Going plastic free: why and how to get started
After years of using plastic in our everyday lives, we are finally learning what impact it has on the world around us – and the truth isn’t pretty. However, as more people strive to live more eco-friendly lives, they are also taking steps to reduce the amount of plastic in their lives or completely reject it by going plastic free.
In today’s article, let’s go through why going plastic free, or simply reducing the amount of plastic you are using, can help the environment so much. We will also give you some tips and ideas on how you can get started making more sustainable choices one day at a time, which worked wonders for us. You can use these whether you are striving for the ideal of a plastic free home, or just hoping to dip your toes in the water to see what you can do to limit your impact on the environment.
The why of going plastic free
Before we get into our tips and ideas, let’s go through why going plastic free is a choice you may want to make. Plastic pollution (especially that which has accumulated in the ocean) has been becoming more widespread in the past few decades, now posing risk not only to marine ecosystems but also humans. According to Surfers Against Sewage, around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into the ocean every single day. The main sources of this pollution are waste from badly managed landfills, beach litter, plastic meant to be recycled that the recycling industry cannot cope with due to demand or industrial fishing waste (fishing equipment discarded into the ocean). Waste in the ocean can become deadly to marine animals when they ingest it or get entangled in it.
As the plastic is left in the ocean, as well as landfills and the natural environment, it never fully decomposes – it only falls apart into smaller plastic particles called microplastics. These particles seem to be making their way everywhere, including secluded areas with no human population or our drinking water. If animals ingest these microscopic pieces, their digestive tracts can get blocked. However, microplastics can also tie some toxic chemicals to themselves, which is dangerous not only to animals but also us humans.
Won’t recycling solve the issue?
It would be great if we could simply recycle all the single-use plastic and solve the plastic pollution in that way but unfortunately, that is not how plastic recycling works. As you may have noticed before, not all plastic is recyclable. Additionally, that which is recyclable can only go through the recycling process once. This is not recycling in the true sense of the word; a more appropriate term would be downcycling– transforming the material into something new with its quality decreasing.
Besides that, many smaller plastic items such as straws or toothbrushes, while recyclable in theory, are rarely ever recycled because of the variety of colours that they come in – it wouldn’t be profitable for the recycling facility to store enough for a full recycling batch.
How to get started with giving up plastic?
While going plastic-free may seem like a long and complicated journey, you can start making a change by choosing more sustainable options every day. Most of these go a long way and help you significantly cut down on the amount of plastic you are using gradually. Here are our top 5 tips for getting started with a plastic free lifestyle or a simple gradual elimination of plastic from your life.
1. Know your plastic
Not every plastic is the same – the word plastic actually describes a large number of different materials. Some can be recycled while some cannot, and some are much more harmful than others. You can tell which one you are dealing with by checking for a little triangle made of arrows with a number in the middle on the packaging. The different numbers represent different plastic materials.
The main three numbers to avoid are 3, 6 and 7. Number 3 is polyvinyl chloride which is extremely toxic and can also contain other dangerous additives. Watch out for this one in plastic wrap, squeeze bottles and even some children’s toys. Number 6 is polystyrene, containing a toxin which affects the nervous system and can be found in takeaway packaging or single-use cutlery. Lastly, number 7 represents polycarbonate and other similar materials which contain bisphenol A and can be found in takeaway cups, juice boxes, or sports drink bottles.
2. Skip the plastic bags
Most of the plastic in our lives consists of single-use food packaging. Perhaps the easiest way to cut out a substantial part of it is to avoid plastic produce bags. We have probably all heard that we should be using reusable shopping bags, but the same goes for produce and bread bags too! You can reuse the bags that you already have at home, but they are likely to get damaged after a few trips to the grocery store. Instead, a great alternative are reusable produce and bread bagswhich you can throw into your washing machine once they get dirty and keep reusing for years!
3. Never buy bottled water again
Why buy water in plastic bottles, when all of us (unless you live in an area with unsafe tap water) have completely safe high-quality drinking water running from our taps and even flushing our toilets? Somehow, we let bottled water companies convince us that water tastes better when it is unsustainably packaged and charged with a sky-high price tag. The good news is, there is nothing better about bottled water and no reason to be drinking it instead of tap water (again, unless you live in an area where that is not possible). In fact, bottled water may actually be worse, since there are fewer restrictions on it.
Get a reusable water bottleand refill it at a tap or a water fountain. This way, you are not only saving the planet, but also a lot of money!
4. Choose plastic-free substitutions
Most of the items containing plastic that you are using now can easily be swapped for plastic-free products the next time you need to substitute them. Even if an item is not made from plastic, it may still be wrapped in it, such as shampoo or shower gels – you’ll be happy to hear that there are plenty of plastic free product alternatives to those as well.
A bottle of shower gel can be substituted by a natural package-free soap. A plastic toothbrush can be swapped for a bambooone. Plastic tupperware will be forgotten in the shade of plastic-free stainless steel boxes. You get the drill – there is a plastic free alternative to everything nowadays!
5. Keep your wardrobe plastic free
Did you know that plastic could even be hiding in your closet? Most synthetic fabrics such as polyester, nylon or elastane, are made from plastic and when they are washed, they release microplastic fibres into greywater. Since it is very hard for wastewater treatment plants to filter these particles out, they usually contribute to the plastic pollution of the ocean or return to our homes in drinking water.
On a road towards a plastic-free lifestyle, opt for natural fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, linen, lyocell and others to decrease your impact on the environment. These do not release any plastic into the water cycle and degrade naturally when discarded.