Currently approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year to make mostly single-use plastic products such as bags, straws, bottles and packaging. Only nine percent of these plastics end up being recycled, most cannot be recycled at all. The majority of this ends up in landfills, in the ocean heading towards the Great Pacific garbage patch (which is now three times the size of France) or in the natural environment. This plastic breaks up exceptionally slowly into smaller and smaller fragments, leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water. We are all aware of the repercussions this has for our wildlife, vegetation, soil and air as images of turtles with straws lodged in their nostrils and dead birds with plastic-filled bellies populate our screens.
Let’s be honest, the mantra ‘Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Rot, Recycle’ is catchy, it’s definitely helpful, but we are at the stage where more needs to be done – by us. Our world is one where every piece of plastic ever made is still here. Recycling is undoubtedly no substitute to reducing what is bought in the first place. We need to be moving towards waste-free living, and in order to begin this way of life, we need to stop plastic before it comes into our homes. Change the demand and inevitably you will change the supply.
But there is good news: you can make a difference and inspire others to live similarly. Changing to a plastic-free lifestyle is not as daunting as it may seem. Some of the easiest ways you can start this transition are as follows:
- Refusing single use plastic bags and cutlery
- Drinking from a reusable water bottle
- Carrying a reusable coffee cup with you
- Participating in beach or river clean-ups
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
This is an action checklist of ways to move away from a plastic dependency and towards a cleaner, more sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle. Stick it on your fridge, form a habit and tick off each subsequent change you make.
IN THE KITCHEN
- Replace non-stick cookware with stainless steel or cast iron
- Use a stainless steel ice tray
- Make your own yoghurt and nut milk (it’s easier than you think)
- Compost your food waste
- Instead of plastic wrap or tin foil, wrap leftovers with plastic free reusable, antibacterial wraps, such as these Shweshwe beeswax wraps
- Choose a French Press over a machine that uses capsules (the grounds also make a great compost)
- Don’t buy bottled water, have a soda machine in your home and create your own fizzy drinks
- Give your furry friends toys and furniture derived from natural materials and not plastic
- Use ceramic/steel/glass feed and water bowls
- Pick up waste with old newspaper
- Use a natural cat litter
- Avoid cosmetics containing polypropylene or polyethylene (usually the microplastic exfoliating beads)
- Wear clothes made from natural fibres such as hemp and bamboo (lycra, polyester, spandex and nylon are all made from plastic)
- It’s winter, ditch the disposable razor and let the body hair grow! Alternatively, get yourself a plastic-free useable razor.
- Opt for bar soaps over plastic bottled liquid soaps
- Choose a reusable face cloth as opposed to wet wipes
- Get yourself a bamboo toothbrush
- Opt for plastic-free dental floss
- Use plastic free feminine hygiene products, or take it one step further with a menstrual cup
- Make your own cleaning products
- Replace disposable diapers with reusable cloth – here’s a little tip on cleaning them!
- Where possible, repair your broken plastic items instead of replacing them
AT THE OFFICE
- Say no to plastic pens, go for pencils or a refillable fountain pen
- Leave a water bottle, eating utensils and container at the office
- Switch to paperless billing
OUT AND ABOUT
- Refuse straws and plastic lids when ordering takeaway drinks
- Bring your own take away containers to restaurants
- Start conversations about WHY you are refusing plastic
- Repurpose plastic containers
- Form good habits – if you forget your mug, forgo the coffee
- Treat yourself; get ice cream in a cone, not a cup
- Give the kids waste free lunch boxes
AT THE SHOPS
- Buy in bulk, shop at markets and grocers like these.
- Bring your own containers and reusable produce bags
- Delve into thrift stores for clothing
- Purchase second hand electronics
- Go for products wrapped in cardboard, paper or even better, no packaging
- Buy fresh bread wrapped in paper
- Don’t buy CDs or DVDs; download or stream online
- Ditch the plastic Christmas tree – get creative and decorate an acacia tree!
- Refuse gimmicky plastic gifts and promotional goods
- Find alternative wrapping techniques and use eco-friendly paper
- Host a zero-waste party
- Give plastic free gifts, or a different type of gift: such as experiences over things
- No glitter, unless it’s 100% biodegradable
- Bring your own water bottle on the plane (fill up at the fountain after security)
- Use reusable travel size containers for personal products
- Resist the mini bar
- Old-school is cool: bring back the handkerchief in place of tissues
- Take your own soap to hotels
This doesn’t need to be an immediate change, as long as you are incorporating more of these points into your lifestyle day by day, then you are moving in the right direction. Essentially, a waste less lifestyle doesn’t have to mean doing without something, it means figuring out what is important to you and then switching to waste-free alternatives. Habits start to form and soon you will revel in a commitment to the environment and yourself as a conscious consumer that is more simplistic and holistic.