5 easy tips on how to use less plastic
Every year the UK generates about 220 million tonnes of waste, of which a good part is made of plastic. Did you know that the UK is actually exporting unwanted plastic packaging to other countries? In 2018, the Environment Agency figures shows that the UK exported a total of 611,000 tonnes of recovered plastic packaging to other countries with China, Malaysia, Turkey and Poland being on top of the list.
Earlier this year, China introduced a ban on “foreign garbage” as part of a move to upgrade its industries. The UK recycling industry warned that the decision would be a “game-changer” and that it would be a struggle to deal with our own waste.
Campaigners from groups such as the Marine Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF have called on the UK Government to take “radical and decisive action” on single-use plastics, which are choking the oceans and contaminating the food systems.
The UK Government’s long-awaited 25-year Environment Plan pledges to eliminate all “avoidable” plastic waste by the end of 2042, but with businesses and some councils committed to tackling the issue ahead of that timeframe, pressure is growing on ministers to act.
UK recycling rates are stagnating and there is a very real chance that England, Scotland and Northern Ireland could fail to meet a targeted 50% recycling rate for 2020.
Because of the stalled recycling rates, the gap between waste produced and waste recycled has grown by 1.5%, an increase of 226,000 tonnes in 2017 compared to the previous year. So even though recycling rates are on the up, the amount of waste produced is accelerating at a quicker pace.
Looking at these data, it is easy to think whether what we can personally do would realistically make a difference to this mammoth issue. However, the truth is that even small changes of habit over time, add up to a big difference. Then when you consider that there are lots of like-minded people making the same positive changes as you, you can see that together we can make a massive difference for the better.
1. Bring your own shopping bags
Plastic bags are generally used for a few minutes and then take hundreds of years to dissolve. We all have reusable bags at home, the challenge is remembering to have them with us when we need them! One easy way to remember is to always keep a reusable bag by your front door, in your handbag, laptop bag, coat pocket, glove compartment… wherever works for you. If you do forget, instead of accepting a plastic bag on auto pilot, see if you can manage without. Often, we can simply carry the items loose. Choose plastic-free products whenever possible
Try to avoid disposable toothbrushes, razors and unnecessary containers as much as possible. Choose bamboo or other alternatives to plastic for your toothbrush for example. Choose bar soaps over plastic dispenser for hand and body wash and shampoo (Yes, you can also get shampoo and conditioner in this form!). And quit using Q-Tips!
2. Store leftovers or pack your lunch using glass containers
We all use cling film, but do we really need to?! We can easily store our food in reusable glass boxes. Otherwise, beeswax (or soy wax) wraps do a great job of covering pots and bowls where a plate won’t do, and are also useful for wrapping foods like sandwiches and cut veg.
3. Say no to plastic straws and cutlery
Disposable plastic cutlery and straws are among the worst plastic pollution culprits. Just like plastic bags and bottles, single-use utensils and straws are usually used just once, for a couple of minutes, before they are thrown away, and then they either litter our towns and countryside, pile up in landfill, or enter our waterways and oceans. However, it’s actually really easy to get in the habit of carrying your own cutlery with you. There are lots of options, and you don’t necessarily need to spend any money. You could simply grab a stainless-steel knife, fork and spoon (or chopsticks!) from your home cutlery drawer and keep them rolled in a napkin with a rubber band around it. A good alternative is also buying bamboo cutlery – whatever works for you so you have it when you need it.
4. Get a reusable coffee cup and carry your own water bottle
A single, easy change can make a big difference. An estimated 7 million disposable coffee cups are used in the UK every day, and the majority of these are not recycled. But if we all simply use reusable coffee cups for our takeaway coffee, we can make a huge impact for wildlife on our doorstep and around the world, by slashing the amount of plastic we produce and use.