In 2014, researchers from RMIT University spoke at my workplace about seabirds with guts full of plastic, wildlife entangled in plastic debris, huge garbage patches out in the ocean, and microbeads attracting pollutants which move up the food chain.
I’d been working in an organisation that manages river health for ten years, but I was still shocked at how bad the plastic pollution problem was, as were many others in the audience.
Seven months later, this presentation would lead me to participate in the Plastic Free July Challenge, to refuse all single-use plastic for one month, and shortly after that, start a blog called Gippsland Unwrapped to share my ongoing plastic free and zero waste living experiences with others.
Since I decided to become part of the plastic pollution solution, rather than contribute to the problem, I have discovered some really simple swaps we can all make to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, and therefore the amount of plastic that ends up in our environment.
- Swap disposable plastic bags with reusable bags
The most obvious place to start is to make sure you remember to take your reusable shopping bags everywhere you shop, every time you shop. Get in the habit of saying “no bag thanks” and having your reusable bag handy or being prepared to carry your purchase. A really environmentally friendly way to get yourself some reusable bags is to make them yourself from old clothing and other pieces of fabric from around your home.
Supermarket produce bags are another category of plastic bag that is sometimes forgotten about. Reusable produce bags are versatile, easy to wash, so light they don’t need to be weighed, and so compact they can be carried with you all the time. You can buy them at markets or online stores but they can also be easily made at home from suitable materials like old lace curtains or saved citrus bags. You will feel good about making this change.
Now take the reusable bag idea further and buy your bread and dry foods in reusable cloth bags. Again, you can buy bread bags or make them at home.
2.Swap disposable cups with a reusable cup
Coffee cups aren’t only made of paper, most are lined with a coating of polyethylene which is a type of plastic. This makes them hard to recycle or compost, and most end up in our environment or in landfill. Instead of a disposable cup, use a reusable travel cup, or a jar with a lid, or consider sitting down to enjoy your drink rather than getting takeaway.
3.Swap disposable bottles of water with a reusable bottle
Get in the habit of having a reusable water bottle handy at all times. Apart from the plastic pollution problem, bottled water is much more expensive and uses a lot of resources in the harvesting, packaging, transportation and distribution of water than refilling a bottle with tap water. You can even download the ChooseTap App to help you find refill stations.
4.Swap single use packaging with reusable containers
You can bring clean containers from home to buy meat, fish, cheese and other items from the deli. Customer service staff should know how to use their scales so you only pay for the weight of the food. You can even use reusable containers to get takeaway food, or take home leftovers from restaurants.
Glass jars and bottles are perfect containers for collecting dried herbs, spices, salts, tea, oils, detergents, and vinegar. The uses are only limited by your imagination. The process for weighing your goods is the same as for meat and deli purchases. If you are going to bring a bottle to refill with a product you should know how many millilitres the bottle holds so that you can pay accordingly.
No doubt you will hear somewhere along the way that using your own containers is unhygienic or against health regulations. This is not the case, there is no health and safety regulation preventing you from using your own container instead of disposable packaging. However, a business has the right to refuse to use your container under their own policies. Learn more here.
It will be a bit nerve wracking when you first use your own containers but stay confident and keep at it. You’ll be proud of yourself in the end.
5.Swap plastic cling wrap with reusable food covers
Plastic cling wrap has become something we consider essential in the kitchen, but I have found it to be completely unnecessary. Instead of using cling wrap, try using plates on top of plates, containers, tea towels, shower caps, silicone lids or beeswax wraps.
6.Swap disposable plastic straws for a reusable straw, or just use your lips
You may not have given straws a lot of thought but straws are in the top 10 items picked up at beach cleanups in Australia. Make sure you refuse to use plastic straws so they don’t end up on our beaches, in the throats of birds or in the nasal passages of turtles. If you really like to use a straw, get yourself a reusable one with a cleaning brush.
For me, refusing single-use plastic is a protest against the misuse of plastic. It is a material designed to last for hundreds of years, yet we consume it and throw it away after just a few seconds with devastating impacts. Refusing single-use plastic is also about using my consumer power to drive change, and, it’s about being the change I want to see in the world.