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Tips To Cut Down On Your Plastics

Photography by Deborah Stubbington

I haven't always been the most eco-friendly or the most environmentally aware person but over the last year both Simon and I have been making a conscious effort to cut down on our plastics.  I think we all balled our eyes out watching Blue Planet and that for us was the turning point.  Seeing the effect of our waste on the worlds Oceans was heart wrenching and as someone who spent a good 12 years of their life wanting to be nothing but a Marine Biologist, I thought it was time for a change, even if it's just a small one.  By no means are we perfect but we are doing what we can to cut back on the plastics we use.

The problem is that a lot of plastics we use on a daily basis aren't actually recyclable; drinking straws, drinks cups, water bottles, milk cartons, many yoghurt pots and other food packaging etc etc.  So even though we think we are recycling these items by popping them in the green bin, the truth of the matter is that only a small percentage can actually be recycled, the rest go to landfill with everything else.  So the point is to cut back on as much plastic as possible, therefore reducing the risk of this toxic stuff killing some of our most beautiful wildlife and sealife.

I recently saw a stream of tweets, which were expressing an opinion that a ban on plastic drinking straws would simply be shifting the blame from large corporations to us, the individuals.  But in my eyes we're just as bad as each other, and that makes us both to blame.  Companies make the straws (also a metaphor for plastics in general) yes, but it's our choice if we use them or not, we're going back to the age old 'supply and demand' rule here, no demand equals no supply.  So if like us you're looking to make that small but vital change for our environment then hopefully you will find these tips on how to cut down on the plastics you use useful, and if you have any tips yourself then please do leave them down in the comments section below.  It's also worth noting that my tips are very much based on where I live (South East London), every country and even every city will differ on what plastic free options and recycling options are available.

FOOD & DRINK PACKAGING

Ok so I've addressed this in my introduction, but it's something which is so easy to do.  Say 'no' to plastic straws and plastic cutlery.  The vast majority of us do not require a straw in order to consume a beverage, so don't even pick one up and when ordering a drink at the bar make sure you request that you do not want a straw with your drink.

Did you know that your Starbucks cup can't actually be recycled?  Yep, because that paper cup is actually lined with a thin layer of plastic to keep your drink hotter for longer and to avoid the paper going soggy.  This layer of plastic cannot be removed from the paper in the recycling process and therefore renders the entire cup non-recyclable.  Their plastic iced drink cups are also not accepted by many curb-side recycling programs (depending on the area you live), meaning you pop your cup into the recycling bin and it won't actually be recycled because Starbucks plastic cups are made from Polypropelene.  Re-useable coffee cups are the best option for grabbing a beverage on the go, however it does take some getting used to.  As I'm not a coffee drinker this wasn't that hard for me to do but Simon had to train himself to take his re-usable coffee cup when we went out but with these collapsible space saving cups that we now have, it's made things much easier.  A bonus is that Starbucks will give you a 25p discount on your drink for using your own cup and they sell a reusable cup for just £1.  If you find yourself getting caught out in the early days of your 'training' then refuse the lid, this cuts back on a little bit of plastic, recyclable or not, just be careful you don't scold yourself with hot coffee or tea.  Fortunately there are lots of coffee places who are developing fully recyclable paper cups but you'd need to check before ordering your drink, so I say why not just save yourself some time and use that re-usable coffee cup.  The same applies for bottled water.  Yes some water bottles are indeed recyclable, but is there a way to guarantee that the bottle you use does get recycled and doesn't blow off into the ocean? No, unfortunately there's not, so again, re-usable water bottles are a great solution to this, plus there are some amazing ones out there which keep your water cooler for longer, like these from Chilly's.

If like me you're a tea drinker then you might be shocked to hear that tea bags contain plastic.  So switch to loose tea instead (using a tea strainer), it even tastes way better than a tea bag!  Or if you make your coffee at home using a Nespresso machine then these plastic free fully compostable capsules are a great alternative.

Choose glass, metal and cardboard where possible.  Let's say you're out and about and you fancy a good old Diet Coke, buy a can or a glass bottle rather than a plastic bottle.  There is even a new water which is packaged in a can made of recycled aluminium (which is also BPA free).  Life Water is available at the Natural History Museum and the Eden Project (Available on Amazon very soon) and every purchase funds clean water projects around the world with charity partner drop4drop.org

Food packaging is the one we have struggled with the most because supermarkets love their plastic packaging.  We stopped buying meat and vegetable produce from our local supermarkets because they use far too much unnecessary packaging.  We buy our meat from a local butchers and take our own glass tuperwear tubs with us.  However I understand that Morrisons have just started offering this option to their customers if you buy meat from their meat counters.  We buy loose vegetables from a greengrocer and transport them home in a canvas bag.  It's also worth checking if you have a milk delivery option in your local area, yes milk floats do still exist I swear, as this milk will come in glass bottles rather than plastic bottles or cartons, and that's one less thing to pick up from the supermarket.  Stores like Whole Foods have many more options for plastic free produce, like nuts, seeds, cereals and  other dried items, but if like us you don't have a local Whole Foods, nor the budget to shop there then you'll be pleased to hear that Lidl do plastic free Rice and couscous.

COSMETICS & BEAUTY

This is a recent one for us, but my mum bought me a load of natural soaps for Christmas and we both loved using them.  They had zero packaging and we realised that we could change to soap rather than using plastic bottles of shower gel, cutting down on what we have figured would be around 24 plastic bottles a year.  You can find natural soaps from brands like Lush along with lots of other plastic free toiletries and an easy alternative whilst in the supermarket is Dove soap which comes packaged in cardboard.  This also applies for hand wash, swap it out.

Fortunately the production of microbeads in beauty products like face wash and body exfoliants was banned earlier this year (2015 in the US and 2016 in Canada) but products with mircobeads are still in circulation.  Microbeads are plastic and as with Polyester clothing, these tiny plastic particles will end up in our beautiful oceans, so choose products with natural exfoliants like sea salt, sugar, seeds etc and avoid products like this.  Microbeads aren't always listed as such in a products ingredients so look out for these key words: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, polylactic acid, or nylon.

No more face wipes.  I refuse to believe any of you are even still using face wipes because they are so bad for your skin but if you are I would urge you to stop.  Aside from the horrific damage they're doing to your skin, they are not biodegradable.  Yes I know they're convenient, but if you try using a cleanser like this one every morning and evening I guarantee your skin will be ten times cleaner and our environment will be better off.  For any of you mammas out there with young children or babies then maybe consider switching to these eco friendly baby wipes which are bio degradable.

Cotton buds were something we went through hundreds of in this house.  Swap them for these eco friendly buds which are fully bio-degradable and organic.

SHOPPING

Reusable shopping bags.  Since the plastic bag charge came into play in 2015 (UK) it has reduced the volume of plastic bags by 9 billion.  I think most of us have trained ourselves to take our reusable bags with us to the supermarket by keeping them in the boot of the car, but I often see people wandering up and down Oxford Street STILL with plastic bags from the likes of H&M.  You can get these little reusable bags which fold up so they wouldn't take up too much room in your handbag, so just remember to pop one of those in your bag before you head out for a spot of retail therapy.

FASHION & CLOTHING

Cut out polyester clothing.  I stopped buying polyester clothing (with the odd exception of some outerwear which I don't launder) about 8 months ago and I am so glad I did.  Polyester is a widely used man made fabric which is not biodegradable.  Now you know me guys, I'm fully aware that everyone has a different budget for their wardrobes and not everyone can afford to shop with sustainable brands but there are plenty of affordable alternatives for Polyester on the high street, Viscose being one (widely used in stores like New Look, Topshop, Zara etc).  Contrary to belief Viscose is actually made of natural fibres (treated with chemicals which technically makes it "man-made") and is biodegradable.  The issue with polyester isn't just that it's not bio-degradable, every time you wash a polyester garment tiny plastic particles are flushed out into the waste system, and you know where that all ends up right?  Our oceans.  So when buying clothes online/in store do check the care labels/notes and avoid that Polyester.

British brand French Connection have today launched a completely plastic free t-shirt with the slogan 'fcuk plastic' (as I'm wearing above).  Everything about this T-shirt from the manufacturing process to the labels is completely devoid of any plastic.  It's a great example of the possibilities for plastic free clothing and hopefully where many brands will steer towards in the future.

HOME

You might already have some Polyester garments in your wardrobe so check out these GUPPYFRIEND bags which can be used in the washing machine; they capture all the tiny plastic particles from Polyester and other man-made fabrics whilst washing, avoiding them being flushed into the water system and eventually the Ocean.

The point about face wipes (above) also goes for cleaning wipes, find a biodegradable option here.  Have a look on Pinterest here as there are lots of amazing home cleaning hacks where you can make your own cleaning products from natural ingredients, they're often much more effective than the chemicals you buy in a supermarket.  If making your own cleaning products is just a step too far then I recommend Ecover and Method cleaning products, they smell delicious and are much kinder to the environment.  If you're a clean-freak and love anything antibacterial then Zoflora might be up your street. It is heavily on the chemicals but a small bottle can make up to 4.8 litres of full strength disinfectant. 

And if like us you have some furry friends, then these biodegradable poo bags are the way to go.  You can buy in bulk which makes them cheaper and they are so much kinder to the planet.

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