It’s time, let’s do it!

It really is an exciting and pertinent time to be delving into the world of plastics.  With the incredible Blue Planet 2 series, Sir David Attenborough has once again excelled himself.  In addition to capturing our imagination and interest by bringing the magic of marine animal behaviour into our home, he’s also brought the problem of plastics to our attention.

He’s shown us the plastic issue isn’t just the stuff of extremist rants.  It’s a matter that concerns all of us.  When marine animals suffer due to plastic pollution, it’s a concern.  When seafood contains plastic, it’s a concern.  When tap water in most countries contains plastic (and it does) it’s a concern.

With so much about plastic in the mainstream media right now, I feel like we are drowning in bleak articles assigning blame and instigating arguments about who should be making positive change… Plastic producers? Plastic consumers?  ‘The Government’?  It’s easy to think that someone else should be fixing the problem. But the truth is, we should all be makimg change – governments, producers and consumers. And we should be doing it right now. All at once: An individual action, multiplied by millions, creates global change.

Luckily, we get to vote on this topic every day.  Every time we open our wallets, we vote.  Spending is how we cast our vote on whose ethos we support and how we want to treat the planet.

So let’s think wisely about how we cast our votes and what other changes we can adopt in our everyday lives to help us tread lighter.

Through 6 years of working in marine conservation and 5 years of teaching, I have bumbled along accumulating various bits of information and gathering strategies on how to tread lighter.  As you take on new habits and they become automatic, second nature, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that everybody knows about these little gems.  Recently I have been reminded that it’s really great to share ideas.

Through facilitating solution thinking workshops with over 2,000 children, we have smashed out some great solutions to avoid using single use plastic.  By discussing the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), we have agreed that a 4th R should be added, as the first solution – REFUSE.  Refuse to use single use plastic.

I focus on single use plastic because it makes up 75% of beach clean rubbish found in beach cleans (these stats differ slightly from country to country, but it’s usually around this rate).

So, enough of my waffling and here are some of the amazing ideas the kids have produced.  I hope you find some of them useful.  You might already be doing some of them, you might be doing all of them.  If you have any other ideas, please do leave a comment so we can share your brilliant ideas.  After all, the whole point of having wisdom is to share it and help others to be awesome too…

The products mentioned below are readily available online in most countries. And if you use the Ecosia search engine you’ll be contributing to reforestation just by searching the internet (that’s pretty awesome, check it out!).

Instead of single use plastic straws

  • use your mouth (straws are for suckers)
  • use reusable metal straws
  • use reusable glass straws
  • make straws from carrots (I would love to know if the pupil who suggested this ever tried to make some!)
  • or use  reusable bamboo straws.

Instead of single use plastic drinks bottles

  • refill your own reusable water bottle (most cafes will refill your bottle for free, so it makes life cheaper too)
  • or buy a can if you buy fizzy drinks.

Instead of single use plastic shopping bags

  • use reusable cloth shopping bags
  • use cardboard boxes available in shops
  • or carry your shopping in your hands or pockets, if you don’t have much!

Instead of single use plastic takeaway coffee cups

  • use a refillable coffee cup (your drink is usually cheaper when you use your own cup)
  • or take the time to sit in the cafe for a few minutes and enjoy your drink from a real cup

Instead of single use plastic food containers

  • take your own reusable food container to the cafe or supermarket (again, you will often receive a discount for using your own container)
  • or again, take a few minutes to dine in using a real plate

Instead of single use plastic cling film / glad wrap

  • use a beeswax wrap to wrap your food in – you can use small ones for covering the ends of cucumbers or lemon slices in the fridge and larger wraps for your sandwiches etc.
  • or use your own reusable food container

Instead of single use produce bags

  • take your own lightweight bags to the supermarket for filling from the food dispensers and the fruit and vegetable aisles

Instead of single use plastic cutlery

  • carry a reusable spork in your bag, ready to use (some brands even provide a handy carry case)
  • or why not just carry a fork from your drawer at home?!

For now, let me leave you with determination to use less single use plastic and one of my favourite quotes from the wonderful Dr Jane Goodall:

“We all make a difference. We have to decide what kind of difference we want to make.”

8 thoughts on “It’s time, let’s do it!

  1. I do well on most of the points above but still manage to acquire a lot of packaging waste through shopping. How to persuade the local supermarket to offer an alternative to the usual over-packaged products?

    1. Hi Les,

      Thanks for your support and your comment. You are not alone, so many people feel really frustrated by the supermarkets and what they stock. It looks like you are in the UK, which is a great place to be to help affect local and national change at the moment. There is so much mainstream media coverage about the plastics problem there at the moment and Theresa May is doing a great job by challenging companies to change their ways.

      There is a great organisation called City to Sea http://www.citytosea.org.uk whose work you might be interested in too. They campaign for less plastic in UK shops and are an organisation that I donate to on an ongoing basis. For example, one of their campaigns has been instrumental in persuading companies to stop producing ear buds with plastic sticks. I realise this doesn’t help you immediately with your supermarket frustrations.

      Here is a link to change.org petitions about supermarket plastic packaging.

      Thank you for making me think. I am going to list links to some petitions like this on my website, to help people take action.

      Another course of action with social media is to start a discussion on your local area’s community facebook page, tagging your local supermarkets and asking them to use less plastic packaging and to install more produce dispensers, with paper bags for customers. I find that companies are very quick to react to being tagged in social media posts and will react if they see lots of support for an idea. Obviously, emailing the local branch manager and national CEO is a good plan too. Better still, if you have children, get them to write – it’s amazing how much of a reaction children can get!

      I hope this has given you a few ideas. Most important of all, don’t lose faith. You are part of an exponentially awakening population who care and are creating waves of change across the world. And in the meantime, do as best as you can with the resources you have available to you.

      Thanks again for getting in touch and do stay in touch.

      With very best wishes, Libby

      1. Hi Libby,
        Thanks for your reply, which has made me more determined to do what I can to make a contribution to this important work.
        Yes, I live in northeast England and there definitely is a growing momentum in the country to confront the irresponsible way we deal with plastics, especially following the recent Blue Planet II series. Let’s hope it’s not a passing fad.
        So now I’m going to take your advice and get active with my local village, starting with the Facebook page, and look at ways of putting pressure on the local shops.
        One of the issues in making things change is finding out exactly who makes the key decisions in business and politics, in order to apply pressure where it counts. So a letter to my member of parliament may be a good starting point. A useful online resource here could be a set of standard letters which campaigners could copy to use in contacting decision-makers in different circumstances (business, politics etc).
        I’ll also support the citytosea group that you mentioned. I’m already signed up with Change.org but didn’t realise they have petitions on plastic packaging.
        Thanks again for your help.
        All the best,
        Les

        1. Hi Les,

          That is such a wonderful message to open at the end of a long day. Thank you so much for taking the time to write back and a huge hats off to you for deciding to take action. That is amazing news.

          Thanks so much for your suggestions; I don’t think the letters will happen in the next few days, but I will get some template letters up on the website at some point.

          I wish you loads of support and luck for your next steps with your local community. If it’s anything like my journey has been, people will be an unexpected mix of discouraging, indifferent and most importantly I am sure you will also find lots of people who feel the same and are very glad of your initiative and will join you in encouraging others to embrace positive change.

          I met some amazing kids yesterday, who aged 4 and 7 have set up a little mission to sell reclaimed wooden soapdishes to lessen reliance on plastic and raise money for Sea Shepherd. Just incredible. Real life superheroes. When you see what brilliant energy people are putting out there, like you are, it’s easy to see that there is hope.

          Take care and do keep in touch,

          Libby

        2. PS one piece of advice I would give when approaching local businesses is to keep your tone factual, non-whingy and upbeat in suggesting solutions. I have seen lots of people who bombard companies with negativity and highly emotive rants and it doesn’t help to set up a positive vibe where change will be effective and long-lasting. Just my 2 pennies worth. ☺

          1. I agree Libby, this can be presented in a positive way as a win-win situation, where the business can offer more choice and attract more customers. They could also save on packaging costs though they will probably argue that it reduces waste so is environmentally friendly.

    1. My opinion is that paper straws are much better than plastic straws, but not using straws is an even better idea.

      But I can see that would be a hard sell for you to make to your company. I find usually talking about how much money could be saved by using an alternative like paper straws, is a great incentive to encourage change. But also presenting them with the idea that they can become role models to other local businesses is an easy sell to most managers / big bosses.

      Most outlets who choose to use an alternative to plastic straws display a little sign at tables and at the bar telling customers what they’ve chosen to do and why (you can find loads of examples of these on Google Images). With so much press coverage about single use plastic in mainstream media these days, it is usually not only understood, but applauded, by customers. Making repeat business and social media coverage more likely.

      Why not talk to the social media people in the company and encourage a caption competition for customers to win something. Something like “Complete the sentence: I love that Aspen Skiing Co has quit using single use plastic straws because…” I am sure they would have some other great ideas too.

      I wish you lots of luck with your mission. Don’t give up. Why not talk to colleagues about it at a weekly meeting? I bet you are not the only one feeling like this and certainly wouldn’t be the only one in favour of change. Please do let me know how you get on. Sending you lots of positive change vibes from New Zealand (which has just been announced as the worst plastic pollution producing developed country in the world, per capita – that should keep me busy!).

      All the very best, Libby

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