I read another article in Stylist magazine recently, that was exploring the subject of plastic which is something I feel passionately about. The imagery printed on the front page really had an impact and spoke more than words could. The image saw plastic straws in a cigarette packet: smoking is something I also strongly dislike, with, instead of “Smoking Kills”, “Plastic – About to become as fashionable as smoking” on the label.
The double page spread to introduce the article displayed a full-page image of a woman with glossy red lips, ‘smoking’ a straw. The subheading in the top corner read, ‘The Last Straw’, which I feel perfectly sums up what we will see occur in the foreseeable future. It could be inferred that they are suggesting that plastic straws are the cigarettes of our times!
How to quit plastic?
The article questions whether single-use plastic will soon become as unacceptable as smoking indoors and investigates how we can cut down. Plastic has become our newest source of shame.
It’s just over two years since charges for plastic bags were introduced, cutting our usage by 85%. I now take at least one reusable bag every time I leave the house. Over the last year, plastic has become a hot conversation point and now seems nearly every day brings a new addition to the horrifying collection of plastic facts: by 2050 there will be as much plastic in the ocean as fish.
I was so surprised when I read that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. For many, including myself, daily routines are being reconsidered. Almost 160 million teabags thrown away every day in the UK are made with polypropylene, the clothes we wear are responsible for most of the microplastics found in the ocean, our plastic toothbrushes take around 75 years to decompose, our chewing gum contains malleable plastic and our tampons will most likely make their way to a beach. I don’t know about you, but half of these things, I was unaware even contained plastic!
Multinational companies such as Coca Cola and Pret have made public plans to address their plastic pollution, juice brand Press is pioneering new edible packaging, and all leading supermarkets have pledged to make significant reductions to their plastic waste. Even the Queen has banned straws and plastic water bottles across her estates.
Most of us have experienced walking along a beautiful beach and seeing household items we use every day destroying it. Many of us now carry a reusable water bottle, say no to plastic straws and ask the barista to fill our reusable cups rather than contribute to the 2.5 billion coffee cups that are thrown away every day in the UK.
I personally believe that it is becoming socially acceptable to refuse plastic. It’s becoming rarer to see people carrying plastic bags or for restaurants to stock plastic straws. I walked into my local Tesco the other day and noticed that all of the cards are wrapped in plastic sleeves which I thought was highly unnecessary!
Having said all of this, the article reveals that not all plastic is bad. Millions of lives have been saved by plastic medical equipment and sanitation. Experts like Professor Richard Thompson, head of international marine litter research at Plymouth University, stated: “If we banned plastic tomorrow, our food waste would increase dramatically.” Leading to, among other things, more wasted water and more methane released into the atmosphere.
The more we can encourage friends, colleagues and neighbours to adopt plastic-free habits, the more it will become the new norm. This could lead us to experience a greater sense of community where we come together to solve the problem. I personally soon am going to a yoga and lunch event with zero waste.
I know that many people feel often overwhelmed by where to start. When I began being more conscious, I focused on recycling properly, buying a lunchbox, reusable water bottle and reusable bag for example.
The design opportunities for new food packaging alone are immense. I love seeing businesses setting example by harnessing a huge passion for change, innovating and not simply swapping plastic for something else, looking for a more sustainable solution.
Below are some ways that we can all help to reduce our plastic consumption and daily usage.
Shake up your straw: we throw 8.5 billion away every year.
Check your ready-meal:1.3 billion black plastic trays used in ready meals are burned or dumped in landfill each year.
Seek water fountains: The Refill scheme is a nationwide initiative that aims to introduce a refill station on every street in the country and shops, cafes, museums and restaurants can also participate.
Recycle your bathroom products: only 52% of people regularly recycle their bathroom products.
Rethink your takeaway: edible cutlery is being developed but for now opt out of plastic cutlery, sauce sachets and straws.
Support fashion with a conscience: look for new sustainable materials and clothing that are ecofriendly too.
Choose plastic-free travel: take your own plastic-free food and drink, saying no to face wipes and wet wipes on-the-go.
Switch to a plastic free toothbrush: we get through 300 of them in our lifetime. This is something I am going to invest in next.
Bring back the local milkman: there has been a reported 25% rise in milk deliveries in glass bottles over the past two years.
Ditch single-use wipes: they don’t disintegrate in water as they contain plastic. Swap for flannels, knitted dishcloths or biodegradable Ecover Wipes.
Buy a Guppyfriend: a third of all plastic waste in the ocean is the result of microfibres and one third of those microfibres are released by our clothes when we wash them. I have only recently become aware of this, but it is a bag made from a fine nylon mesh that captures fibres shed by your clothes in the washing machine before they enter the marine ecosystem.
I cannot wait for the day that I see non plastic yogurt pots, salad boxes, plastic lined seals and container linings, just to name a few!