Plastic is an endlessly versatile and useful product. It’s found all over the place, from supermarket carrier bags and food packaging to contact lenses and clothing. But the cost of our dependence on plastic is huge. Millions of tons of plastic waste end up in our seas every year, and it can be fatal to sea creatures and end up in the food chain. A plastic straw can become lodged in a turtle’s nose, a dolphin may eat a plastic bag, mistaking it for food, and plastic micro beads are ingested by fish, who see them as edible. It’s estimated that a million plastic water bottles are bought each minute, and attempts at recycling are nowhere near keeping up with those huge numbers. And if plastic’s not recycled or burnt, it takes more than 400 years to degrade.
What can you do?
It can feel overwhelming to think about all of this. It can seem as if we’re powerless to improve things. But that’s not true. If each of us tries to reduce our use of plastic as much as we can, and to recycle wherever possible, it will make a difference.
Here are some really simple ideas for ways to cut down on plastic and help the environment. I try to do these as much as I can, both at home and when I’m on my travels.
1 Drink from a reusable cup
I have a reusable coffee cup which I carry with me in my bag so that if I buy a drink while I’m out and about I don’t need to use one of the disposable ones. Although disposable cups are mostly made of paper, they’re lined with plastic to make them waterproof. This makes them very difficult to recycle, so most of them are just thrown away. My reusable coffee cup is very handy and much admired. It can be squashed down for storage, and it has a screw-on lid.
2 Carry a water bottle
When I travel I always pack a water bottle to use during the trip. When travelling by plane I fill the bottle with water once I’ve passed through the security checks. Most airports have water fountains, or you can ask at food outlets in the departure lounge for your bottle to be filled.
3 Refuse plastic straws
You really don’t need a straw, unless you’ve just had surgery or something and that’s the only way that you can eat and drink (in which case, please carry on and I hope that you feel better soon). If you’re physically capable of eating and drinking without a straw, then do that. In food outlets, be sure to tell your server that you don’t need a straw before they pop one in your cup.
4 Use a spork
I have a set of sporks to use instead of disposable plastic cutlery when I’m travelling. In case you’re unfamiliar with the spork concept, it’s basically a spoon and a fork combined (spoon + fork = spork – geddit?) and it’s a very useful thing. Mine have a serrated edge on the outside of one of the fork prongs, so can be used as a basic knife. My sporks are a set of four and come in a drawstring nylon bag.
5 Carry a fabric bag
I always carry a light, fabric carrier bag with me to use instead of a plastic bag. I tie it in a loose knot and keep it in my handbag. I also keep some large, tough, reusable plastic carrier bags in the boot of my car, in case I need them for shopping.
6 Pass on your stuff
If you have plastic toys (or anything else) which you don’t need any more, but which could be useful to someone else, either sell them or give them away. You can sell things on eBay, give them away on Freecycle, donate to a charity shop or pass on to a friend.
Recycle as much as you can, wherever you are. Find out what can be recycled, where to leave it and when, even if you’re on holiday somewhere. Make it easy for everyone in your home to recycle by having various bags for recycling around the place.
8 Collect your litter
Don’t leave rubbish anywhere. Take it with you, and recycle what you can.
9 Talk to people
Encourage others to follow your lead. Extol the virtues of your disposable coffee cup, buy beautiful fabric bags as gifs for friends and indoctrinate your kids about the evils of litter.
10 Take part in a beach clean
If you’d like to be more proactive, how about joining in with a beach cleaning event? We did this on a family National Trust working holiday in Wales, and it was brilliant fun. We gathered loads of plastic and other rubbish, and it all got a bit competitive, in a friendly kind of way. If we lived by the coast I would do this regularly.
Over to you
How do you cut down on your use of plastic? What do you do to help the environment? Do you have any ideas to add to this list?