Single Use Plastic…How Can We Cut Down?

single use plastic ocean

In my original Monday Minute post I talked about how one of my resolutions this year was to be kinder to the planet. Well, this post on single use plastic is all about that. It was going to be a quick Monday Minute read…but it turned out there was way too much to say!

One of the best ways we can make positive change for the environment is to cut down on plastics. A million plastic bottles are sold around the world every minute…and most of these end up in the oceans.

There are a lot of environmental factors that are out of our control. But we are in control of what we consume…and we can make a difference by cutting down on single use plastics.

As I’ve said before, I am not an expert on any of this, but I want to make more of an effort. So if anyone has any ideas or if you are running a petition or campaign I’d love to hear from you!

What is single use plastic? Why focus on It?

I am sure many of you are already wise to this, but when you start thinking about how many plastic items we throw away after using them just once – and that plastic DOES NOT BREAK DOWN – it kind of blows your mind.

When we lived in Bangkok and went to the beach I was shocked at the amount of plastic I saw…when I first visited the islands of Thailand fifteen years previously they had been pretty pristine. Now there was wave after wave of plastic being washed up.

Focussing on single use plastic makes the task of reducing plastic in our lives a bit simpler. Once we crack this, we can do more of course.

So here I am going to look at the big single use plastic culprits and what we can do to cut down on them.

Plastic straws

Hmm.. Do you ever really need a straw? Probably not. If you have doubts on this then watch this video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up its nose…it’s heartbreaking

But in the US alone 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded every single day.

If you like using straws, you can buy reusable stainless steel straws that you can keep in your bag or use at home.

But this isn’t really the answer is it? Because most of the time we are given straws without even asking.

So we can refuse straws…but I’ve found that you are often STILL given one and then you feel guilty because you know you don’t want to use it and then it will get thrown away anyway UNUSED. Gah.

So this is about us making changes but we also need to call on business and corporations to make changes too. We can ask our local cafes and restaurants to join us in refusing the straw.

Thinking bigger than this…McDonalds uses MILLIONS of straws every day. They don’t need to do this; they could just give out straws on request or – shock horror – find an alternative, sustainable solution. Here’s a link to a petition asking them to stop using plastic straws.

Plastic bags

Keep reusable bags in the boot of your car so you don’t forget them.  I also always carry one of those bags that fold up small enough to fit in your handbag but are strong enough to carry a big old bag of groceries. Mine were bought from the supermarket for about 5 euro each, but if you are quick, these from British brand Radley and are in the sale at the moment and a bit more stylish.

My pet peeve is the plastic bags for fruit and veg…so I just don’t use them, and put my carrots in a pile on the cashier’s conveyor belt. However, this doesn’t work for things like green beans and cherries… Here’s a guide to making your own reusable produce bags and these are a good alternative if you’d rather buy them (I can’t sew to save my life!)

So this is where, again, we need to use consumer power to call for change. We should be calling on retailers to do something about this. When polled, 91% of UK consumers said they would like to see a ‘plastic free’ aisle in the supermarket. So which retailers are going to act on this? And are there any campaigns out there already? (I have searched but came up with nothing…would love to hear from you if you know!)

There are also more and more zero-waste shops popping up. Which is basically shopping like people used to before the big supermarkets…you take your own bags and jars and your products are weighed out into them.

Coffee Cups

Latest statistic show that in the UK alone, around 3 BILLION reusable cups are thrown away every year….and a lot of those cups are not recyclable.

If you’re sat in the coffee shop, don’t use a takeaway cup (I used to do this…just in case I hadn’t finished my drink before we left. I know, I know). And if I don’t have my own cup, I just don’t bother having a coffee now…because I feel too guilty. So sometimes my guilt does some good!

My reusable coffee cup picks:

  1. The Keep Cup is an Australian brand and the cups come in different sizes and designs. The original model is made from BPA free plastic and it is also recyclable.

2. The ecoffee cup is made from bamboo fibre, so BPA and phylate free…and when it’s at the end of its life it is compostable. Super eco friendly.  And it comes in some very pretty William Morris designs…

ecofee cup single use plastic

3. If you want a coffee cup that’s going to keep your drink warm for hours on end, the Contigo travel mug is perfect. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s really effective. Great if you are making coffee at home and then travelling to work…or doing the school run.

Water Bottles

Again, reusable all the way. There are reusable bottles now that are light enough to keep in your bag. At the airport in Frankfurt recently I spotted water fountains which I had never noticed before…in future I’ll travel with one of these so we can fill up and drink and then pour out the water before security.

My reusable water bottle picks:

  1. Klean Kanteen (if you can get past the spelling…) make durable stainless steel water bottles with a BPA free lid. The clip means they can be attached to a bag and they come in a wide range of colours. It seems from their website that they are a pretty ethical small company and do a lot for their local community.

2. SIGG water bottles are made in Switzerland and the company is over a hundred years old. They are quality products (of course, they are Swiss!) made from 100% recyclable aluminium and are BPA free.

3. S’well bottles combine ‘fashion and function’. They are the fasted growing woman-owned company in the US and the partner with several charities including Unicef. These aren’t the cheapest, but they are great quality and they look really nice! Animal print water bottle? I’m sold…

4. My personal fave are the bottles made from reinforced glass like this Contigo one. My kids use similar ones for school and so far they’ve been great. They are probably just too heavy to carry all day in your bag though.

If we are out and about I will ask for a glass of water at a café – which is not the norm here in Germany as people tend to drink bottled water all the time (which I guess is a whole other big issue).

And I have now decided that if I am thirsty when I’m out I just wait til I get home…which is pretty much what everyone used to do back in the ‘olden days’ when I was little. And yes, I realise this is like teaching your Grandmother how to suck eggs (that’s such a weird phrase isn’t it?!) but if your Granny was anything like mine, she’d would never have bought a bottle of water when you can get it for free!

Plastic Cutlery

Keep a set of metal cutlery at work for lunchtime, or in your bag. Or invest in a spork (oh how I love a made up compound word like that!)

For parties don’t go for plastic disposable cutlery – can you just use your normal stuff and wash it up? And yes, I know it’s more hassle. Or try some eco friendly disposable cutlery… these are corn based and compostable.

So this is just the tip of a very big plastic iceberg…but making these small changes will make a big difference to single use plastic consumption.

I am sure most of you are onto this already, so in future posts I’ll focus on other areas. If there’s anything in particular you want to read about, let me know.

7 Replies to “Single Use Plastic…How Can We Cut Down?”

  1. Great round up Rebecca. I hate it when a drink arrives and they have already shoved a straw in it. I get angry at myself for not refusing when I ordered and the bar for not asking and thinking about it. I think things are changing rather rapidly here now in the UK as it is a huge focus and in the news almost daily at the moment. The government are talking legislation to get plastic free isles in the supermarkets and Iceland have pledged to go plastic free on all their own brand products within a very short space of time (I forget the exact timing). We can all do our bit though and it needn’t be hard as you have so clearly illustrated. x

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Thanks Briony…I think the pressure needs to be put on manufacturers and retailers and the government. We can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing x

  2. Great post, Becci. I’m amazed at the number of my friends (who are my age) who insist on buying bottled water when we live in the UK, a country that has one of the best water purification systems in the world. Also, just wanted to mention cosmetic products like body scrubs and creams that contain minute plastic beads and get washed through our waste pipes and end up in the sea causing even more toxic problems for ocean dwellers. x

  3. It’s interesting because I find this varies by country. Here in France there are no more traditional plastic bags allowed in most stores and shops… (my native California just followed suit, I believe). In France, I’ve never been served with a plastic cup…I guess it’s mostly the water bottles that lead to trouble. And drinking water from plastic bottles isn’t great for your health…

    1. I think it is interesting how it varies…for me, the UK has been pretty bad on this, but is getting better. I switched out all our plastic drinking bottles a while ago…but I still cant get over how much bottled water is consumed here in Germany

  4. GREAT post, thanks. I was beginning to work on a post on the same topic but yours is so good. The problem, as you point out, is not that plastics are bad but that they are poorly managed especially when there are so many good alternatives. Thanks for pointing those out.

    1. makingherehome says: Reply

      Thank you!

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