Unless you’ve been on the moon for the past year, you might have noticed a huge shift in the attitudes towards plastic, specifically single-use plastics. And in honour of ‘Plastic Free July’, many people are being encouraged to think about the amount of plastic they consume and use on a daily basis.
The thing to remember when trying to create a greener lifestyle is that it takes time to break and make habits.
Climate Change has also been a phrase that’s certainly been around for all of my life, but thanks to the like of Greta Thurnburg, it’s become much more present in peoples minds.
The UK Government even approved of a motion in May 2019 to declare an environmental and climate emergency. But for some people, you may not understand what all of this means and how your actions can affect it, or indeed how this can affect your day-to-day life.
So I will attempt to explain why we all need to move away from single-use plastics and create a greener lifestyle for ourselves, and how you can do this.
To put it simply, single-use plastics are anything that comes in plastics, and can only be used once or is often only used once, and is shortly thrown away.
This can be anything from the wrapping on your bag of vegetables, to the bottle of coke you brought on your way home from work. It’s estimated that a plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose, and plastic bags taking between 10 and 20 years. And the little plastic bags you buy when grocery shopping or use to put your sandwiches in for lunch take about 3 months.
All in all, plastic takes a long time to decompose, and sadly, many plastics now end up in the oceans, harming, killing and polluting our wildlife.
It’s a common sight now, that in many households you recycle your plastic and your cardboard. But a lot of people are saying that recycling them, simply isn’t good enough anymore.
The plastic takes years to decompose, and we simply don’t have the right facilities to cope with all of the plastic that we’re getting in our recycling centres.
Therefore, a lot of these plastics that do get sent to recycling centres, don’t actually end up being recycled. The best thing to remember here is that recycling plastic should be used as a last resort. The three R’s should be read in order of importance; reduce, reuse, recycle.
So the primary point is that you should be trying to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we buy, and then if you do have to buy it, reuse it.
For example, rather than buying a new water bottle every day, buy one and keep reusing it. Or even better, invest in a sturdy metal water bottle, and keep refilling it.
Many places now have refilling stations, including train stations, and it’s a simple thing and a simple change that doesn’t require much more effort on your behalf, that will have a hugely positive effect on the environment.
Plus, it will also work out as cost-effective in the long run; most metal water bottles can cost you between £10-£15, so will cost you more in a one-off payment, but will save you buying a brand new one every day.
What else can be done?
There are so many simple, and cheap lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your carbon footprint, and things that don’t necessarily have to take up large amounts of your time. The thing to remember when trying to create a greener lifestyle is that it takes time to break and make habits.
Other Simple Plastic-Free Swaps
Until you start to think about it, you don’t realise how much plastic you really use in your everyday life. For example, a woman is expected to use, and then throw away, over 10,000 menstrual pads in her lifetime, and each of these pads can sometimes have as much as up to 90% plastic in them.
For those of you who menstruate, there are other plastic-free alternatives. The most common, is the cup, a device that collects the blood and can then be sterilised and reused for up to ten years. There are also washable underwear that absorbs the blood, and can then be washed and re-used.
(Of course, your menstrual cycle is something that’s personal to you and your body, and choosing what products to use, if any, is a personal choice and no one can tell you what to use when it comes to your own body, but it’s nice to be educated).
If you travel a lot and/or use a plastic disposable toothbrush, you could consider using a bamboo toothbrush. They cost approximately the same price, and once you’ve had your uses out of it, the bristles can be removed and the bamboo stick can then be decomposed in your garden.
One common and popular plastic free swap is the carrier bags, when you go out and do your shopping, bring a cloth bag or even re-use old plastic bags.
Make a swap in your bathroom, and rather than using bottled shampoo and body wash, and use some solid shampoo bars- slightly more expensive but I can tell you from experience, they do last a long time!
Metal straws or metal cutlery have also become hugely popular, and are a very good investment. However, there is the understanding that for some people, this simply isn’t an option, but for those who can, it’s a great swap to make and doesn’t impact on the quality of your ice-cold drink in the summer!
Even simple things just as taking your lunch into work in a reusable Tupperware container rather than a plastic bag can drastically improve our future and our welfare.
Why me? Why now?
You may think, how can one person doing these tiny simple things improve the global crisis on such a huge scale, that it will have an impact, but if everyone who can do these things does them, think how many plastic bags or plastic bottles can be saved!
Many people call for the blame, and ultimately the solution, to come from big corporations, and it is true that the majority of plastic waste does come from these big companies, but they won’t change their ways unless the public demand that to be the case.
And whilst these big companies do hold the power to change the global landscape as we know it, but we as individual people are not powerless in this fight. If we stop buying their single-use plastics, the companies will be forced to change their ways and re-think their use of plastic.
It is also true that Thailand, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam account for up to 60% of plastic ocean waste, but it’s our job, as a first-world country, to lead the way and show that living a greener life can be done.
It’s up to us, as people and as humans, to make every single change we possibly can, before it is indeed too late, and for those who can to make the changes that others can’t.
We don’t need to eliminate plastics completely, because, for the disabled, plastic can be a life-changing thing that can make people’s lives so much easier, such as plastic straws, but for others, these things aren’t needed and can be replaced by alternatives.
I’m certainly not telling everyone to ban all plastics from their life, starting tomorrow, but I am asking you to think about the plastic you use. If you do choose to use plastics, use them consciously, and use them when needed. But it’s vital to know what you’re using, and the impact that this will have on our planet and our lives.
Hopefully, we coming closer to a plastic-free world.