We all know that plastic has become a huge problem. We have seen the horrendous images of huge piles of plastic that have been dumped, the plastic that has been caught around marine life after making its way to our oceans, and generic public bins that have been filled with a mix of recyclable plastic and food waste. But it only takes one brisk walk around the local supermarket to see the huge amount of products that use plastic as part of their packaging, whether that be the plastic around vacuum packed toys, or the plastic that surrounds a packet of plum tomatoes. Plastic is everywhere, so how can we prevent this huge problem? The answer is a simple one, we reduce our plastic intake.
The good news is, with an increased awareness of what plastic is doing to our planet, a huge variety of companies and product manufacturers are working hard to use less plastic, and come up with plastic alternatives for every day products.
Why is plastic such a problem?
Although some plastics may seem worse than others, for example, surely the thick, sturdy packaging plastic that protects electrical products is worse than the very thin plastic that holds a pack of peppers, right? Well, although it is of course better to use far less plastic, all plastic is actually made of carbon, together with other materials, that are all heated, broken down and then built up again, to form a plastic resin that can be expertly shaped to fit any desired product packaging. This carbon comes from oil, which is a fossil fuel and is incredibly harmful to our planet.
The resources that plastic is made from are also non-renewable, which means that our current heavy reliance on them as an everyday product is not sustainable. Together with this, the processes that are used to create plastics are also very damaging to our environment, as they produce harmful gases which pollutes our air, land and water.
What does this mean for the future of our planet?
Plastics on earth have become a waste nightmare, mainly because the majority of them do not biodegrade. This means that instead of disintegrating over time, they instead remain intact, often for an infinite amount of years, before they start breaking down into smaller pieces. This is the reason why plastics are such a threat for our wildlife, both on land and in the ocean.
What are the alternatives?
Although this may sound like a lot of doom and gloom, if we all do a little, by committing to making a few small changes, together we can achieve a lot.
As consciousness increases around the planet’s plastic problem, many companies are coming up with plastic alternatives whilst maintaining the quality of their original products. This means that you can still enjoy the benefits of using the items that you have always liked, without harming the planet. Below are just a few examples of every day products that now have excellent plastic-free alternatives.
Toothbrushes – Everyone uses a toothbrush, and everyone buys a new one after theirs has worn down every few months. So you can imagine just how many toothbrushes have been produced and purchased since the day that they were first invented. This also means that every single plastic toothbrush that has ever been produced is still intact somewhere on the planet; most likely in the ocean. I recently read a statistic which claimed that 1.3 billion toothbrushes are found in the sea every single year. Hearing this shocking statistic really startled me, and I went searching for alternatives immediately. Since that day I have been using toothbrushes made of bamboo, and even got one for each of my family members, who have been converted too! Bamboo toothbrushes are completely biodegradable, meaning that they just break down without harming the planet. And what’s great is that they work just as well as standard plastic toothbrushes, lasting just as long, working just as well and even being cheaper!
Single-use items – If we write down every single item that we use in a typical month, chances are that a lot of these are single-use plastic items that are easily avoidable if we are mindful. Just one example is coffee cups, which are now also being made from bamboo, are reusable, and some coffee shops are even offering discounts on hot drinks if you bring your own cup. These are becoming increasingly popular too, which means that they are being created in a stunning range of creative designs and colours. What’s not to like? As well as this is the plastic knife, fork and spoon that you get with your takeaway lunch. Next time you’re faced with this, ask yourself whether you really need those items that you will simply throw away after one use? Can you get your cutlery from the canteen at work? Or how about keeping a knife and fork from home in your bag to use whenever you need them?
And of course a major item is the plastic water bottle, of which 20,000 are currently being bought every second! I believe that in today’s world, there is just no need to buy single-use plastic bottles when there are so many great alternatives that come in sturdy material that can last years. And finally, single-use plastic bags. The 5p law in shops has been great for reducing our use of single-use carriers, but there is still a long way to go to eradicate plastic bags all together. With so many great canvas designs for fold-up bags that fit in any pocket, there’s no excuse to ever use a plastic bag again.
Plastic cotton buds – Perhaps not as obvious as other major plastic pollutants, cotton buds are a huge problem. I recently saw a very striking and thought provoking image which showed a beautiful little seahorse, with its tail wrapped around a plastic cotton bud. Whilst cotton buds are another common item, the alternative is really simple. You can now purchase cotton buds that look exactly the same, except the plastic part is made of paper.
Plastic wrapped vegetables – For me, there’s something fulfilling about going to a greengrocers and choosing my own vegetables, as opposed to picking up a multipack of pre-selected greens. Perhaps that feeling is just me being a little weird, but regardless, there is no real need for vegetables to be wrapped in the amount of plastic that they are. From a consumer’s point of view, it doesn’t even work out cheaper to buy multipacks, and by being selective, it means that it is a lot easier to only select the amount of fruit or vegetables that you know you will eat.
As you can see, there are many alternatives to everyday items that do not contain plastic, but work just as well. With all of the information that we now have available, together with the shocking images displaying the damage that our excessive plastic use is doing to our planet, now is the time to step up and make a change. If every single person changes just a few things in their daily plastic buying habits, it will have a huge impact on the future of our Earth.
What are you going to do?
Originally written for Ethical Surrey