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Living a completely plastic-free life is a daunting task. Plastics have become a staple material in every major industry, so how can we even begin to avoid them? Fortunately, there are simple actions which can be taken that majorly reduce an individual’s plastic footprint in just a few small steps. One of the biggest sources of ocean waste exists in one form: single-use plastics. Items that we use for an average of 12 minutes – such as a coffee cup, a straw or a plastic bag – but can last in the natural environment for hundreds of years.
Switching Out Single-Use
Efforts are being made globally to reduce the use of single-use plastics. According to a U.N. report, 127 countries implemented some type of policy to regulate plastic bags in 2018 - a monumental first. Over the past two years, the popularly named “Attenborough Effect” has given real momentum to the ‘anti-disposable plastic’ mindset. It is becoming easier to source reusable, long-lasting items to replace popular disposable ones, and they are becoming much more widely available. Advice for those new to the plastic-free lifestyle is simple: “A good starting point is to live a week as you normally would, making note of every single-use plastic item that you use. Then the following week, pick the top five and make a concentrated effort to eliminate or reduce these items from your daily life. Week by week, you will naturally consume less plastic as you avoid unnecessary items and move towards reusables.” - Plastic-Free Me, UK.
The potential benefits of a plastic-free life are numerous. Not only does it encourage individuals to reduce their impact on the environment, but studies have shown that plastic-free living has definite health benefits. It is almost impossible to find processed, sugary foods without plastic packaging, so cutting out plastics also cuts out these more typically “unhealthy” foods. The rise in plastic-free living has also seen more and more people engaging with environmental issues, and not just limited to plastic pollution. From individuals and families to large corporations - many are aiming for lifestyles with the preservation of the natural world in mind. This peak in social awareness has particularly impacted the younger generations, with under 16s worldwide partaking in campaigns, school-strikes and engaging with local governments to create environmental action. Beach cleans and litter pick-ups are trending more than ever across social media channels, and many celebrities and influencers have become figureheads for the anti-plastic movement.
Despite the sudden demand for plastic-free living, there is still a fair way to go. An estimate from the World Wildlife Fund suggests that global plastics production is set to increase 40% by 2030 - as virgin plastic production is still more financially viable than recycled plastics or alternative materials. This means that consumers are often paying more for “eco-friendly” products and many families simply cannot meet these tariffs. There is also concern that alternative products which claim to be more sustainable are being rushed to market without proper environmental assessments. Labels such as “biodegradable”, “compostable” or “ethically-sourced” are enticing but can pose the same threat - or sometimes worse - to the environment as “traditional” plastics. Critics argue that these products do not help the global plastic pollution problem; rather displace the issue elsewhere.
What’s the Best First Step?
Avoiding every piece of plastic is an unachievable goal for most individuals. Fortunately, most plastic-focused NGOs and campaigns share the same mantra: “We don’t need a handful of people doing it [plastic-free living] perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” The past two years have been a testament to the fact that there are simple changes you can make which are small and achievable, but which have a large global impact.
Sources and Further Reading
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