When Leo Baekeland invented the first fully synthetic plastic in 1907, he marked the start of the modern plastics era. His invention delighted consumers, who had access to a vast array of highly desirable, yet affordable items, such as nylon stockings, telephones and kitchen utensils.
Fast-forward eleven decades, and it’s a totally different story. Nowadays, consumers are more aware of their plastic consumption and are constantly encouraged to ditch their throwaway lifestyles by saying “no” to plastic packaging and reverting back to using reusable, more environmentally-friendly items.
It’s now widespread knowledge that the effect plastic is having on the world around us is extremely detrimental, with turtles being choked by plastic carrier bags and beaches littered with plastic drinks bottles that will take hundreds of years to degrade.
But not all is lost: If every one of us makes changes to reduce plastic waste and end our single-use culture, there’s a chance we can turn things around.
What are some top tips for reducing plastic consumption?
There are many ways in which you can reduce your plastic consumption, such as going virtual, ditching cling-film, saying no to plastic cutlery and straws, using reusable containers and remembering your own carrier bags when you go shopping.
Some of the other things you can do include using sustainable cosmetics products, switching to plastic-free teabags and cooking at home instead of ordering takeaways.
Read on to find out more about how the small changes you make in your daily life could help to save our planet.
Nine top tips for reducing plastic waste
1. Go virtual
It’s likely you already listen to music and watch films online rather than buying CDs and DVDs, but there are other ways to reduce your plastic consumption by going virtual.
The amount of plastic we have in our wallets is surprisingly large. Even though credit cards are small in size, the amount we go through in a lifetime adds up. One way to tackle this is to swap your traditional plastic debit card for a virtual debit card.
2. Change your lunch habits
To save money, you might take your own lunch to work, but instead of using Tupperware or a plastic lunchbox, consider using a container made from stainless steel or glass instead.
And, rather than wrapping your food up in cling-film or sandwich bags, reusable wax wraps are natural and environmentally friendly. It’s also worth bearing in mind that tinfoil is a good alternative to cling film, as it can be recycled.
If you prefer to buy your lunch every day rather than make it yourself, you can cut down on your plastic consumption by saying no to plastic cutlery. Just remember to keep stainless steel or bamboo cutlery in your handbag or desk drawer so you’re not caught short.
3. Remember your own shopping bags
Since the 5p plastic bag charge was introduced in the UK in 2015, the number of single-use polythene bags has reduced by 95%.
It seems most people are used to carrying an extra bag with them, but if you find it difficult to remember, keep some in the boot of your car, your coat pocket or handbag.
Buying fruit and vegetables loose is better than buying pre-packaged produce, which uses a lot of plastic. But instead of tearing plastic bags off the roll, keep the items loose in your trolley or opt for reusable produce bags, which are now available to buy in many supermarkets.
4. Carry reusable drinks containers
In the UK, we use 7.7 billion plastic water bottles each year. Not only is this wasteful, but toxins from the plastic have been found to filter through into the water. So, instead of buying bottled water, the healthier, more eco-friendly option is to carry your own reusable bottle with you at all times.
Additionally, we throw away 2.5 billion coffee cups in the UK each year. Because they’re lined with plastic, they’re harder to recycle, meaning these disposable cups and their plastic lids end up polluting oceans and waterways or in landfill sites. Carrying a reusable coffee cup with you will ensure you’re not contributing to the problem. Some coffee shops and cafes will even offer you a discount for using your own cup.
5. Say no to straws
To understand just how much damage plastic straws do to the environment, you only have to look at the wealth of videos and articles that show the damage plastic does to animals that make the sea their home.
Thankfully, in October 2020, plastic straws were banned in UK pubs, bars and restaurants, with many of them now providing paper ones instead. But carrying your own metal straw in your coat pocket or handbag will ensure that you never have to go without.
6. Store food in jars
Rather than using plastic containers, consider storing leftovers and kitchen staples like pasta, rice and cereal in environmentally-friendly containers, such as glass jars.
Wide-mouthed mason jars are best for storing most produce, but rather than buying them new, consider recycling jam jars and old olive and pickles jars.
7. Use sustainable cosmetics products
The iconic image of the seahorse holding a cotton bud demonstrates just how bad plastic pollution in our oceans has become.
But, like plastic straws, cotton buds with plastic stems have now been banned in the UK. So, chances are plastic cotton buds are no longer part of your beauty regime, but there are some other changes you can make with your cosmetics.
Rather than using face wipes and cotton pads that either contain or are wrapped in plastic, consider switching to reusable cotton pads instead. They’re made from bamboo and organic cotton, and to wash them you simply put them into the machine with the rest of your laundry.
8. Switch your teabag brand
It’s estimated that Brits drink 100 million cups of tea every single day. And with most teabags containing microplastics, that’s a lot of plastic polluting our waterways and ending up in our food chain.
9. Cook at home
Friday night is notoriously known as take-out night. While this is a delicious treat, often the food comes delivered in plastic boxes. Rather than ordering a takeaway from your favourite Chinese restaurant to celebrate the end of the working week, mix it up by cooking a delicious dinner at home occasionally instead.