent the need for plastic disposable cutlery. Not only is it flimsy and nasty to eat off of, it also creates unnecessary waste. I have a mini zipped bag of essentials I take pretty much everywhere with me, changing it between bags and in it is always some form of clean eating utensils.
- Buy in bulk and decant into ceramic, metal, glass or reusable plastic containers. Pasta, rice, flour, and dried lentils are all good examples for this. It works for most non-perishable dried goods. When you buy a larger bag of something the volume to surface area ratio changes. The larger the volume of most food packages the smaller the surface area. Therefore meaning that buying 10 small bags of rice is likely to use more plastic than 1 large bag of rice. Occasionally larger bags will be made of fabric instead of plastic, which is even better. Many people shy away from buying large bags of food because they don’t think that they will be practical. One way of making this easier is to decant these large bags into smaller containers and then use them from the container and store the bag in a dry place.
- Stop buying bottled water. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this one, it really doesn’t need explaining anymore. There are so many cute reusable water bottles available, so go invest in one!
- Take lunch with you. Not only does this save money, often provide better nutrition and reinforce a healthy lifestyle, but it will also reduce your plastic waste. Most “meal deals” involve some form of plastic whether it be a pasta pot or sandwich container. Those are easy, cheap meals to make at home the night before and taken into work/university in a reusable container.
- Unnecessarily packaged foods. This final point has made a few headlines recently, and involved the packaging of goods where it is not needed. For example pre-peeled oranges and onions which are then wrapped in plastic (as opposed to sold in their natural casings), and cauliflower “steaks” which were again packaged in plastic. Unless there is a medical reason why you would be unable to prepare such items, then it is reasonable to take the extra 30 seconds to chop or peel these fruit and vegetables.
It is us as consumers who have the power to change the way goods are presented to us. Do your bit by reducing your plastic waste today.
I hope this post has assisted you to live more mindfully and consider options which will favour the environment when possible. I am in no way perfect and do not currently lead a zero waste lifestyle. My goal is to lead a minimal waste lifestyle and I am currently working towards that using steps such as those above to reduce the waste, especially plastic, that I am responsible for.
Please comment below with any suggestions for more easy ways to reduce single-use plastic!