Walking around here on the island, I’m constantly shocked to see how much plastic rubbish gets washed up.
Just after a big storm or especially high tide, it’s even worse and we find everything from plastic bottles, old flip flops, plastic bags, fragments of bigger pieces of plastic, a shocking number of plastic micro-beads, and much more besides.
And it gets me all worked up and determined to reduce my plastic waste so I can stop having such an impact on the world.
Because all of this plastic isn’t just unslightly- it’s quite literally killing our planet.
Turtles end up getting trapped in those plastic six-pack rings or mistakenly eating plastic bags that they think are jellyfish. Sea birds have their stomachs packed with plastic waste and slowly starve to death. Increasing numbers of whales are getting washed up on beaches across the world, their stomachs packed with plastic.
But we don’t just have to sit back and let this happen. We can develop clever habits, make better choices and start reducing our plastic consumption so that the world doesn’t have to suffer. It doesn’t need to mean trying to ditch plastic altogether, just doing what you can.
Here are ten easy ways you can reduce your plastic waste and make a difference.
PS no affiliate links here- just sharing useful links 🙂
1. Take reusable shopping bags with you
Considering that most places in Europe now charge for plastic bags, it should be second nature for you to grab your own reusable bags to take to the supermarket with you.
If not, you need to make it a habit- most plastic bags are only ever used once for the short journey between making your purchase and getting home. Then either they get reused and thrown away, soon to end up washing into streams, rivers or even into the ocean where they then end up in the stomachs of animals like turtles, whales and sea birds.
I’ll admit that it does take a bit of practice to take reusable bags with you in the first place but it does get easier. A great trick is to pop them into your bag so you always have them there in case of any last-minute purchases.
2. Skip those plastic produce bags (and never buy pre-packed fruit and veggies- eugh!)
One of my pet hates has always been fresh fruits and veggies that are sold loose (yay!) but you’re expected to use one of those thin, nasty plastic bags to actually buy them.
Not only does using these things defy the whole point of buying loose produce (don’t even get me started on the horrors of prepacked fruits and vegetables!!), but those bags barely last a minute.
You struggle to get them off the roll, ripping holes in several as you do so, struggle to get them open, struggle to tie them closed and struggle to get the food out once you finally do get home. And that’s if you avoid the type of catastrophic breakage where you watch as the bag breaks and your apples go bouncing down the supermarket aisle, or merrily across your kitchen floor. Aaaargh!!
But there IS an alternative- buy or make your own produce bags. You can easily buy them online (I love these), or you can borrow a sewing machine, take some thin fabric and make your own quickly and easily.
3. Meal plan then make a shopping list
When I first met my boyfriend, he was really surprised/amazed/bemused that I’d grab a pen and paper and start planning the week’s meals before we went shopping, then create our shopping list from this.
But as time has gone on, he’s realised how much simpler this makes our lives. It makes meal time much easier as we don’t have to ponder what on earth we can make, plus it helps avoid costly last-minute trips to the supermarket, impulse-buying and really reduces the waste we produce. It’s a minimalist’s dream!
This doesn’t need to be anything complicated!
I simply take a scrap of paper (usually the back of a receipt that they HAVE to give you here) and scribble the days of the week on the back. Then I run though possible meals we can eat on each day, and use this to decide what we need to buy.
Quite often we don’t exactly stick to what’s written down- perhaps we arrive home late one day or we don’t fancy eating what I have there, but it’s a great guideline for us. The Minimalist Mom has a great article on the benefits and how to do it for yourself if you want to know more.
4. Stop using plastic bottles
Did you know that a million plastic bottles are bought every minute?
Let that sink in a moment…A million. That means that in the time it takes to boil a kettle, 4,000,000 more plastic bottles have been bought and discarded across the globe, 480,000,000 bottles during the time you’re tucked up in bed, dreaming happily.
Imagine what that actually looks like….And all of these bottles don’t just disappear once they’re used- instead they end up in landfill or washed into the rivers or sea, filling our oceans with yet more plastic waste. It feels almost apocalyptic.
But I doesn’t have to be like this. Just stop using them.
Drink tap water or filter your own. Avoid buying fizzy drinks (soda), energy drinks, juice and smoothies, even if they’re made by an eco-friendly company and instead make your own or switch to water, tea and coffee instead.
5. Ditch those coffee pods and teabags
Sorry if I’m about to offend anyone here, but I think coffee pods are crazy silly.
You’re paying over the odds for these single serve capsules which contain just a tiny portion of coffee which you slide into an overpriced machine and get a tiny cup of coffee from it. And that’s not even mentioning the shocking amount of plastic that these things contain.
The German city of Hamburg has actually banned these things in an attempt to take better care of the environment, saying, “These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium.”
Don’t feel smug if you don’t drink coffee- using tea bags is just as bad. These are made from plastic too which leeches nasty chemicals into your hot drink and of course adds to the plastic waste problem. Most tea bags also come wrapped in plastic, plastic and more plastic, so they really are best avoided.
If you’re a coffee-lover like me, use loose coffee and use a coffee pot instead- it uses far less waste, tastes much better and smells incredible when it’s brewing in your kitchen. You can even try growing your own coffee for extra eco-points.
If you love tea, use loose leaf tea and compost it when you’re finished. Brilliant!
6. Just say no. To a straw, that is.
Ready for another scary statistic?
An incredible 500 million straws are used every single day in the US, and these have an average lifespan of just 20 minutes before they’re thrown away. What really gets me about this is that straws are completely frivolous- they’re not an essential part of life. Sure- they might make your fancy cocktail or smoothie look pretty but they’re optional.
If you absolutely must use a straw, why not get hold of a reusable glass straw or a bamboo version instead?
7. Ditch the plastic wrap and ziplock bags
You’ve got leftovers and you want to avoid food waste and keep them to eat later? Great!
But don’t make the mistake of pulling out a large roll of plastic wrap or throwing your food into a plastic ziplock bag (baggie) because you’re unwittingly contributing to the global plastic problem.
There are plenty of better storage solutions for your food that don’t involve single-use plastic. If you’re going to eat that food within the next day or so, simply pop a plate over the top before placing in the fridge. You can also use reusable plastic boxes like used and washed ice-cream tubs, or other stuff you already have knocking around at home. If you do, please don’t buy more plastic storage.
The best option is to reuse your glass jam jars or mason jars and store your food inside these.
8. Cook from scratch whenever possible
By far, the best way to reduce your plastic waste is to flex your kitchen muscles and get creative by cooking your own food. Processed food always comes in a ton of plastic packaging which you really want to be avoiding if you care about the planet.
Not just that, but home-cooked food tastes much more delicious, it’s almost always healthier than the processed version and learning how to cook it is a great way to improve your skills. Instead of automatically buying something from the supermarket, why not hop online and see if you can find a DIY recipe instead.
9. Use a mooncup (girls only, obviously!)
Mooncups are amazing. Really. I wish I’d learned about them when I was younger as they have transformed how I feel about my period, how I feel when I’m ‘on’ my period and of course, how much plastic waste I’m completing.
I’ll be honest- the idea of having a reusable menstrual cup always appealed to be, but despite my eco-friendly tendencies, I wasn’t brave enough. I always presumed they’d be messy, horrible and useless, but nothing could be further than the truth.
Buy one and you’ll find out for yourself 🙂 If you’re not keen on the idea, you can also buy reusable cloth pads or make your own. I should mention that mooncups and cloth pads do cost slightly more than the disposable kind, but they soon pay for themselves.
10. Use real soap!
Are you using liquid soap to wash your hands? Perhaps it’s even an antibacterial one?
STOP and go back to using a regular bar soap instead. It’s much more hygienic than you think, it’s cheaper and it really helps reduce your plastic waste.
I should also mention that antibacterial liquid soap is also quite harmful for your health- there’s a growing body of evidence that it can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
I’m not asking you to go zero-waste. At least, not just yet (*wink*).
But I am asking that you take a few easy steps towards reducing the impact your have upon the world by making a few small changes to your habits.
I’ve shared ten ways you can reduce your plastic waste here so help you get started, but there’s much more you can do.
Please, follow the links, read more about global plastic pollution and become more mindful about how you spend your money.