The statistics around plastic pollution speak for themselves and are impossible to ignore – 500 billion plastic bags used annually, five trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans, one million sea birds killed annually from plastic ingestion or entanglement.
The problem is real, but where do we start looking for solutions? The answer – we start with ourselves. Often we forget the power we actually all hold in this world, and that’s the power to make a difference, whether it be small or mighty. Humans have a domino effect on one another – when one goes, the next does and so on, and it’s this domino effect that needs to be used for positive change.
Here are 10 small but significant ways in which you can reduce your plastic footprint, and watch the dominoes start to fall…
Invest in a reusable bag
Such a simple solution, but one that could have such an incredible impact. A plastic bag is used for on average just 12 minutes, and yet takes a staggering 940 years to decompose. Is it really worth it?
Make the swap: Pop your reusable bag inside your handbag, on the back seat of your car, next to your front door – anywhere to remind you not to leave it behind, and take it with you when you hit the shops. Want to get real crafty? Why not make your own from recycled materials.
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk is a growing trend and for good reason – not only does it reduce the need for excess plastic packaging, it’s also cheaper and helps to promote a healthy, more organic lifestyle. Stores like WholeFoods now allow you to buy rice, pasta, beans, grains, cereals and other foods in bulk.
Make the swap: Take along a reusable container or, even better, glass jars, to a local market or supermarket that sells in bulk and stock up, guilt-free.
Leave the packaging at the store
Often it’s impossible to avoid excess plastic packaging completely, so in these instances use the opportunity to tell the supplier you’re saying no to plastic. When you’re buying large items such as a TV, computer or household electrical items, unwrap the product in store and leave the packaging there. Not only does this mean you don’t have to deal with recycling it yourself, it also sends a positive message to those higher up the plastic supply chain that excess packaging is unnecessary.
Say no to straws
One of the biggest culprits in both landfill and on the ocean surface is the plastic straw. This small, seemingly harmless product can actually have devastating effects for marine life who often mistake it for food.
Make the swap: When you’re ordering drinks at the bar, just say no to those tempting little straws that are often located within easy reach, or else ask your waiter or bartender to deliver your drink straw-free. Can’t live without one? Why not invest in a reusable stainless steel or glass alternative.
Use a reusable water bottle or keep cup
We know you’ve probably got one lying around at home, so use it! In the US alone, 28 billion water bottles are purchased every year. Similarly, plastic coffee lids are a common offender both on land and in the ocean, yet did you know that if you use your own reusable hot drink keep cup at Starbucks, they’ll offer you your daily favourite for a reduced price?
Make the swap: Buy yourself a super cute reusable water bottle and keep cup and help to keep the planet water bottle- and plastic lid-free, whilst saving money at the same time. There are a huge range of options from SIGG, for example.
Choose glass over plastic
Glass can be re-used time and time again, while plastic never can. A huge number of food products can be bought in jars, so whenever the option is there, take it. You can wash out and re-use your jars as many times as you like, and for more purposes than you might think – from storing foods to displaying flowers…or even starting a travel fund or rainy day money pot.
Make the swap: Check out this article for ideas on how to reuse your glass jars (spoiler – it’s not just for food).
Avoid using hotel or travel size wash products
Single serving toiletries offered up in hotels use up a lot of packaging. Avoiding using them is a great way to influence the cycle of supply and demand – if you don’t demand them, hotels won’t have to supply them. Plus, by bringing your own products you know you’re getting the shower gels and shampoos that you really love!
Make the swap: Travel size products are convenient, but instead of buying yet more plastic, why not invest in reusable travel size containers? Decant your favourite products before you go on your travels, then wash them out when you get back so they’re clean and ready for the next time.
Wise up to your cutlery choices
Wave goodbye to disposable knives, forks, spoons and chopsticks, and instead be prepared by popping metal cutlery alternatives in your bag. Super simple and instantly effective.
Swap your takeaway lunch for a healthier ‘made at home’ option
It may take a little bit of preparation work, but bringing your own lunch to work/uni/school with you will make the planet a happier place. Not only are you avoiding plastic packaging around your shop bought sandwich or salad, you’re also doing your body AND your bank balance a favour too.
Make the swap: Invest in some long lasting Tupperware or, even better, go totally plastic free by preparing your lunch in a mason jar or stainless steel container.
Watch out for BPA
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a compound added to plastics to help them harden, and is commonly found in everyday plastic items like water bottles, plastic containers and plastic linings on packaged foods. Scarier still, BPA exposure has been linked to health effects including obesity, hormone imbalance, reproduction issues and even various cancers.
Make the swap: Look out for a 3, 7 or PC sign on plastic – these are the most toxic types of plastic so avoid them where you can. Also avoid heating up food in plastic containers, and where there’s an option to go plastic free make sure you take it!
Want to learn a little bit more about the plastic pollution issue? Measure your own plastic impact at www.contiki.com/storytellers, and watch the full Contiki Storytellers documentary right here.
Words and pictures: Contiki