The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today. The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be nearly 5 million tonnes. What’s more, the use of plastic in Western Europe is growing about 4% each year.
By now everyone in has seen the documentary, ‘Drowning in Plastic‘, which aired on the BBCNews.
With this attention shining on the dangers of plastic, politicians like Theresa May, vows to eliminate UK’s plastic waste by 2042. While some environmental groups say that this goal lacks urgency – that’s a whole 24 years! – it’s a positive place to start.
Change starts at the smallest level: with our daily behaviours and choices, no matter how small they are.
If you eliminated just one plastic bag a day, one or two plastic tooth brushes a year, or 1 plastic cotton swab a day, over 10 years, that would be equal to about 3650 less plastic bags flying around, 20 less plastic tooth brushes floating around in the ocean, and, and 3650 less plastic cotton swabs harming ocean wild life.
While recycling is helpful, new plastic is created every single day. In the UK, only one third of consumers’ plastic packaging is recycled. The need to reduce the demand for plastic on the consumer level, is incredibly high.
1/ Plastic Carrier Bags
In 2016, the UK’s plastic bag usage dropped 85% when the 5p charge was introduced. The number of single-use bags handed out dropped to 500m in first six months since charge, compared with 7 billion the previous year. Therese Coffey, The environment minister, said: “Taking 6 billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us. It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites. She added, “It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent, as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.” On September 22nd, 2018, it was announced that the Co-op would be the first major supermarket in the UK to replace single-use plastic carrier bags with lightweight compostable alternatives that shoppers can reuse as biodegradable bags for food waste. On September 15th, 2018, Waitrose & Partners they are to remove traditional plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables and 5p single-use plastic bags from its stores by next spring. The supermarket said the move would cut 134m plastic bags, the equivalent of 500 tonnes of plastic a year. Simply taking your own reusable carrier bag to the shop can easily decrease the amount of plastic waste you produce.
2/ Buy in Bulk,
and avoid individually wrapped items and produce
There is no reason you should need to buy individually wrapped produce. Many new shops in the UK, are allowing you to bring your own containers (BYO), and fill them up at the shop with whatever you need. TheZeroWaster.com, has put together a comprehensive list of zero-waste shops, where you can buy what you need, and skip the plastic packaging.
3/ Cheap, Fast Fashion
In the UK alone more than a million tonnes of clothes a year are thrown away, and then replaced with two million tonnes of new ones. Our wardrobes are bulging and so are our landfill sites where 50% of these, often non biodegradable, garments end up.
Being fashionable on a budget nowadays, is very easy. It’s cheap, convenient, and, unfortunately, it’s also very, very polluting. The sheer amount of fashion being produced on a daily basis is unsustainable. The materials used in the production of fast-fashion are also insanely bad for the environment.
Some of the elements that explain such a low cost of fast-fashion are the fact that people working in the factories, usually make as little as 10$ a month. Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil, which is because most fast-fashion materials are polyester, and polyester is plastic (a by-product of oil). The dies, chemicals and pesticides used in the production of materials for fast-fashion also greatly contribute to the negative effects of fashion. Finally, most fast fashion is very low quality, and designed to be replaced and thrown out after a short period of time.
Creagh added: “Producing clothes requires toxic chemicals and produces climate-changing emissions. Every time we put on a wash, thousands of plastic fibres wash down the drain and into the oceans. We don’t know where or how to recycle end of life clothing.
All-in-all, the best solution is to buy less, buy better. Check the label: what is it made out of? Check who you’re buying it from: to they have good ethical standards? Check the quality: will this last a long time? Check the style: can it still be relevant in 3 to 5 years time?
Available in all sizes, up to King.
4/ Rethink your household materials
Just like your clothes, some other areas of your house might be screamingly unecofriendly. Everything from your curtains, kitchen and bathroom towels, to your bedding, can be causing not the planet, but you as well, harm.
As with our fashion, we need to start checking the label. What is is made of? Who made it? Where was it made? We need to start raising our expectations of what we expect from our household products: low price should stop being the number one thing we think about. If something is low price, then it was probably made with cheap materials, using cheap labour. Is something seems to “good”/cheap to be true, then it probably is.
To a general rule, avoid:
- polyester: made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.
- acrylic: polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.
- rayon: recycled wood pulp that must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing
- nylon: made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
- anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellant. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.
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If only there was a way to know that the trousers you are wearing or the sheets you sleep in, are not harmful to you and are produced in an naturally acceptable way. Guess what? There is! It’s called GOTS.
Ever wondered what Standard 100 by Oeko-Tex is? Learn more about it from the perspective of a certified organic bedding producer.
How to Avoid Plastic Packaging in Everyday Products: A Real Person’s Guide