We are producing an estimated 150 million tonnes of single-use plastic every year. Cutting unnecessary disposables out of your daily life will, when magnified on a global scale, have a huge impact on the natural environment.
Small, Simple Switches
Reducing your personal plastic waste can be fairly simple and easy to achieve. Common single-use plastics such as carrier bags, coffee cups and water bottles can be completely avoided by investing in a reusable alternative. More than half a billion straws are used every day around the world, most of which are automatically given in drinks as an unnecessary accessory. Simply asking for no straw, or bringing your own reusable one, is a simple yet effective switch you can make to reduce your personal plastic waste. Since the introduction of the 5p plastic bag charge in the United Kingdom in 2015, consumption fell by a whopping 86% in just one year, and 300 million fewer bags were used. This is an extreme example of how one simple shift in the public mind-set can have a huge effect.
The Biggest Offenders
A study conducted by the Center for Marine Conservation and Ocean Conservancy found that among the top ten marine polluters are: cigarettes and filters, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, beverage bottles, plastic straws and toothbrushes. All of these are example of disposable plastics and, as such, are testament to the notion that avoiding single-use items wherever possible will arguably have the greatest impact. Over the last few years, there has been a monumental shift in public opinion on plastic waste, as people call for more eco-friendly alternatives to everyday items. Bamboo is becoming a popular material to replace lots of the aforementioned ‘big offenders’, due to its relatively low environmental impact and versatility. However, more comprehensive research needs to be done to determine whether using bamboo as a blanket replacement for plastic on a global scale is actually a solution; or just displacing the issue elsewhere.
“But I Recycle!”
There are unfortunate myths surrounding recycling which lull consumers into a false sense of eco-security when it comes to plastic waste. A large number of common household plastics cannot be recycled by curb-side and local recycling authorities, and many end up in landfill. Materials such as polystyrene, polyethylene-coated paper cups, juice boxes, items with food grease and LDPE packaging are commonly mistaken for recyclable; but most are only fit for landfill. There exists also a growing concern that many countries do not have the infrastructure to cope with the volume of recyclables that consumers produce. Instead, several thousand tonnes are shipped each year to Asia from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Whether these shipments reach recycling facilities or end up dumped overseas is still a grey area, and it sadly means that there is no guarantee that the items you put in the recycling bin will even be recycled.
What if there are No Alternatives?
There is an increasing frustration that many plastic items do not yet have alternatives – with food packaging being near the top of the list. Supermarkets have been heavily criticised for the amount of plastic wrap around fruit, vegetables and other fresh produce; yet they maintain that this packaging is sometimes completely necessary to preserve and protect food during transport and on the shelves. One of the best things you can do in such scenarios is voice your concern to staff or write a letter to the head office. As consumer satisfaction is of exceptional importance, speaking out really can make all the difference.
Conclusion: Ditch the Disposables
Living an entirely plastic-free life is almost impossible for most people. We are confronted with huge amounts of plastic on a daily basis, and it can often feel overwhelming to try and eliminate every piece. The most important and effective thing you can do as an individual is simply to cut-out as many single-use items as you can and share this lifestyle with others. This mind-set is easy to adopt and will not impact on the day-to-day, but it will have an invaluable impact on the earth in years to come.