Meg Kneafsey is a returned International Citizen Service (ICS) volunteer with Raleigh International, a trustee for the charity, and a campaigner. Here she shares her top tips for cutting down your plastic usage and living more sustainably.
Plastics are extremely durable, lightweight, cheap and versatile – features which mean that they have replaced many traditional materials such as metal, glass and wood. Unfortunately, these features make them the most pervasive, persistent and hazardous form of litter in our environment. Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.
Plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8% of yearly global oil production. This precious resource is being wasted on disposable products for ‘convenience’. This is not sustainable.
We need to regulate our current usage, simply expecting businesses to reduce their plastic consumption at a potential hit to their profits or change to their convenience is not realistic. We have seen the success of government regulation already notably the 5p charge on plastic bags which led to an 85% drop in usage.
Recently France became the first country to pass an all-out ban on plastic cutlery, plates, and cups. I have created a petition to follow their example that I hope the ‘We Are Restless’ community could sign and share. It’s a small but significant step that could reduce our huge plastic usage. In the meantime, while getting this petition some recognition, here are a three tips on how you can reduce your disposable plastic usage in a few ways:
Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop.
There are reusable plastic and non-plastic alternatives for your drinks, you just need to remember to put them in your bag and take them with you. Reusable and transportable mugs are becoming more popular and you can find great designs in many stores (my blue and pink unicorn reusable mug always gets comments). Some cafes are trying to encourage this from their customers nice by giving discounts if you bring your own cup. You also contact local stores to encourage them to follow suit!
Don’t buy or use disposable plastics.
From cutlery to razors, water bottles to straws, you don’t need to be buying these one-use products. There are many alternatives out there when buying products that you regularly use. Similarly, you can ask for no straw in your drinks or look for more easily disposable products such as cardboard juice cartons instead of bottles from the supermarket. It is difficult because our society appears to revolve around plastic. I’m not asking you to be perfect but to be mindful about how much you are using and reducing it in anyways you can.
Unfortunately, recycling isn’t the answer to our disposable plastic usage. Many plastic items are made from a wide variety and blends of plastics types. Other difficulties surrounding plastics recycling include their high volume to weight, making collection and transportation difficult and expensive. There are also often high levels of contamination in plastic, which make the recycled plastics less usable, especially where food products are involved.
Generally speaking, it’s easier to recycle cardboard than plastic – hence why you should choose cardboard packaging over plastic – plus paper products tend to biodegrade more easily without adding a lot of weight to the product the way glass or aluminium can. But if you can’t avoid using disposable plastics, you should try and ensure they are recycled where possible. Sadly, British households fail to recycle a ‘staggering’ 16m plastic bottles a day but there have been great attempts in the last decade to make this easier for us to do.
These small steps are lifestyle changes. They are not going to be as convenient as using disposable but they can make our society more sustainable. These plastics affect our environment and use fossil fuels. Plastic pollution is a pervasive issue but I believe, together, we can change this.