Something that has grown within me over the last 5 or so years is a passion for the environment. I’m a massive fan of Greta Thunberg and love listening to her talk and see her getting an audience with the United Nations.
I became more alert to the dire situation we are in with plastic when I heard a simple statement:
Plastic is Forever.
Think about that. Every single piece of plastic we purchase and use NEVER. LEAVES. OUR. PLANET. It does not break down, so we must avoid it, and where that’s not possible reuse it over and over (forever?) and at the very least, put it in the recycling bin so it can be re-made into something else (but how much of it really ever is?).
But I’ll be honest. It all seems a little futile at times when industry continues to produce plastic instead of pursuing alternatives where possible. However, a movement is growing among individuals and smaller businesses. The effort of reducing our use of plastic is picking up speed. If we can stem the tide and push back, maybe, just maybe, the message will be received. Think of it as ‘managing up’ our Government and corporations. Just like Greta the Great is doing with world leaders.
Reducing your use of plastic
Because it can be overwhelming as to where to start, I have put here a Ten Simple Ideas for reducing use of plastic by individuals and families. I have ordered them from Easiest to Requiring a Little More Effort. The vast majority involve little to no expense.
1. Refuse the Straw
Circa 2018 a beautiful movement happened very quickly. People started to refuse the straw at cafes and pubs, and many of these establishments not only stopped using them routinely, but also sourced paper, pasta and stainless steel alternatives. Such swift change deserves to be at the top of this list and gives us hope that we can achieve such greatness with other plastic-busting habits! Now please make sure you are one of those people for whom plastic straws simply don’t exist.
2. Shun the shrink-wrapped produce
Don’t buy things enshrined in shrink wrap, especially those that already have their own nature-made wrapping. Buy the whole naked celery (and make yourself some vegetable stock out of any leftovers or vegetable parts you don’t use!); let the Banana Peel feel important and fulfil its purpose in protecting its insides, and let the ear of the corn do the smooth silky talking by actually buying one that hasn’t had its husk removed only to be replaced with, ugh, plastic. Send a message to Coles, Woolworths and Aldi that anything unnecessarily wrapped in plastic will stay on the shelf.
3. The good ol’ brown paper bag
Instead of snap lock bags, many food items can go in a brown paper bag instead. Every time I go to package something up, I ask myself whether this apple, these crackers or this sandwich could go in a paper bag instead. At least half the time, the answer is Yes. For the rest, a beeswax wrap or glass container can often suffice. We currently have a drawer full of plastic containers and I have declared that we will not buy any more! They are mainly used for sending food to school that can’t go in a paper bag or lunchbox – we can’t quite trust our kids to bring the more expensive container options home just yet so we are reusing and reusing and reusing these and NOT buying any more!. When we can finally be free of them, they will be recycled of course. Where possible, we will use the humble paper bag.
4. Goodness, gracious, great balls of foil!
Did you know that foil can be recycled provided it is large enough? Due to recycling machinery, small pieces of plastic and foil can’t be recycled. You can get around this by creating a foil ball of easter egg wrappers, foil used in the oven, etc and then popping it in the recycling bin. Aim for a tennis ball size. While you are at it, poke lids of your plastic juice or milk bottles inside the bottle. This ensures they can be recycled! Better still, opt for cardboard cartons where possible to avoid the plastic in the first place.
5. Keep your glass jars
So many of our food can be stored in something we have already bought. Glass may well take longer to break down than other materials, but at least its constituents were supposed to be on earth in the first place. If you buy glass or plastic, you have a responsibility to reuse it. Wash it out, sterilise with vinegar and/or almost boiling water and you are ready to go.
6. Recycle Soft Plastics
I’ll admit I have been inconsistent with Redcycling, ever since the War on Waste exposed holes in the soft plastics recycling initiative and what with the collapse of recycling in Australia. Once again, our Government is failing us when it comes to saving the planet, however I have two small children and I have a responsibility to behave as a role model for and do what I know best when it comes to being environmentally friendly.
My household of four can fill our 52L bin in a week with soft plastics, and our actual landfill is reduced to a shopping bag size. This means that if we are not Redcycling, approximately 4/5 of our household waste going to landfill is actually ‘redcyclable’ soft plastic – and this is a household that focuses on avoiding soft plastic use in the first place – AND we are merely a family of four – SHUDDER. THIS IS HAPPENING IN MOST HOUSEHOLDS. We seriously need to ALL get on board with recycling soft plastics. Bag them up, chuck them in the boot and take them shopping with you to dump it in the Redcycle bins found in major supermarkets.
Now that my little dude is learning about it at kindergarten, I am going to renew my efforts with Redcycling to help my children create long-lasting habits for when the Government finally gets it right (will they?). Imagine if our Government got it REALLY right and started collecting our soft plastics from home weekly instead of the landfill!
7. Soap and shampoo bars
I’ll admit that I’m not totally converted here yet through a little bit of ‘it’s too different’ whinginess (is that a word?). I haven’t tried a shampoo bar but my cousin is currently trialing one from Good for Your Guts and Body and I’m going to claim she’s my guinea pig. I did recently switch back to a soap bar which my kids found to be a TOTAL novelty (‘what’s this mum?‘ – Mum Fail – they had never used a soap bar before!!!), but I’ll admit, I missed the sudsiness (again, is it a word?) of body wash. I scoured the shelves of Chemist Warehouse and found love. Specifically, Love Beauty and Planet body wash. It’s vegan, uses mild cleansers and the packaging is made of recycled plastic! It smells absolutely divine and they minimise and account for their carbon footprint. My kids still love the bar of soap and it’s stopping them from going crazy pouring body wash everywhere, so I’m claiming a small win for the environment there – my environmentally friendly body wash is lasting A LOT longer.
8. Reusable produce bags
It sickens me every time I have to put fresh produce in a plastic bag at the supermarket. I recently bought 2 packs of washable reusable produce bags from Ecobits for myself, my sister, my mother and my mother-in-law, to encourage them to use less plastic and tell their friends about this awesome product made from recycled plastic. As my husband also regularly shops for the household, more are now are on their way so that they can also live in the car with his set of re-usable shopping bags. At a price of $12.95 and cheap shipping , it’s money spent well for the environment. The added benefit is that instead of your fresh fruit and vegetables languishing in plastic in the crisper, it forces you to keep your crisper clean (I line mine with paper towel to reduce unwanted moisture) and let the produce lie naked in all their glory so that you can return your reusable produce bags straight back to the boot of the car along with your reusable shopping bags (now SO standard in Australia that they don’t rate more than a mention on this post).
9. Stainless Steel Lunchboxes
These are a little further down my list because they are not super cheap and again something you don’t want to lose and have to replace too often. I have managed to find some on ebay that are a lot cheaper than those found at Biome, Hello Green or Bento Buzz so click on the link, I’ve done a bit of research for you. I’d love to see the likes of Kmart, Big W and Target start selling some lightweight stainless steel lunchboxes soon (Back to School 2020?).
10. Start up your own Recycling Station
This one takes a little more effort and I’ll admit I haven’t done this comprehensively yet. An old friend of mine set this up in her shed. She has containers for things that can be recycled and taken with you to a collection point, such as batteries to Aldi and e-waste to Bunnings. It really wouldn’t be hard to set up and I need to pull my finger out. Things like bread tags (which can also be put inside plastic juice and milk bottles if you still use them), wire, beer bottle tops and foil can all go in their own jars and when full, taken to the appropriate places. I can see it being a great thing for kids to remember/sort and tell you when the jar is full!
The Next Frontier(s)
Along with a ‘home recycling system like Bec’s, the next frontiers for us as a family are to try:
- Bamboo toothbrushes. Whilst this sounds like the tiniest of changes, given sometimes smaller plastic is harder to recycle so this small change can go a long way.
- Zero waste eco lids. We are not gladwrap users because we store food in glass containers where possible (we do have a roll in the cupboard for the rare occasions we absolutely need it) and use paper towel, foil or container lids when reheating food. But I am thinking about trying Zero Waste Eco Lids for those times you want to leave the casserole leftovers in the dish. They stretch onto dishes of a variety of sizes so we may only need to buy two (one rectangle, one circle). If you’re finding it hard to kick soft plastic/shrink wrap to the curb, perhaps give these a try.
- Eco-friendly dishwashing options such as Little Eco Shop’ssponges and scrubbers made from coconut fibre and cellulose. I’d be interested in hearing from people about how well these work before committing, but the idea of immediately reducing the microplastics going down the sink and into the ocean sure is appealing. Plastic free dishwashing liquid is also a thing!
I hope this post has given you some inspiration to make a few small and easy behavioural and shopping changes. As you can see I am far from an angel when it comes to doing everything right all the time when it comes to plastic (who is?), but if we all do something and keep each other accountable, maybe, just maybe, the tide will turn. It won’t wash all the plastic back out of the ocean or out of landfill, but let’s all do our bit to stem the ever-flowing tide. It will help change the behaviour of future generations – and eventually at all levels of society and government.