No doubt you’re worried about - or, at the very least, aware of - the state of our environment. Maybe you’ve made conscious changes to your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint - walking or cycling to work, for instance, or doing all of your laundry at a lower temperature. No doubt you recycle your paper and glass. These are all fantastic and worthwhile steps in the right direction, but plastic is an insidious thorn in your environmental side. For one, it’s so incredibly accessible and ubiquitous that it’s barely even noticeable - and that makes it even more dangerous, in a way, than a gas-guzzling car that empties your wallet with its need for frequent refills - because you notice that. With plastic, we need to force ourselves to be hyper-aware of it. Here are just some of the ways you can try to avoid using it.
1. Can The Straws
Drinking straws are an utterly unnecessary use of plastic - and in any case, what could be more satisfying than a huge cold gulp of a drink, straight down the back of your throat? Granted, straws look cute in certain cocktails and can help dress up a party table but really, please. Priorities. Just drink the drink already.
2. Clean Up
Not only do beauty products commonly come packaged in plastic, but many of them actually contain plastic too. Many scrubs claiming to cleanse and refine your skin contain plastic microbeads; these aren’t always marked as such on packaging, so read labels the carefully.
3. Spit It Out
The gum, that is - into a bin please! - and keep it out. As well as the issue of what it’s wrapped in, there’s also the small question of the fact that it commonly contains polyethylene - yep, a member of the plastics family. A habit that already looks kids of gross just got even grosser.
4. Bags Better
The problems with grocery store bags have been in the public eye for a long time now, yet you still see people blithely packing their purchases into them. Don’t be one of those people. Always take reusable bags or cardboard boxes with you to get your food from shelf to home - a single plastic bag can take as long as 1000 years to break down.
5. Don’t Keep It Bottled Up
Plastic bottles are another no-no - it’s all very well drinking bottled water to hydrate your skin and make it look dewy, but honestly, if it’s come in a plastic bottle then the tarnish on your environmental halo is just going to cast a shadow over your newly acquired glow anyway. Choose a refillable bottle, or stick to glass, which is more easily recycled.
6. That’s A Wrap
There’s no need to individually encase every lunch item in plastic wrap when you send your children to school - an old fashioned lunch box (yes, most likely plastic but at least not single-use plastic) will keep food just as fresh. Look for boxes with separate compartments if you want to keep your cucumber sticks from soggying your sandwiches.
7. Greener Groceries
Is there really any need to buy a plastic bag of pre-packaged apples? Or carrots? Buy unwrapped food as much as you possibly can - that way you get some control over the selection of it, too! If it makes the checkout process easier, then by all means take your own paper or reusable plastic bags with you when you’re buying groceries.
8. Detox Your Caffeine
Life without coffee - yeah, we get it. Inconceivable. But those ‘to go’ cups aren’t doing the environment any favors, so either invest in a refillable takeout beaker made of bamboo, which is a resource that renews quickly - or quit rushing around, sit down and enjoy your beverage the old fashioned way - from a real cup.
9. Bring Your Own
Who wants to buy takeout at lunch anyway? That time you waste getting to the sandwich shop, standing in line - and then either just eating something fairly bland, or something that leaves you with little change from ten dollars …? No thanks. How about taking your own lunch into work - it’s bound to be healthier, cheaper, tastier - and is another nail in the coffin of single-use plastic.
10. Nix The Nicotine
Surely this one is obvious - not only is it a gross and expensive habit, it’s also damaging - to you, to your lungs and to the air that others around you breathe. And that’s just the smoke. Then there’s the packaging … and the fact that plastic particles are incorporated into the cigarette paper to keep it burning down to the filter, even in gusty weather.
11. Let It Go
Yes, we’re talking about Frozen … frozen foods that is. Although it’s frequently pointed out that frozen foods have just as much nutritional value as fresh, you’d be hard pressed to find any that don’t come bagged in plastic. Turns out fresh really is best.
12. Squeeze Out Cartons
Juice boxes might seem like a convenient option when you’re packing school lunches but, as well as being crammed with teeth-destroying sugars, they’re also another form of plastic-coated packaging that you can live without. Double thumbs down to the ones that comes with those pesky little straws, as well. Make your own juice to put in a flask, or choose a refillable water bottle.
13. Bottom Line
For creatures with such tiny feet, babies sure do tend to have a pretty big carbon footprint. Hey, it’s not their fault - they can’t help what you wrap their rear in. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills each year , and these account for more than 3.5 million tons of waste. Cloth nappies mean more work for you, and aren’t without their environmental drawbacks - even so, they represent a far better option.
14. Keep It Clean
Most store-bought household cleaners come in plastic bottles and are full of chemicals, to boot. Old fashioned, homemade remedies may require a little more elbow grease but they’re cheaper and cleaner, and don’t involve an empty plastic bottle. Have a look for recipes incorporating baking soda and vinegar - these two ingredients are a cleaning marvel.
15. A Close Shave
Nobody loves hair removal and that’s why companies try to make it more palatable by marketing razors in bright colors, or with cute logos. If going fuzz free is your thing, avoid buying - and throwing out - disposable razors, and buy one that allows you to change the blade instead. Your skin won’t be any less smooth, but your conscience might be.
16. Good Carbs
Foods like cereals, grains and pulses can often be bought from bulk bins, rather than neatly packaged up and waiting for you on a supermarket shelf. Use a reusable bag or container and, once you’re at home, store your goods in beautifully labeled Mason Jars and treat your Insta followers to a #shelfie.
17. In A Lather
When it comes to detergents for things like laundry and dishes, avoiding a plastic bottle may seem just about impossible. Where feasible, though, look for filling stations that allow you use your old bottles to refill with new product.
18. Monthly Measures
Periods are a fact of life but the amount of packaging that sanitary products entail doesn’t need to be. There are a number of non-disposable, reusable options available to women, including various ‘cup’ models, but if this idea doesn’t appeal, then at least opt for tampons without plastic applicators.
19. What’s The Beef?
Shopping at your local butcher’s means that your meat is likely to be cut in front of you and then wrapped in paper - a much more environmentally friendly option than pre-cut meat on a polystyrene tray that’s covered in plastic film at the supermarket. It might be a little pricier, but if this means that you end up eating less meat, then that’s another environmental check in your favor too.
20. Green Thumbs
Maybe you don’t have the space, time or inclination to set up your own self-sufficient garden, but many common herbs and salad vegetables are easy to grow at home - giving you a sense of satisfaction, as well reducing your need to buy plastic-wrapped versions of these items at the store.
21. Wardrobe Dilemma
Those large plastic bags that the dry cleaners use when they hand you back your suit or dress are too flimsy to have any further use - meaning that you’re going to bin them as soon as you unwrap your freshly pressed item of clothing. Take your own garment bag when you go to collect instead, or ask for your things to be returned to you free of wrap.
When buying wines, opt for the ones that come with a traditional cork stopper, rather than a new-fangled synthetic one. To all but the most discerning of palates, there may not be any great difference in the quality or taste of the wine, but cork is completely natural and biodegradable, as well as being a regenerative and sustainable product.
23. Spoon, Not Squirt
What’s a barbecue without ketchup, mustard and mayo? As handy as it is to squeeze these condiments from a plastic bottle and onto your hotdog - squiggly lines and all! - choose the products that come in glass jars or bottles instead, as glass is far more easily recycled.
24. Cover Up
Sure, no one wants the smell of their garlicky bolognese sauce leaching out through the leftovers and permeating all of the other foods in the fridge - but that’s not to say that you have to reach for the plastic wrap. Reuse glass jars with their screw cap lids to store the food that you didn’t manage to finish - they’re airtight and have the advantage of their content being visible front on, when you open the fridge door.
Don’t ever be that person who doesn’t clear up after your dog, but limit your use of poop bags as much as possible by reusing bags that have come to you via other products - bread, for instance, or supermarket fruit and vegetables.
26. Child’s Play
The amount of plastic in a toy store is staggering - and actually, pretty unnecessary. Once you get into the habit of buying toys, it’s a hard one to break - children lose interest quickly (and toys break) - meaning that you’re constantly shelling out for new purchases to amuse them. Save yourself and the planet the trouble, and encourage your children into more creative, natural or outside play instead.
27. Common Scents
Air fresheners always end up smelling a bit strange and chemical-ly, no matter how premium the product - and on top of that, they come in plastic spray cans. Natural candles, made from soy or beeswax, rather than paraffin, are a much better option, with the added advantage of their lovely flickering glow.
28. Lavatory Love
Toilet paper. Not the most glamorous item you’ll ever buy, but certainly a regular and necessary one. Choosing toilet roll that’s not wrapped in plastic is a step in the right direction of minimising the impact of your bodily functions; better yet, buy Who Gives A Crap toilet roll, which is not only wrapped in paper, but puts 50% of its profits towards building toilets and sanitation in developing countries.
29. Flight Comforts
Ensure you have your own headphones and large, warm wrap when you travel - that way, you won’t have to unsheath the blanket and headsets supplied by the airline, which of course, are always wrapped in plastic for reasons of hygiene.
30. Fake Fashion
Most mass-produced clothes are made from synthetic materials and whether you call it polyester, nylon, lycra or acrylic - it’s basically all plastic. Choose natural fabrics like wools, hemp and organic cotton as much as possible when buying new - or dig around in thrift stores for finds that are as cool as they are conscious.