Does this sound like you? “I don’t use that much plastic. After all, I always bring my reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, and don’t buy bottled water.” Well that was me until very recently!
It was easy to feel smug while toting around a stainless steel water bottle and buying pantry items like nuts and seeds in bulk, thinking I was an “educated consumer”. But when I looked closely, I was actually shocked at how much plastic I bought or used every single day.
Plastic is sneaking its way in to our lives so much that even the most savvy people are buying a bucketload (pun intended) without realising.
The top four biggest single-use plastics are:
- Plastic bags
- Water bottles
- Takeaway coffee cups
How many of those have you used in the past month? The past week? Or even the past day? I know I still use all 4 a lot more than I’d like, despite my best efforts.
Using or having too many plastic bags is pretty obvious, because we tend to stockpile them in our kitchen drawers and can notice when they’re overflowing. (Luckily they’re an easy thing to cut down on.) But what’s harder to think about is the increasing – and unfortunately so unnecessary – use of plastic that covers the stuff we buy like food and drinks, like apples at the supermarket portioned and wrapped in plastic. That requires a bit more effort, but it can be done. So here are my top hints to reduce your plastic use.
1. Be smart in the kitchen.
Instead of wrapping leftovers in cling wrap, put them in a washable container. Reusable plastic containers are better (but, y’know, still plastic), so the best bet is glass containers like the Pyrex brand, or Ikea has this affordable range.
2. Rethink your takeaway coffee cup.
Coffee is awesome. But the takeaway cups*, not so much. So a great idea is to buy a reusable one made from glass or stainless steel. And a bonus? Some cafes will charge you less for bringing your own cup. Win-win! *Side note: some takeaway cups are biodegradable, but the lids are not. So if you don’t have a reusable cup with you (and you are a very careful, non-spilly person), ask for your coffee without a lid.
3. Say no to straws.
Don’t use them in cafés/restaurants, don’t buy them from supermarkets, and if you’re offered one, politely decline. (C’mon, it’s not hard to sip a drink from the glass!) But if you really can’t live without one, there are lots of cool companies out there making straws from materials like paper, glass, stainless steel and even bamboo.
4. Buy your food in bulk to minimise or eliminate packaging.
Instead of buying small packets of nuts or plastic-covered trays of apples, buy in bulk from whole foods stores, butchers, deli counters and farmers’ markets. This can be done for fruit, veggies, herbs, grains, cereal, pasta, nuts, seeds, cheese and sliced meats. Plus, this saves lots of money.
5. Reuse glass jars.
I save all my glass jars from pasta sauces, peanut butter, marinated vegetables, coconut oil and the like to store pantry items like nuts and seeds. (Note: wash jars out first 😉 )
6. Use your reusable shopping bags.
Buying reusable bags is one thing; actually using them is another. Make sure you do this by storing them in accessible places like your handbag, gym bag, car boot or a drawer at work.(not just shoved in an old kitchen drawer).
7. Take a reusable water bottle wherever you go.
The environmental impacts of bottled water are massive – plus it’s insanely expensive, about 10 times the price of petrol! So using a reusable bottle is a simple switch. There are cheap glass ones in supermarkets (I like the Voss brand), otherwise stainless steel ones like these from Earth Bottles are sustainable and pretty.
Once you’ve got one, most restaurants/cafés are happy to refill your bottle if you ask nicely. Plus, cool water refill stations are popping up in many cities that offer filtered and cold water (still and sparkling) at a fraction of the price of bottled water.
8. BYO container and cutlery for takeaway and leftovers.
When buying takeaway or getting ready to bring home leftovers, ask the restaurant if you can get the food in your own reusable container instead of using their standard plastic or styrofoam ones. Also, when eating takeaway on the go, bring your own cutlery. (Just keep a reusable zip-lock bag in your handbag to put your dirty container/fork/spoon in.)
9. Choose items made of, or packaged in, non-plastic materials.
Where possible, always choose an alternate material – e.g. paper plates instead of plastic ones; razors with replaceable blades instead of disposable plastic razors; soft drinks and freshly-pressed juices in glass jars; and laundry detergent in boxes instead of plastic bottles. Also, spending money on an eco-friendly alternative creates demand for those product and shows the company that you value their commitment to living with less plastic.
10. Recycle electronics.
It’s estimated there are more than 23 million old mobiles stashed away in cupboards and drawers in people’s homes and workplaces. Whaaa? If you’re one of these people, you may not have known that there are lots of places where you can recycle your old mobile phones (and other electronics, like computers) safely and securely. Checking with your local council is a good first step.
So, there you go. If these tips have inspired you, you’ll also love Plastic Free July, an awareness campaign and annual do-it-yourself challenge to reduce your plastic use. I’m committed to doing it every year!
Do you do any of these already? Or do you have your own handy hints for using less plastic? If so, share below!