Every era in history is defines by the name of the material that was most in use during the period. Like the stone age or the iron age, we could have a strong case to term our current era as the “plastic age”. The world is currently facing a massive plastic pollution problem. Every plastic article anyone’s ever used (even if it’s recycled) is still likely still present somewhere on our planet. If the current consumption pattern continues, there is going to be more plastic in the oceans than fish by the year 2050. Dealing with this persistent polymer is one of the main challenges our generation faces.
Sometimes it can be daunting, when you get down to calculating how much plastic waste we produce. By 2015, the world had produced 7.8 billion tonnes of plastic, well over one tonne (~910 kgs) per person at the time. But, there are ways each of us could reduce this burgeoning plastic problem and live a plastic-free life. Here are a few ways you can go about achieving this.
Identify your plastic consumption patterns
The first step is to identify which products you use every day, that have the most plastic coming along with them. Is it your groceries? Or your health and hygiene products? Find out which articles contain the most plastic. This way, you’ll be able to make mindful decisions when you go shopping.
Reduce plastic consumption
Reducing plastic consumption is the obvious starting point in combating the world’s plastic problem. And, if you avoid buying plastic products, you’ll avoid having to look for ways to dispose it later.
By 2017, the world was buying a million plastic bottles every minute. And, over ninety percent of these weren’t being recycled. Food grade plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET, a part of the polyester family of polymers, which take about 400 years to naturally break down. This reliance on plastic single-use water bottles is alarming and you could encourage everyone around you to try and reduce buying water in plastic bottles.
To avoid single-use plastic packaging solutions, you can opt for products that come without plastic packaging. There are now zero waste stores that sell products from dispensers and some online stores which ship products in biodegradable and compostable packaging. This way you can avoid collecting additional plastic containers, reuse ones already with you and eliminate disposable plastics. In the supermarket, you do not have to package fruits and vegetables in separate single-use plastic bags. Consider getting a cotton, jute, hemp or linin grocery bag along while out for groceries.
Use sustainable alternatives wherever possible
With concerted efforts by global organizations, today there’s a heightened awareness of the massive plastic pollution challenge, and numerous brands have been making efforts to manufacture sustainable alternatives for commonly used plastic products. A simple switch like replacing your toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush can go a long way. Buying from brands that offer sustainable packaging solutions with paper, jute or cloth bags can also be another option.
Here are a few sustainable alternatives to start your journey towards being plastic-free:
- Bring your own cloth bag when you go shopping, especially for groceries.
- Carry your own water bottle when you are traveling or commuting to work.
- Carry your own containers for takeout, to ensure that restaurants and cafes do not provide you with plastic containers.
- Buy milk in reusable glass bottles rather than plastic bottles or bags.
- Use dispensers in zero-waste stores to refill products like shampoo, and soap.
- Switch to organic bar soap and shampoo bars instead of liquid soap and shampoo
- Use sustainable menstrual products like a menstrual cup or cloth pads.
- Substitute your plastic hygiene products like bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo swabs (earbuds), and razors with eco-friendly substitutes.
- Carry your own mug and stainless-steel straws or bamboo straws for coffee or other beverages.
- Use beeswax wraps instead of single-use cling film wraps.
- Find dishwashing scrubs of natural origin like juiced oranges, coconut fiber, or options available online like hemp scrubs.
- Switch from traditional toothpaste tubes to toothpaste tablets or powders.
- Buy loose leaf tea instead of tea bags which mostly contain plastic.
Once plastic articles have lost their initial utility, you could also repurpose them into other things of value. Upcycling is an important method to give things another life. For instance, using e-commerce packaging bags as trash liners, or repurposing spray bottles from sanitizers as a gardening sprayer will help prolong the useful life of a purpose manufactured plastic product.
Learn about and become awareness of the disposal methods available to you. Correctly disposing plastics aimed at recycling is crucial to living plastic-free. Some people burn their plastic waste which is extremely harmful to the environment and health. Burning plastic can release dioxins, mercury and BCPs (polychlorinated biphenyls), all harmful to human, animal and plant health.
You could also identify your nearest solid waste management facility so that your plastic waste can be broken down or turned into chips and pellets, which can then be repurposed into something of value. It is good to ensure that your plastic waste is disposed of correctly and is not being sent to another country to dump in their landfills. Find out about your local disposal process and keep track of how your community’s waste is being handled. Active participation is essential for positive change to occur.
Participating in beach or river cleanups can also be a great way to contribute towards cleaning up some of the plastic that could potentially cause harm in the future. Sharing content about plastic waste lying about, might propel others to change plastic consumption habits.
By 2015, only 9% of the 6,300 metric tonnes of plastic waste had been recycled. Currently, the types of plastics that can be recycled are PET, HDPE, and PP. So, it’s essential to watch out for these symbols when you buy something that is made of or comes in plastic packaging. Also remember to sort your trash into organic, plastic, paper, metal, and glass so that you make the job of your municipality solid waste recycling center easier.
Join plastic-free communities
Be proactive. Participate. Share. Whether by forming a local plastic-free community or joining a global plastic free living subreddit, you’ll get fresh ideas for living plastic-free from like-minded people. Also, since living plastic-free can get a bit frustrating sometimes, these communities can aid in motivating you to stay the course and drive change.
Even if you cannot go completely plastic-free or zero-waste, remember that a thousand people trying to live plastic-free imperfectly is so much better than only five people who do it perfectly. Although some of these changes can come across as a bit daunting initially, its good to remember that every small change you and those around you make, can significantly help to reduce the world’s plastic problem.
We're all responsible for Earth. Grow, eat, wear & live, sustainably.
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