How to reduce plastic in your life and in the sea
Making some really simple changes can have a major impact on the amount of plastic in our lives - and in the sea...
- Take reusable shopping bags to the supermarket or shop. Even supposedly ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags only actually degrade if properly composted – which is rarely the case. Plastic bags have a devastating impact on ocean wildlife. One whale found dead in France in 2002 had 800 kg of plastic in its stomach – including UK supermarket bags. The charge on shopping bags introduced in the UK in 2015 has had a big impact on bag use, which has fallen by almost 80%, but it's only in place at stores with over 250 employees.
- Avoid water or drinks in plastic bottles. More than 30 million of these bottles are thrown away each day in the UK alone and producing each 1 litre bottle requires 0.25 litres of oil! Bottled water costs about 1,000 times more than tap water - but has much lower health testing requirements - so it's good sense all round to use your own refillable bottle instead. Did you know that, by law, all pubs and other licensed premises are required to give you free tap water? The Refill scheme covers part of the UK and has recently arrived in Cornwall. It has an app where you can find local businesses that have signed up as official 'bottle refill stations'. If you submit photos of yourself refilling you get points that will be converted to rewards too!
Watch this brilliant short video about the impact of our plastic bottle addiction.
- Steer clear of plastic straws, cups, plates, cutlery, etc. Even takeaway cups that are apparently made from paper are lined in a plastic film. They can’t be recycled and an estimated 2.25 billion of them end up in landfill sites each year! If you bring your own mug many cafés will fill it for you. Take a packed lunch to work or on trips instead of buying takeaways or packaged supermarket sandwiches, etc.
- Don’t flush anything plastic down the loo. Cotton buds, dental floss, sanitary items, wet wipes, condoms, nappies, etc. are often not screened out in sewage treatment, especially after heavy rains, and find their way into the sea. Plastic tampon applicators are a particularly common find. Use tampons with cardboard applicators (or no applicator). Even better, why not use a mooncup instead? You will never need buy any tampons or pads again, so it will save you lots of money too!
All clothes made of synthetic (plastic) fibres release thousands of tiny fibres of this material when they are washed. Although in theory the technology exists to make washing machine filters to stop these fibres flowing out with the waste water, these have not been taken up by the industry. Where possible use clothes made from natural fabrics (cotton, wool, linen, etc.) instead of synthetic ones. A recent product launched is the Guppy Friend bag - a find mesh laundry bag that catches the microfibres from your clothes while they're washing. You then dispose of them later in your solid waste. Find out more here.
Go back to using loose leaf tea. Nearly all teabags contain tiny plastic fibres! If you do use teabags, please do not compost them, as this will add to microplastic pollution of the soil.
Choose solid cosmetics from ethical stores such as Lush, which sell solid bars of soap, shampoo, conditioner and even toothpaste. If you swap to these you can dramatically reduce the amount of plastic packaging you throw away!
Hundreds of millions of plastic toothbrushes are thrown away in the UK each year. Why not use a bamboo toothbrush (available in online stores) and make your own toothpaste? You can find lots of recipes online, using just a few simple ingredients such as bicarbonate of soda, salt and peppermint oil.
Use a reusable razor with replaceable blades rather than throwaway plastic ones.
Use an old-fashioned refillable ink fountain pen instead of disposable biros.
If you are a dog owner, only use fully biodegradable dog poo bags. Only use bags if really necessary. If your dog has done its business in a wild area or if you can use a stick to flick it totally away from the path it can be better to leave it to break down naturally than encasing it in a plastic bag.
Avoid balloon releases at parties/ weddings, etc. Anything that goes up must come down – and balloons that come down in the sea often kill turtles and other sea creatures. Even so-called ‘biodegradable’ latex balloons take many months to decompose, in which time they can kill, and the ribbons and nozzles of balloons are not biodegradable.
- Get your milk delivered in glass bottles. Or buy it in plastic bags where available. These are cheaper, create less waste than plastic bottles, and can be recycled in many supermarkets.
- Buy fruit and vegetables loose – there’s no need to put them in a plastic bag. Try to avoid food in plastic punnets or Styrofoam trays that are not recycled.
- Recycle any unwanted plastic bags you accumulate (bread bags, fruit bags, etc.) in the dedicated bins at larger supermarkets. Eight billion supermarket bags are given out in the UK each year – but only one in 200 are recycled.
- Use a natural loofah when you're washing up instead of a plastic pot scourer.
- Lots of the plastic in the ocean starts out as litter on the land that washes down drains into the sea. Never litter, and always try to pick up at least some plastic and dispose of it properly, whether you’re on the beach or not. Every piece you pick up means one piece less in the sea!
- Instead of throwing away plastic that can’t be recycled, try to reuse or repurpose it – there are loads of great ideas on the Internet. You can make anything from bags and jewellery to bird feeders, greenhouses, lampshades, scoops, plant holders, boats, works of art….
- Compost your kitchen waste. It’s great for the garden and will reduce the amount of plastic rubbish bags you use and the amount of methane caused by rotting food in landfill sites.
- Use powder detergent in cardboard boxes and bars of old-fashioned soap rather than liquid soaps and detergents in plastic bottles.
- Reuse bubble wrap and padded envelopes.
- If it’s your child’s birthday, don’t give out party bags with lots of plastic toys that will soon break and be thrown away. How about just one nice (non-plastic) present like a book?
- When you throw away plastic six pack holders or any other ring-shaped pieces of plastic, cut each loop to ensure animals cannot get trapped in them should they be lost from the waste stream.
- Buy dry foods in bulk and decant into smaller reusable containers at home. This is also much cheaper than buying separately wrapped small or individual portions.
- Write to supermarkets and product manufacturers to complain about unnecessary and excessive plastic packaging.
- Make some art! Maybe you’ll be inspired to create some art with your finds from the beach. This is a great way of reusing what most people see as ‘waste’ while also creating a talking point and raising awareness.