Tips for avoiding single-use plastic

How did we get into this single-use plastic mess? In 1955, LIFE magazine published an article titled ‘Throwaway Living’.

It started a pandemic of disposable plastic use, particularly with food and beverage consumption. No washing up required. You just use it and then throw it away. What a brilliant invention… All it requires is finding, pumping, transporting and refining oil, making it into plastic, transporting it again, selling it, then you can use it for a few seconds and throw it away, never considering its fate. Mostly, the fate of that plastic is to end up in landfill, where it gives off harmful gases as it breaks up into tiny pieces that won’t disappear for centuries, if ever. Hands up if that you think that sounds like a smart idea… yeah, I didn’t think so…

I have been asked by lots of people to give a list of tips for avoiding plastic, particularly single-use plastic. It’s everywhere and is quite overwhelming when you think about it.

I have done discussed the issue of single-use plastic with world experts ranging from Her Deepness Dr Sylvia Earle, South African freediving champion Hanli Prinsloo, A Plastic Oceans producer Jo Ruxton, plastics expert Professor Ed Kosior, ocean advocate Emily Penn, 5 gyres founders Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins, Algalita South Pacific founder Raquelle de Vine and Times columnist Alice Thomson, to name but a few. So, in short, I feel confident that the ensuing list of tips is a well-researched one.

This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to add comments and suggestions. If these suggestions are thought-provoking and you make a few changes having read this, then that is fabulous (and once you’re on a roll, I bet you’ll make more changes than you thought you’d manage).

If this is a totally new concept to you, my first basic suggestions would be:

1. Get, carry and use a refillable drinks bottle.
2. If you are a café regular, get, carry and use a refillable coffee cup.
3. Get, carry and use a reusable shopping bag.
4. When ordering drinks, add ‘no straw please’ onto your order. Most of us are lucky and talented enough to be able to drink without using a straw. If not, then get, carry and use your own metal, glass or bamboo straw.

Yes, some habit changes may be required – you’ll notice the repeated phrase ‘get, carry and use’ – you might need to get into the habit of carrying a few extra things with you. But hey, you’re not a dog and you can learn new tricks; I believe in you!

Once you’ve mastered those bottle, coffee cup, bag and straw tips, you’re on a roll, why not take a look around the different facets of your life and see where else you can eliminate plastics:

Out and about, food on the move:

• Get, carry and use a reusable lunchbox. I love my stainless steel box with a seal to stop spillages for camping meals, packed lunches and collecting takeaways.
A cheap / free option – why not just use empty jars?

• Get, carry and use reusable cutlery or a spork. I have a tiny pouch with my steel cutlery. It takes up hardly any space in my bag and means I am always prepared.

• Get, carry and use beeswax wraps.

At home, in the kitchen:

• Ditch the cling film (when you’ve finished the roll!) and switch to beeswax wraps, reusable containers, greaseproof paper or tin foil (tin foil, if disposed of properly, can be recycled much more effectively and for longer than plastic).

• Use a milkman. Tetrapaks and plastic milk containers are largely unrecycleable. Modern ‘milkman’ deliveries include dairy free options, as well as juices, fresh produce and even bakery products.

• Buy condiments in glass jars – not only are glass jars much more efficiently recycleable, but you can also get the last bits out of them, unlike plastic squeezy bottles. Then you can use them for food storage, too.

• Use loose tea. Teabags have plastic in them. You don’t want to drink microplastics, trust me.

• Ditch the plastic-wrapped snacks – reach for fresh fruit and veg instead, or make your own snack bars (they taste great and you know you’re not filling your body with nasty preservatives).

In the cleaning cupboard:

• Buy laundry powder in a cardboard box, rather than liquid in a plastic bottle.

• Use bars of soap around the house, rather than liquid soap in plastic bottles.

• If the thought of making your own cleaning products using vinegar, baking powder and lemon is in the ‘too hard basket’, there are other great options… Splosh in the UK is one I recently found. Hop on the internet and discover what’s out there…

• Many natural / organic / bulk food shops sell cleaning products / laundry liquid / shampoo / conditioner / shower gel, so you can refill your cleaning bottles from a bulk container and pay for the amount you refill.

In the bathroom:

Bamboo toothbrushes can be composted after use (depending on what the bristles are made from, you may need to snap the head of the toothbrush before composting the handle).

• Bring back the bars… use bars of soap instead of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottles of the stuff!

• Use Metal razors with easily replaceable metal razorblades. Why not make the change next time you need to buy new blades?

Menstrual cups are easy to use (watch some YouTube videos, see for yourself) and will save you a fortune on pads and tampons.

Responsibly packaged toilet paper, like ‘Who gives a crap?’. Plastic-free wrapping, money saving and good comedy packaging, what’s not to like? Order online.

Supermarket shopping:

• Buy unpackaged fruit and vegetables, try a local greengrocer. If you are in the supermarket and don’t have your own produce bags, use the paper mushroom bags instead of the plastic bags provided.

Use your own reusable produce bags and dispeners / bulk bins wherever possible. Again, if you don’t have your own produce bags, use the paper mushroom bags.

• Buy boxed or paper bagged items rather than plastic wrapped food; bread, rice, cous cous, pasta and lots of other staples are available in boxes or bags or bulk bins and dispensers.

Use a cardboard box if you forget your reusable shopping bags or don’t bring enough.

For the children:

Wooden toys last longer than their plastic counterparts and hold their value, in case you want to resell them.

Wooden colouring pencils, not plastic felt tips (they dry out when left uncapped anyway!).

Most of all, don’t berate yourself too much if you don’t manage all of these, all the time. Congratulate yourself for what you are doing and continue to strive to do more. If you are still reading this, chances are you are already a pretty fantastic human, so give yourself a big old superhero pat on the back and keep spreading the love (please do feel free to share this blog post and include a credit link to www.treadlighter.org too!).

I have not included lists of specific items to buy and where to buy them, because you might be reading from any corner of Earth. You might like to buy or make yourself brilliant tools to help you avoid single-use plastic. Remember, online shopping is brilliant – see if you can request plastic-free postage and packaging!

7 thoughts on “Tips for avoiding single-use plastic

  1. Really informative Libbo! I am doing most of your suggestions, but there was a couple of thing I will do better.

  2. Thank you Libby. I do quite a few of these suggestions, but there is still room to improve some more. Every little bit helps. I’ve enjoyed your posts. Take care and keep up your excellent work. Jeanette. XXXX

  3. Hi Libby, do you know of any zero waste cosmetics available in NZ? Sorry for the slightly vain/frivolous query but I’m on the hunt for foundation specifically as I’m trying to reduce my plastic and switch to better alternatives as I use up things. This and footwear are particularly doing my head in at present.
    It seems crazy to me that I can’t find anything that fits the bill.

    1. Oh, so sorry for the delay in reply. If you check out The Rubbish Trip http://www.therubbishtrip.co.nz and the fb group Zero Waste NZ you should find some solutions. Courtenay Feck in particular might be able to help you. She is amazing. Good luck. Sorry I can’t help you from personal experience, I didn’t buy any cosmetics in NZ.

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