Since the introduction of the 5p charge for single use plastic bags in October 2015, plastic litter has been drastically reduced in my neighbourhood. Pretty much every shopper at my local supermarket takes their own bags and doesn’t even complain anymore! However, plastic litter is still prevalent in our environment, and there is more that we can do as a society to reduce our plastic consumption. As today marks the start of Plastic Free July, I want to share with you six ways that our family have reduced our plastic usage with very little effort at all; hopefully it can encourage some of my readers to make a small change this month too.
- Nappies and wipes
25-30% of a disposable nappy is plastic (mainly polypropylene and polyethylene) and can take between 200 and 500 years to decompose in landfill. They account for approximately 3% of household waste, and approximately 8 million disposable nappies are thrown away each day in the UK alone. Disposable wipes are generally made of polyester and propropylene, and the packaging is made of non-recyclable plastics.
Reusable nappies do have some plastics components, mainly the waterproof PUL (polyurethane laminate) layer, and some of the absorbent materials such as microfibre (polyester, polyamide, and polypropylene), but consider that these are a multiple use item and that the plastic component will be reused hundreds of times. You can also choose plastic-free alternatives such as a wool wrap instead of a PUL one, and bamboo, hemp or cotton instead of microfibre. Reusable wipes are usually made from cotton or bamboo, and are dampened with water to use.
There is a network of nappy libraries across the country to help, support and advise parents who want to trial reusable nappies. Why not get in touch with your local volunteer to find the reusable nappies that work for you
Roll-on and stick deodorants are packaged in plastic, usually polyethylene and polypropylene, which can generally be recycled.
There are alternatives which use compostable cardboard packaging; once the product has been used, simply add to your compost bin or in to your garden waste bin. The additional benefit of natural deodorants is that they do not contain aluminium, which is absorbed into the skin and has a potential link to certain cancers and Alzheimers.
- Shampoo, conditioner and shower gel
In a similar fashion to deodorants, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are packaged in plastic, most of which can be widely recycled (although not usually the lids)
Shampoo and conditioner bars are a simple plastic-free alternative that can be found on the high street or online; simply lather up and then rinse. Some users report that the bars can leave hair slightly waxy, but a rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar (easy to find in your local supermarket, and you can opt for a glass bottle) helps to remove any residues. Similarly, with shower gel, you can buy shower gel bars, or even use old-fashioned soap!
It is estimated that 8.5 BILLION plastic straws are used in the UK every year; many are not disposed of correctly and end up as litter. They will degrade over time (approximately 200 years) but will never fully break down (biodegrade); this means that tiny particles remain in the environment and are toxic to wildlife. Even before they break down, plastics are ingested by wildlife, causing suffocation and death.
There are several alternatives to disposable plastic straws; many fast food chains are now committed to paper straws (some are even using pasta straws!) which is a massive improvement, even though they are still disposable. Reusable options include stainless steel and bamboo straws. These can be carried with you for use on the go; they are easy to clean (they usually come with a small brush to clean the inside) and take up very little room in your bag
- Menstrual products
On average, a woman will use 11,000 disposable tampons or pads in her lifetime; these obviously can’t be recycled, and therefore end up in landfill (or worse, flushed down the toilet, helping to create fatbergs) They contain polypropylene and polyethylene, as do disposable pads. Menstrual products aren’t a ‘luxury’ (despite what the UK government would have us believe, but this isn’t a political post!) and your period can be comfortable and plastic-free.
Cloth sanitary pads are comfortable and the absorbency and length can be tailored to your specific requirements; in addition, the toppers can be made in a variety of fabrics and designs, so your period can even be pretty! Menstrual cups are the internal option; these are made of silicon and can be boiled in between uses to ensure cleanliness.
- Takeaway coffee
Most people would argue that the disposable cups that you get in coffee shops for your takeaway coffee are made of paper; that is true, but they need a waterproof coating to prevent the liquid leaking through, which is actually polyethylene, a plastic. Add to that that the lids are generally made of hard polystyrene which is not widely recycled, plus the fact that 7 million disposable cups are used in the UK every day, and that adds up to a lot of landfill…
A simple switch to a reusable travel mug and not only will you be helping the environment, but you can also save yourself some money! Most coffee shops offer money off to customers who choose to reuse, and the insulated cups will also keep your drink hotter for longer!
So what’s next?
This month we are going to try and reduce our plastic use further; buying loose from the supermarket, making a beeswax cover for food so we don’t use clingfilm and I’m also looking into getting milk from a local dairy in glass bottles rather than plastic.
What will you try this month to reduce the amount of plastic you use?