About 15 years ago, there was an article in an old National Geographic magazine about living in a world without oil. The accompanying image showed all the different household items that used oil in their production. Almost all the items were plastic.
I remember thinking at the time, we will need to really change our habits to get used to living without all these things that have quickly become items we rely on daily.
Fast forward a few years and the world is now literally drowning in plastic. It’s almost impossible to walk on our beaches without finding remains of a plastic item or two. This month I’ve been trying to reduce my plastic use for #PlasticFreeJuly, it’s been harder than I realised, plastic is EVERYWHERE!
Mostly I’ve been focussing on things that are easy to achieve, remembering to have the reusable shopping bags in the car, so I don’t balance my shopping like an episode of Crackerjack, having my KeepCup at all times, and disappointing my kids by refusing straws on thier behalf.
Recently published research calculates we have produced 8.3 million tonnes of plastic in 65 years, half of which has been produced in the last 13 years. Which means since that article I saw 15 years ago, far from reducing our reliance on oil and oil derived products (plastic) we have increased our consumption exponentially.
Not all plastic is set free into the environment, there are plastics used in construction and other manufacturing that will most likely stay put for the lifespan of the product. However, we are increasingly faced with plastic in our day to day lives that with a little bit of extra effort could be reduced.
But why does it matter?
Images of wildlife with stomachs full of plastic are becoming all too common, but there is also increasing evidence that plastic has already entered our food chain.
Plastic enters the sea from a variety of sources. However, it is estimated that around 80% of plastic in the sea has been discarded on land and washed into water courses via rivers.
The plastic breaks down into microscopic parts, and this is ingested by filter feeders low down the food chain, as well as larger items directly ingested by turtles, wales, birds and other creatures. The chemicals in the plastics are then transferred up the food chain. Recently it was discovered that sea salt in several countries around the world contained micsoscopic particles of plastic.
But if this is such a huge issue, what difference can I make?
With so many seemingly unsurmountable issues facing the world right now, knowing how to make a difference can feel overwhelming.*
But small actions can and do have an impact. #2minutebeachclean is a fab example of individuals making a difference, with the network of beach clean boards spreading across the country.
#PlasticFreeJuly may be nearing an end, but going plastic free for longer can be easy with these simple top tips!
1. Give up bottled water and other drinks.
I was recently popped into a well known supermarket for some bread and came out with a Sodastream. I had been feeling guilty about the number of fizzy water bottles in my recycling, and after a quick internet search I was happy that my new purchase was far more eco friendly. Plus, the kids are loving the novelty value and drinking more water. Wins all round.
2. Take a reusable cup.
An estimated 3 billion disposable cups are used each year in the UK. Personally I use a KeepCup, but there are lots of lovely designs out there. Eden, Surfers Against Sewage and local coffee shops sell a variety of styles. Alternatively, find a fab cafe to relax and take some time out to sit down and enjoy your coffee. Forgetting my cup is a great excuse for some downtime in town.
3. Get a reusable steel water bottle.
Avoid plastic and aluminium (often lined with plastic coatings) as chemicals from plastics can leech into water. Some cafes and shops will be happy to refill your bottle when you are out and about, especially if you are buying something. A recently launched scheme in Bristol is gradually spreading to other towns, encouraging people to switch to tap water.
4. Say no to straws
The U.S uses enough straws to wrap around the Earth’s circumference 2.5 times PER DAY. Plastic straws suck. Just say no. (Megan was delighted to find biodegradable straws at the Ferry Boat Inn recently!)
5. Take reusable bags to the shops.
The number of people taking thier own bags to our local supermarket certainly looks like it has increased. I always forget mine, so end up doing the Crackerjack juggle all the way back to the car, or piling it into the sticky little hands of the kids to keep them out of trouble! I also always try to avoid putting fruit or veg in individual bags, and then use a self service til to avoid annoying the shop assistants!
6. Switch to natural fibres in clothes and cleaning products.
Tiny microfibres from fabrics get washed into rivers and oceans when we wash our clothes. I recently found some really cool multi-purpose cotton scourers in the Rick Stein shop, washable, effective, and lovely enough to leave out and look at.
7. Fix it don’t bin it
Join a local repair cafe, or start one up. We have a fab new monthly repair cafe just set up in Falmouth, although, I’ll be honest, I haven’t managed to go along yet. I do however, have a lovely collection of items ‘to fix’ (otherwise known as rubbish). Sugru can be fab for little fixes, along with trusty superglue. I also use our local recycling page on Facebook, affectionately known by locals as C.R.A.P Falmouth and Penryn (Conserving Resources Associating People!). Not strictly reducing plastic use, but ace for finding a home for the most random of items.
*I love a bit of psychology, if you do too, try this