3 Simple Changes to Cut Down Plastic Use
Scrolling through Instagram earlier this month, I came across the hashtag #PlasticFreeJuly. It’s a pretty self-explanatory hashtag so I'm sure you get the point. But if it’s not obvious, it’s a call to eliminate or drastically reduce our use of plastic in the month of July. As these challenges or awareness campaign often go, the intention is to realise that we can and we should do with less plastic.
This particular hashtag caught my eye and definitely stuck in my brain - compelling me to write about. Not because I live plastic free or anything remotely close to that, but because it’s somewhat difficult to turn a blind eye to the very damaging and glaring effects of plastic on our environment today.
These days, while you would very often see a pretty photo of a beach on Instagram, what the photo may not have shown you is the other area of the beach filled with plastics that have accumulated for years and years. I’ve also seen too many videos and photos of aquatic animals in pain as a result of plastic from the ocean stuck in their guts, and in many cases dying from these.
Plastic, experts say, takes about 500 years to decompose! So we begin to wonder how and why such a non-biodegradable item is still being produced and heavily used much more than we realise in our day to day activities.
A few weeks ago, I purchased one of those fancy hand wash dispensers for our guest bathroom. It was solely for aesthetic purposes, but as I decanted the liquid hand wash into the dispenser, I thought “oh less use of plastic”. In the same split second, it occurred to me that wasn’t really the case as I’d still have to buy the actual plastic hand wash and then decant its contents into this fancy container. So that’s not actually a win – except there’s stuff like refill handwash that comes in paper packs – you know like juice packs which are easily recyclable. A practical eco-friendly alternative will be to use bar soap. This also then applies to ditch shower gels and using bathing soap that in plastic-free packaging like paper.
I guess living totally plastic-free may be really really hard (these days though there are lots of people living pretty much plastic free and sharing how they do it). Still there are very very little changes we can make here and there that would have such a huge effect. So here we go:
1. Ditch bottled water
This is such a profound one. If you watch many of the plastic awareness documentaries, you see beaches laden with bottled water empties. Bottled water I know at some point growing up seemed like the fancy thing to drink, and some people still think so. But it’s so much better to simply drink from the tap (where it’s clean) or boil some water and have a water bottle with you at all times: on your desk, in your car, in your bag. A little bit of planning will go a long way. Cities and government are also being called upon to provide taps in strategic locations so people can easily refill their bottles. The same goes for “satchet” or "pure" waters.
This change applies not only to water but also for coffee lovers who get coffee fix or tea ever so often. Similarly, at work, you could make a case for mugs and glasses as opposed to plastic cups which are easy to dump.
2. Use re-useable shopping bags
So this is also a really common but easy one to ditch as well. Of course with a bit of consciousness, thoughtfulness and some planning. Relatively recently, and in a bid to reduce the amount of plastic bags used in shopping, the UK government introduced a plastic bag charge of 5p per bag, on major retailers. To be honest it was getting out of hand – people would really buy a pen or something so tiny from the stores and request a paper bag, which goes into the bin in a second. Initially, there were two reactions to this. On the one side was an outcry against the charge of 5p – with many refusing to pay and vowing to use their reusable bags. On the other hand, it was lauded as a necessary and overdue initiative. Thing is, it appears that the first group of people, may have gotten over their initial outcry, realise its just 5pence and continue using these paper bags as regular - with not much change. Needless to say, it arguably hasn’t been as effective as thought. But it can be. There are tons of reusable shopping bags that we can all have in our car boots or handbags and use for shopping.
I recall growing up in Lagos, a lot of the stores didn’t exactly give plastic bags - you had to bring yours. And so we had these thick black “bagco” bags that everybody used. You dare not go out shopping without taking your own bags. It’s definitely a consciousness we should go back to. I noticed a post from someone who was participating in the #plasticfreejuly challenge: she had totally forgotten her shopping bags on an impromptu shopping trip and was at the brink of opting for a plastic bag when she considered using a carton box to pick up her supplies. Let’s be more thoughtful, shall we? Oh, another tip: buying in bulk means less shopping trips and less plastic
3. Carry Your own Cutlery + plates for takeouts
I was drafting this post and going to include this when I thought “yeah, of course, it’s easy to use your own steel cutlery and avoid taking plastic ones from takeouts, but would we also take our own plates too!?”. I didn’t need to think much of it – I literally went out for lunch and saw a couple of people with their own tupperware and instructed the waiters to put their food in there. So yes, it’s totally possible! Again as a kid, even when people bought food from such street stalls, they’d use their own bowls and plates and wash these up later. And we often bought bread fresh from the bakery and it was wrapped in paper. We’ve all just become lazy due to this instant lifestyle but that’s not going to help the environment in the long run.
To be honest, writing this post, I just kept delving deeper into just how much plastic we use and it’s everywhere!
If you’re already a pro at the three of that above there’s really a lot more that plastic-free advocates share: from making your own cleaning and beauty supplies, using non stick cookware, choosing ice cream cone over cups (ice cream cones are so yummy I don't need an incentive for this!) and even asking pizza companies to remove the little white plastic in the middle of the pizza carton that is really not significant! Oh and yes – chew less gum as most gums are made of plastic. Crazy yes? See this post I stumbled on for more detailed and up to 100 ways to kick plastic use ideas and this one on how this lady has lived plastic free for two years.
So yeah, you may not be able to start with all three - but maybe pick one and start with it. And #PlasticFreeJuly may be technically almost over, but I stumbled on #PlasticFreeFridays – so we can all start making efforts every Fridays for a start.
Finally, I know it’s easy to think this isn’t such a huge concern or one only begins to think of such extras when other essentials in life are sorted – but then like I said it’s about the consciousness and making little changes.
What do you think? Which of the major changes above do you already implement or will you be trying out? Let us know.