By: Chris Gill
Plastic pollution. Those two words placed together are enough to send a shiver down the spine of any environmentalist. In fact, they’ll make the skin crawl of anyone who even has a vague consideration for the world they’re leaving behind for their children and future generations.
As well all know by now, plastic pollution is a huge threat to our planet – in particular to our oceans. But it’s not too late for us to make changes. We can be part of the solution by reducing our use of plastic as much as possible and adopting more of a zero-waste lifestyle.
But as anyone who has attempted to cut down their plastic usage knows, this is not a simple task. Nor is it easy. Plastic is everywhere, from the packaging on the food we buy to the straws we slurp from.
It's always a good idea to have a go at plastic-free living. Hopefully, this will inspire you to cut down (and hopefully in many areas cut out completely) your plastic usage.
Here are some top ways to avoid plastic pollution.
1. Use a tote bag
A plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade! Surely that reason alone is enough to make you want to invest in a trusty tote bag to carry your groceries in.
Luckily, a lot of supermarkets are finally banning plastic shopping bags, leading everyone to carry totes with them. Just remember to wash your tote bag occasionally! They can get pretty grubby.
2. Use a reusable coffee cup
Another small change that will, in turn, have a hugely beneficial impact on the environment, swapping your daily disposable coffee cup with a reusable version is an easy win.
An added bonus is that reusable coffee cups these days are much more stylish, so you’ll be proud to pull one out your bag.
3. Give up chewing gum
Have you ever thought about what you’re actually chewing on when you slip a piece of minty gum in your mouth post-meal? Well, almost all chewing gum is made of plastic. We know, gross.
But don’t worry, turns out plastic-free chewing gum options exist. Here's an alternative to get you started.
4. Make your own cleaning products
Making your own cleaning products will be beneficial in three different ways. First, it’ll be kinder to the planet. Next, it’ll save you money. Finally, it’ll be better for your health! Win, win, win.
Get rid of needing multiple plastic bottles of cleaner by creating your own cleaning products that will be less toxic.
5. Use a reusable water bottle
Plastic water bottles have to be one of the most ridiculous inventions ever. Like, if we want our water to be free from fluoride, we can filter it – right?
If you haven’t already, make sure you get your hands on a reusable water bottle you can carry around with you. Many reusable, plastic-free water bottles are also thermoregulating – bonus!
6. Switch to shampoo bars
Buying plastic bottles of shampoo each month (or how often you get through them) is feeding landfills and ultimately oceans with more toxic waste. Sure, some brands are better than others when it comes to recyclable materials, but there will nearly always be some form of plastic in the packaging, whether it’s a lid or thin layer of plastic on the bottle.
Your best bet is to trade in your plastic bottles for shampoo bars. There are many plastic-free options out there, some more hardcore eco than others – but any of them are better than the plastic bottles you’re most probably accustomed to throwing away once you’ve squeezed out the last couple of drops of shampoo.
7. Buy less frozen food
The trouble with frozen food (aside from the fact it’s usually processed) is that the packaging is mostly plastic. Even the packaging that looks like cardboard is usually coated in a thin layer of plastic.
Try to avoid purchasing frozen food as much as possible and focusing on fresh produce. Better for your health, better for the health of the planet!
8. Avoid buying new CDs and DVDs
Luckily the days of CDs and DVDs are numbered with the rise of digital downloading and streaming. CDs and DVDs are made of nasty polycarbonate plastic and unless you’re planning to hold onto yours forever and pass them down in your family, they’re ultimately going to end up in a landfill or our oceans eventually.
9. Refuse the mini bar in hotels
For one, minibar snacks and drinks are super pricey – reason alone to bypass them when you’re staying in a hotel. But what’s worse, they all come in plastic packages or bottles, and we all know where that ends.
Head to the nearest grocery store or farmers market to wherever you’re staying and stock up on some plastic-free food. Healthier. Better for the planet. No brainer, right?
10. Buy loose fruit and veggies
When you walk into a supermarket these days, you’re surrounded by an ocean of packaging – even in the fruit and veg aisles. A simple but effective way of reducing plastic is through bypassing the plastic products and buying loose fruit and veggies.
11. Bring your own headphones on board
When you’re next planning to board a flight, make sure you’ve packed your headphones. Most plans give out headphones for the in-flight entertainment, which you guessed it – are packaged up in public enemy number one: plastic. It’s an easy one, if we all bring our own and refuse the headphones they give out, they’ll stop needing to order more in. Simple!
12. Bring your own utensils
Whether travelling, meeting friends for a casual lunch or heading to the office, it’s good to have your own utensils with you. Plastic knives, forks and spoons get given out so freely, only to end up dumped in the bin. Refuse them on the plane, refuse them in cafes – refuse them wherever you go. Only then will we start to see the nasty things being made!
13. Make fresh juice
Fan of fruit juice? Avoid buying plastic cartons of it (even if they’re cardboard they’re likely coated in a thin layer of plastic and have plastic lids) by making your own fresh juice. Not only will you be making a better choice for the environment, but the better choice for your health!
14. Choose an ice cream cone over a cup
Not keeping tubs of ice cream in the freezer is better for your health, your wallet and the planet. That’s not to say you have to miss out on the occasional treat when you’re out and about!
When you do decide to indulge yourself to a sugary-sweet swirl of ice cream, always opt for the cone over the tub. Ok, it might mean a few more calories, but those little tubs are lined with plastic even when made from paper. A minute’s sugar rush could end up resulting in the life of a beautiful sea creature.
15. Wash dishes with baking soda or a soap bar
Much like the process of washing your hair with a bar of soap, why not ditch the detergent when it comes to washing your dishes? Baking soda is another great way of leaving them squeaky clean without having to reach for the nasty plastic bottle. Bonus tip: baking soda can also act as a wonderful deodorant replacement! Mix with a few drops of tea tree oil and apply under your arms with a reusable cotton round. Easy!
16. Use a reusable razor
Plastic disposable razors ultimately find their way into landfills and ultimately fishing nets. This ultimately leads to poor health of marine animals, the food chain and human health. By switching to a stainless steel razor with replaceable blades you’ll be helping cut down plastic waste and pieces of plastic debris filling the oceans.
17. Use bamboo or metal straws
Plastic straws also unnecessarily contribute to the number of plastics in the ocean, damaging marine life and leading to vast amounts of ocean plastic pollution.
Refuse plastic straws in restaurants and bars to encourage the ban which is slowly taking place. Bamboo and metal straws are fantastic reusable alternatives.
18. Buy from bulk bins
Keep an eye out for stores and farmers markets near where you live that sell food from bulk bins and allow you to use your own containers. Cereal, rice, pasta, seeds, nuts, flour, herbs and more are all foods that can be purchased from bulk bins, saving both money and unnecessary plastic wrapping.
Dry beans are another food you’ll be able to stock up on from the bulk bins. Learning to cook dried beans is essential for plastic-free living, so if you haven’t yet picked up the skill make right now the time you do!
19. Use cloth nappies
It’s estimated that the UK disposes of around 3 billion disposable nappies each year! What makes matters worse is that it takes about one cup of crude oil to make each nappy. Just imagine all of that ending up in landfill, with conventional disposable nappies estimated to take up to 150 years to break down.
Switching to cloth nappies is the perfect way to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money. It might take a little getting used to at first, but once you’ve got the hang of them, cloth nappies are the best way forward when living a plastic-free life.
20. Use matches or a reusable lighter
Plastic disposable lighters are another example of unnecessary toxic waste. To avoid contributing to these nasty little objects filling up the landfills, use matches instead. Or, invest in a refillable metal lighter. Go on, you know you’re a bright spark.
21. Make your own milk
If you’re a frequent soy or nut milk drinker, why not learn to make your own? For the former, you can use a soy milk maker or do it on the stove, while for the latter you just need to soak the nuts overnight and blend them in food processor.
It might be a bit harder to make your own cow’s milk unless you happen to live on a farm and own cows. In which case, we salute you!