Did you know that one plastic bottle can take anywhere from 450 to 1000 years to decompose? No? Well, until recently, neither did I. Having just finished my last fundraising role, I was looking for a new project when a few of my colleagues and I started talking about the impact of single-use plastics on the ocean. I was already aware that it was a problem but I had never paid enough attention to know how much my own plastic footprint was affecting the world. I recycle, and buy eco-friendly cleaning products, cruelty-free cosmetics and thought I was pretty good in this area. But I was wrong.
I became interested in ocean conservation after my trip to Thailand earlier this year, we visited a few of the islands in the south and found beaches covered in plastic bottles, bags and all kinds of other waste. This was particularly horrible when you snorkel a few minutes into the ocean and find an amazing underwater world of tropical fish and coral which is being polluted. We even saw this on a remote, undeveloped island with no tourists in site washing in from the other beaches. When I started researching into ocean clean-ups a common theme is the damage caused by single-use plastics.
Greenpeace have made a fantastic calculator which allows you to see exactly how much plastic you’re using in a year and (if you’re truly honest when filling it out) the results are horrifying. After further discussions with my team, the idea came to change our own behaviour, we are a big team with over 30 people and being travel lovers, we all care about the environment and wildlife. So we decided to calculate our team plastic usage and try and decrease it with mini challenges such as not using single-use plastic (cutlery/cups/straws) at any of our monthly team socials or events, as well as cutting down in our personal lives with bottles of water etc.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce your plastic consumption:
- Stop using plastic straws
Straws are the worst offender for plastic pollution, according to Strawless Ocean the US use 500 million of them each day. If we carry on at that rate there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2020. If you have a health condition which means you need a straw, you could invest in a glass or stainless steel straw, or if you need them to be disposable, you could use paper ones.
I usually use straws at takeaway restaurants or on nights out, some drinks come with the skinny straws in them, so I am going to try and avoid that as much as possible. I’ll also ask for my straw to be left out, at the drive-through.
Here are some more alternatives to plastic straws.
2. Use a reusable bottle
7 billion plastic beverage bottles were sold in the US in 2014 which is 315 bottles per person. For me, this mainly comes down to convenience, when I am out for the day I usually buy a bottle of water, especially if I go out for lunch. The time I am the worst for this is when I am travelling because I have a really sensitive stomach so I only drink bottled water when abroad. I’ll be a good Guinea pig to see what alternatives are available and whether they are viable for people like me.
3. Use a reusable coffee cup
With a reusable coffee cup you can choose a cute design and protect the ocean at the same time. You can even get this one which is made from bamboo which is a fast-growing natural resource and entirely biodegradable. Another small thing you can do – when you forget your reusable cup – is decline the plastic lid which comes with it. I also learned recently that coffee cups can’t be recycled unless they are rinsed out, which means when you’re out and you put them into a recycling bin, there’s a high chance they are put into the waste pile.
4. Avoid black plastic
Scanners which detect whether an item is made from plastic or not during the recycling process can’t detect black plastic which means it automatically gets put into the waste pile (to go into a landfill or the ocean). Black plastics are also usually thicker and more difficult to recycle so even if they are sorted by hand they’re likely to be tossed in the general waste pile. LUSH which are a very eco-friendly company does sell some of their products in black plastic, but they encourage you to bring the plastic back into the store to be recycled by them (they’ll give you a free face mask if you bring back five).
Unfortunately many beauty products that I use come in black packaging or bottles, which is a shame because I choose them because they don’t test on animals, but in the log run they are potentially damaging marine life by polluting the environment or ending up in the ocean.
5. Take a packed lunch
Most takeaway lunches in supermarkets come in convenient plastic boxes with plastic forks or spoons. I often nip to Waitrose on my lunch break because they have a great choice of healthy salads but I will try and cut these out and get something else instead. I don’t like to spend money on a lunch I could have made easily myself, like a baguette or sandwich so opt for the salads, but the salads are really wasteful so I’ll see what I can find.
Another alternative is making your own lunch and using a reusable box, I leave the house at 7:30am and making lunch is the last thing I have time for, especially something interesting and varied, but it would definitely help my plastic consumption!
If you are making your own lunches, avoid cling film. Here are 7 alternatives to cling film.
6. Switch to glass-bottled milk
Yes, the milkman still exists – well it does in my neighbourhood anyway. Milk and More offer a range of milk delivered in glass bottles to your door. If you work at a large company you could encourage them to do the same.
7. Hire glasses for events and parties
When having a BBQ or party, the easiest thing to do is buy disposable cutlery and cups so that you don’t have to wash up. Most plastic cutlery is black which means it’s not likely to be recyclable if you still want the ease of disposable you can find many alternatives to plastic including eco-friendly bamboo.
If you can give up disposables altogether, you can hire glasses from a local business or event. Sometimes this is completely free and you are only charged with breakages. You can often arrange to send the glasses back dirty too, which means there’s no extra work involved for you.