Plastic Problems and Sustainable Solutions

Can you imagine life without plastic? Always marketed as cheap and useful, as I sit writing this I’m tapping away on a plastic-cased laptop, next to me is a plastic pen, my phone with its multiple plastic components, and an in-progress covid test which I do regularly for my work. 

Casting my eye further around the room I can see CD cases, a lamp, a photo frame, and a plant pot to name just a few of the plastic products around our living area: I expect yours is much the same, and then moving into the kitchen there are many, many more. Plastic is an inextricable part of our lives.

Plastic problems

There is no need for me to say that we need to reduce our plastic waste, particularly single-use plastic. We all know that. However, I think because we know we need to reduce our plastic waste there is an element of resignation about the effect on the environment, the sense of shock at what is actually happening to the planet has been tempered by the sheer scale of the problem. 
It can get to the point where because we know the problem is so big, it’s hard to bring that thought down to the level of the single piece of plastic wrapper we are putting in the bin.

So, how do we get motivated to really do our bit?
It’s worth revisiting the situation we are in at the moment with global plastic waste.

Plastic Problems

A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every single minute and UK supermarkets produce 800,000 tonnes every year.* The reality of this is really hard to absorb. The plastic harms wildlife, the ecosystem, and people, especially those who live nearby – the UK sends great amounts of plastic waste abroad, with a seeming disregard for how those countries are equipped to process it. Investigators from Greenpeace discovered plastic waste from Britain being dumped and burned in Turkey among other countries.*

Recycling and Bioplastics have been hailed as solutions to plastic pollution. Recycling is of course a good thing, but there are limitations. Plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times and any recycling takes energy. Many types of plastic cannot be recycled, such as bioplastics, blister packaging, and cling film. Bioplastics themselves, (plastics that biodegrade or that are made of organic biomass sources such as vegetable oils) are an improvement on single-use plastics, but as mentioned above, cannot be recycled and can still end up in the seas or in landfills because they can not be composted at home, instead needing industrial composting conditions.

Sustainable Solutions

Sustainable means we can do something now, and continue to do it for generations to come. A long-term answer. Clearly, a sustainable solution to the plastic problem needs to be achievable for everyone in their own unique lives. Sometimes packaging is necessary. Pre-chopped fruit and veg are vital for people who are unable to chop or prepare them themselves. But if we are using it just for convenience, then it is not necessary.
The vast majority of plastic isn’t necessary. 

If we produce less plastic it will mean that there’s less of it in circulation. We collectively need to think of plastic in a different way – not a cheap commodity but one which we use very carefully, and only dispose of when we really have to.
We need to change the way we view plastics and the place they have in our world. 

On an individual level what we can do before we put a plastic item in the bin is think if it can be refilled or repurposed.
There are refill shops and stations springing up around the country, almost every household cleaning product, toiletries, and many dry food containers can be refilled time and time again. Not only is this better for the environment but usually cheaper too as we are not paying for a new container each time.

Reuse and repurpose

The less plastic we buy, the less demand there is for manufacturers to make new plastic. So, although the manufacturers seem to hold the power, in reality, it is us, the consumer. But we need to be working on this as a collective. Single-use plastics can be available for those who need them, and for essentials such as PPE and medical needs, but if we are in a position where we don’t need to use single-use plastic, then we should really try not to.

Easy Plastic Swaps

Use a reusable coffee cup

Use a reusable water bottle

Carry shopping bags

Refill toiletries, cleaning products, and loose dry foods

Choose pet food in tins or bags rather than pouches, which are difficult to recycle

Buy a large bag of crisps and decant rather than multipacks

Buy a large tub of yoghurt and decant as needed

Refill glass milk bottles  – either through the milk delivery or at a refill station

Try to buy loose fruit and veg, and loose tea

Swap chewing gum for  plastic-free confectionery

Swap cling film for paper bags, beeswax wraps, or foil

If you need a straw, use paper ones. Avoid plastic stirrers and plastic cutlery, use bamboo or metal instead.

Swap to solid soap, shampoo, and conditioner bars

Try toothpaste tabs or powder rather than tubes, and swap to a bamboo toothbrush

Swap washing up sponges for bamboo handled brushes or coconut husk scrubby

Avoid glitter for craft activities, use paper confetti, hole punch leaves or buy biodegradable sparkles for those artistic projects. 

Re-purpose wherever you can too! There are some fabulous ideas to be found online, from soda bottle greenhouses to bird feeders.  Every change we make, however small it seems, is one less piece of plastic potentially ending up in the ocean or in a landfill. Saving lives and helping the planet.

Every little piece of plastic can be treated thoughtfully and just by making just a few small changes we can have a big impact on the amount of plastic we use on a day-to-day basis.

What changes can you make today?

Check out some fabulous sustainable bamboo cups, soap bars, and other plastic-free goodies at the Harmonious Hub.