Single-use plastic has been hitting the headlines in a major way over the last year. From Whales dying after ingesting tonnes of plastic waste to the ban on micro-beads, it is more apparent than ever before of the impact plastic is having on our world.
I’ve grown up in a family that has always encouraged environmental awareness, my Dad has worked in renewable energy, resource management and energy efficiency for decades and as an engineer, says his goal is invent technology that leaves the world a better place. What an inspiration!
Thing is, I’ve realised I have become quite lazy in my choices which have actually meant my lifestyle is not as environmentally friendly as I first thought. Yes I recycle, I try and reduce what goes into our landfill bin, I try to buy recycled products or things that can be recycled BUT my single-use plastic consumption is pretty high and there are a number of products around our flat that could be better for the environment. I also drive a sports car which is not the most fuel-efficient car that I could opt for, we are looking at replacing both of our cars and so I’ll cover our options for ensuring that decision considers the environment in another blog post.
This post is about the baby steps to reducing single-use plastic waste, these quick wins mean we can start to be more environmentally conscious with our lifestyle. Some of these are ‘back to basics’ but it has been a good way to remind myself of what we can do and to check our habits are really the best they can be to protect our world for the next generation.
1. Recycling everyday waste
Recycling has never been easier, it is still a bit of a postcode lottery but for most households you can recycle most plastics, paper, cardboard, metal and glass from the comfort of your own home. Portsmouth are a little behind the curve and we still have to take our glass to the bottle bank but metal cans, paper, cardboard and plastic packaging can all be recycled and is collected once a week.
Each local council actually recycles plastics differently which is quite disappointing as it means there is still a lot of plastic that goes into the landfill unnecessarily through lack of technology or investment. For example in Portsmouth the council will only recycle plastic bottles yet across the border in West Sussex they will recycle plastic food trays, pots and tubs as well. You can check out what your council will recycle using the Local Recycling look-up tool. If like us, you aren’t impressed with what your council is doing to increase recycling then don’t forget to get in touch with your local area councillor to lobby them!
Here are a few plastic items that you might not be aware that you can recycle and that don’t need to go to the landfill:
Plastic carrier bags and wrapping
Most major supermarkets will take plastic carrier bags, food bags (i.e. bread bags), plastic wrap used on toilet rolls, bubble wrap, freezer bags and plastic can holders for recycling. These don’t have to go in the bin! Just look for the carrier bag collection bins in your local supermarket.
Plastic food trays and punnets
Some local councils will accept these trays and punnets. It is harder for recycling plants to process black trays so this is not as commonly accepted. Any clear or opaque meat trays and fruit/veg punnets are increasingly recycled now although you will need to check what your council accepts.
Small plastic electrical items
Many councils will now recycle small plastic electrical items like kettles and toasters, so long as they are no bigger than a standard carrier bag size you can place them with your recycling bin and stop them going to landfill.
The usual plastic bottles, cleaning sprays pump mechanisms (although not those for soap dispensers, check out better alternatives below), plastic tubs and pots are widely recyclable.
2. Switch out your veg
I was stood in Tescos and getting increasingly more infuriated with the amount of plastic wrap I could see around me particularly covering fruit and veg. If you follow me on Instagram you might remember this photo generating lots of discussion around single-use plastics. I just couldn’t understand why the Fairtrade bananas were only available wrapped in plastic, they even have their own wrappers! Since then we have switched to getting our vegetables from a local farm who run a veg box scheme. I get a box delivered straight to our flat each fortnight when I am not travelling away which provides plenty of in-season, organic veg. Not only is it super fresh but it also forces me to cook up different vegetables than I might usually choose which is great for broadening our diet. It is a really reasonable scheme, costing just £10 for a small box which lasts two of us almost two weeks, if we are going to be entertaining or home at the weekends then we’ll pick up a medium box instead for £13.50. Compared to the equivalent amount of veg from the supermarket it is vastly better value and has the added benefit of being delivered in a big cardboard box with no plastic wrap! Similar veg box programmes run across the country, for those near to Portsmouth we use Wayside Organics.
3. Bathroom alternatives
When I looked around at our consumables I noticed another type of single-use plastic that is difficult to recycle and this was in our bathroom. Both toothbrushes and pump-action soap dispensers are particularly hard to recycle and something we hadn’t really thought of before. Bamboo toothbrushes are one simple way that you can get rid of single-use plastic from your bathroom, these are almost entirely plastic free with the only plastic being nylon mix BPA free bristles that can be recycled once pulled out from the bamboo handle. The handle can either be put into the compost or used in the garden as a plant splint or label. My favourite is currently Humble Brush which you can buy from Boots, Waitrose, Holland and Barrett, Coop and online. You can buy them with soft and medium bristles for both adults and children. I bought mine online at Not On The High Street for £3.99 which included free delivery.
The other easy switch in your bathroom is swapping a single-use pump-action soap dispensers for either refillable soap dispensers or bar soap. The lovely people at Method offer hand soap refills that contain enough soap for three dispensers therefore reducing the plastic waste overall – admittedly the refill is in a plastic pouch but better one plastic pouch than three difficult-to-recycle dispensers! You can also buy liquid soap refill pouches from Ecover and Faith In Nature. I love pretty refillable soap dispensers like this marble effect one from Sainsbury’s Home which look far nicer in your bathroom than a plastic bottle anyway!
4. On-the-go Solutions
One of the areas that I find hardest to avoid single-use plastics is when I am out and about wanting to grab some food. Most shop-bought sandwiches and salads are wrapped in non-recyclable plastic which can be frustrating. I have to admit that I sometimes don’t look very hard for an alternative but there are a few things you can do to reduce your single-use plastic waste when buying take out food. Finding a cafe or restaurant that will do takeaway food usually means you can ask for sandwiches to be wrapped in paper rather than plastic or get a salad in a cardboard box rather than a plastic carton. If you have time, eat in, not only is it better for you to take half an hour out to mindfully eat but you also reduce your waste right down as there is no packaging involved. To save money and waste, invest in some good quality leak-proof tupperware that you can pack lunch in from home and reuse as many times as you like. Win-win!
5. The Bees Knees
I hate food waste and so have always been quite careful to not throw food away. What I’ve realised is that in the process of saving food from the bin, I tend to use a lot of plastic wrap or food bags. In my hunt to reduce single-use plastic in the kitchen, I’ve switched to Beeswax Wraps – this is a really new addition to our routine so I’ll let you know how I get on with them but I’m already loving the bright colours and multi-use wraps (you can use them as pouches, covers for bowls and even icing bags!). I’ve sourced mine from The Beeswax Wrap Co who are a British company based in the Cotswolds. Tin foil can also be quite wasteful so is another good thing to avoid if possible, the process by which it is made is not good for the environment and not many councils will recycle it. These beeswax wraps can take the place of clingfilm and tin foil in most situations although they can’t be used in the oven.
6. Quick wins
Here are a few more swaps you can make that will begin to further reduce your plastic waste:
- Say no to plastic straws
- Carry a fork or spoon with you and say no to plastic ones
- Always have a fabric carrier bag with you
- Ask for paper and cardboard wrapping when buying fresh food
- Take your own water bottle with you and refill
- Avoid hot takeaway drinks cups – they are lined with plastic which makes them non-recyclable
- Wrap gifts in paper rather than foil or plasticised gift wrap which is not recyclable
Hopefully this post might have got you thinking about some of the quick ways you can reduce single-use plastic in your daily life, I continue to be shocked about how much plastic is getting into our environment, food chains and oceans. I feel so strongly that we do have to each make changes in order to affect wider change, there is no point saying ‘I’m only one person’ because we will never see a better world for our children unless we choose to say ‘no thank you’ to single-use plastic.
What else do you do to reduce your impact on the environment? Please share your tips!