It’s no secret that plastic waste is overwhelming our natural environments. Virtually every single piece of plastic ever manufactured are still with us today, and will continue to exist for at least 500 years!
We are producing plastics at a blistering pace. Global plastic production increased twenty-fold over the past half century and is forecast to double again in the next twenty years. And much of these plastics are single-use (think: plastic grocery bags, takeout containers, utensils, bottles, plastic lined coffee cups, etc).
The problem is that plastics are spilling into our natural environments. And If you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen disturbing images of animals and sea life that have been killed after ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic.
And the harm doesn’t stop there. The impact of extracting the fossil fuels used to make plastic and the disposal of plastics is also causing irreversible damage to our planet.
Lowering your plastic footprint can certainly feel like a battle against the sheer volume of plastic that has crept into every aspect of our daily lives. Quitting plastic will always be a working progress because there is still some plastics we need. This is about avoiding the plastic we really CAN do without.
Here’s why plastic is so bad in a nutshell
- Almost all plastic is derived from materials (like ethylene and propylene) are made from fossil fuels (mostly oil and gas).
- Plastic does not fully decompose or disintegrate. Therefore, virtually all plastics manufactured will outlive us.
- Production, dumping, incinerating and recycling plastic all release tones of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.
- Only 13% of all plastics manufactured is recycled, leaving a staggering amount to be disposed of in landfills or incinerated.
- One-third leak into our oceans and natural environments, clogging waterways, choking and smothering a host of marine animals and habitats.
- Certain chemicals in plastic can leach out of the plastic (especially when heated) and into the food and beverages we consume.
- Most plastics aren’t recycled and designed for one use.
Lowering your waste can be satisfying!
But it’s not all bad, reducing your waste can be extremely satisfying! I started using a reusable water bottle in 2014, which, for someone who drinks a lot of water, adds up to two less disposable water bottles per day in landfill, for six years! That’s approximately 4,380 water bottles! It’s amazing to see how much impact one individual can have.
If you are eager to reduce your plastic footprint and lower your household waste but don’t know where to start, here’s six steps to help you get started!
1. Mindset - The good news is that you’ve already taken the first steps. Often the most difficult things to change are those we do every day. Just starting to think about plastic is the key to seeing opportunities to use less.
The most common plastics found in the environment are, in order of scale; cigarette butts, drinking bottles and caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, lids, straws and cutlery, other thicker bags, and polystyrene foams take-away containers.
Start by picking from the list and taking a moment to reflect on the materials around you, what are the areas in your life where you’re creating the most waste?
The easiest way to answer that question is by looking through your council bin (not kidding) and making a note of the items that you commonly send to landfill and ask yourself if any of the items could be replaced with more sustainable alternatives?
2. Have your reusables ready and ditch the BIG FOUR! They are lightweight, so they leak into the environment easily. They are free, so we don’t value them, and they are used only briefly before being tossed. To me, single-use plastic is the first place to start and the easiest!
Use a metal water bottle or reuse a glass milk bottle and use the tap. Stash reusable grocery bags or a cardboard fruit box (you can find these at the farmers markets) in the back of your car. Carry a reusable coffee cup (or live like the Europeans pause for a moment and ‘drink in’ ceramic cup), and carry your own reusable straws and cutlery.
3. Don’t throw anything away - Although it can be tempting to “begin again”, it creates a huge amount of waste and if your main goal is to reduce waste, this is completely counter-productive. The most sustainable thing yo can do is use what you have; Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Refurbish, Repair, Resell, gift, and Donate.
Donate - Give your clothes another chance and help someone in need. You can donate your pre-loved clothes to local homeless shelters or foundations such as Salvos Stores (AUS) who help find programs that assist people dealing with homelessness, addiction, emergency situations and family violence. Towels and bedding are often needed by animal shelters or vets.
This is an amazing option to help others while keeping your clothing and homewares out of landfills!
Just make sure you only donate items that are in good, wearable condition. Don’t be sending your beloved boxers with holes in them because there’s a good chance they might end up sending your unwearable items to landfills and defeating the whole purpose.
Recycle - The last resort but a part of the solution -
https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/education/faq Most local councils provide recycling for almost everything from e-waste (electronic waste materials) to textile recycling. Check with your local council first before making a drop-off.
https://www.terracycle.com/en-AU Purchase a box to fill with unwanted items and waste to ship to Terracycle to be repurposed. From baby food pouches, empty toothpaste plastic packaging, to garage separation zero waste boxes. Terracycle have found that nearly everything we touch can be recycled and collect typically non-recyclable items through national, first-of-their-kind recycling platforms.
4. Shop at bulk stores, markets and buy naked - Bulk stores are popping up everywhere and it’s a good way to cut out plastic packaging altogether.
Bulk produce is sold from clear closed bins and are designed for self serve. You can bring your own produce bags, jars or containers. You simply weigh your container before you scoop the produce directly into them (the staff are there to assist). You can also use the paper bags provided. Some bulk stores also refill bottles with natural cleaning and personal care products.
Farm Markets are also a great place to find naked fruit and vegetables just don’t forget your bags or ask for a cardboard fruit box.
5. Replace - Look for alternatives to plastic goods and packaging - There are lots of plastic-free alternatives, like swapping plastic wrapped for ‘naked’ or paper-wrapped foods.
What about using a glass or stainless steel container instead of a plastic one?
What about using a ceramic butter dish and buying paper-wrapped butter instead of a plastic tub of spreadable?
What about natural kitchen brushes instead of synthetic brushes and scourers wrapped in plastic?
What about give up liquid soap shampoo? Soap and shampoo bars work just as well, come wrapped in paper and are all-natural.
There are lots of easy swaps that are kinder to the environment.
6. Pick up a few pieces of plastic litter every day. Sadly, it’s everywhere. Every bit we take off the street and environments, means less plastic washing into the waterways and eco systems.
Now remember, it’s not about being perfect, this isn’t a race with a start and a finish. Lowering your plastic footprint and working towards zero waste will always be a journey. This is slow, imperfect, collaborative and evolving.
If you have any question, comments, ideas. If you’re a beginner is there anywhere you’re stuck?
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