7 ways you can make a difference in the fight against plastic waste

Carrying your own water bottle, ditching the coffee cups and making your own cleaning products are some of the steps you can take to help save the planet

19 August 2018 - 00:00 By Jessica Evans
This installation for the 2018 Bruges Triennial by New York architecture firm StudioKCA was made from more than four tonnes of recycled plastic.
This installation for the 2018 Bruges Triennial by New York architecture firm StudioKCA was made from more than four tonnes of recycled plastic.
Image: StudioKCA

The world has entered a new wave of environmental awareness coupled with newer and more drastic means of reducing our impact on the natural world.

We are no longer perpetuating our wasteful ways and brushing it off with "reduce, reuse, recycle". Those days are over. Islands of floating plastic and the plight of many filter-feeding whale species as well as sea turtles have managed to garner public attention and inspire change.

If you do not yet know how you can make a difference, here are some ideas.

1. STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER

Single-use water bottles are made in seconds and used in minutes. Thereafter they stick around for a good few hundred years, clogging up beaches and degrading into microplastics that end up in the stomachs of filter-feeding sea creatures like mussels and whales. Keep a reusable water bottle on you with filtered water from home. Not only is it trendy and personal, it also saves the oceans.

2. STOP SUCKING

You may have seen the movement to stop using plastic straws sweep over social media. If not, this is what is up - plastic straws, like water bottles, are used in minutes and discarded, finding a home in the waterways and the sea. You can watch horrific videos online of sea turtles having straws removed from their nostrils. It is wonderful to see that restaurants have hopped on the bandwagon, offering paper straws as an alternative. Paper straws are not ideal, however, because they are single-use. Try to find reusable alternatives (such as bamboo or stainless-steel straws) online that you can keep on you.

3. STOP WITH THE SHOPPING BAGS ALREADY

My family has a kitchen drawer full of plastic packets from grocery and clothing stores. If I happen to come home with some, I wash myself of any guilt by simply shoving them in said drawer with the illusion that I will use them one day. I know you do it too.

We try to make use of reusable shopping bags, which take up no space if folded up in a handbag or cubby-hole. Not only are they cute and personal, but they relieve one of guilt. Invest in some mesh produce bags to duck the plastic ones they weigh your veggies in.

4. QUIT SINGLE-USE COFFEE CUPS

To be honest, there is something about the cup-and-lid combo that is aesthetically pleasing. But it is not worth the cost to the environment. The "paper" cups are lined with plastic and cannot be recycled and the lids are plastic. Perhaps invest in reusable bamboo coffee cups with a silicon vest and lid. Find your own to take with you to the coffee shop. You can find all sorts of patterns and colours to make sure that your cup is a reflection of you. It feels good handing your cup to the barista and asking them to fill it up!

5. TRY PACKAGE-FREE COSMETIC AND HOUSEHOLD PRODUCTS

It is slowly becoming more common for cosmetics and toiletry stores to offer package-free options. So much plastic waste is born from household cleaning products and toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste. Some stores are taking on this issue by offering shampoo bars which not only dodge the plastic packaging, but also last longer than bottled shampoo or conditioner.

Toothpaste packaged in a reusable jar and eco-friendly cleaning products are available online. Household cleaning products are a big culprit when it comes to plastic pollution. Try making your own in reusable bottles. This is not just better for the Earth, but it could be a cool science project too. Find some tutorials online and get sudsing.

6. PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO YOUR CLOTHES

This is a tough one. Plastic fabrics like nylon and polyester release tiny fibres called microplastics every time you wash them. It is estimated that every wash releases 900 microplastics into the waterways and soon the ocean. From there they end up in the stomachs of whales and mussels, which play important roles in their ecosystems. Next time you buy clothes, opt for plant-based products like bamboo, cotton and linen if you can.

7. DO SOME RESEARCH AND BE CREATIVE

These are just a few ways you and your family could make a change. Plastic finds its way into daily life in hundreds of ways: in the after-dinner sweets offered at restaurants; in the openings of some tissue boxes; in sticky tape; in plastic kitchen wrap! The list is endless. Sniff out the sources of plastic in your daily life and think creatively about what you can do to cut them out.

A lot more still needs to be done by corporations like stores and restaurants to reduce their plastic waste. If you know someone high up in a business, ask them what their business is doing to be more eco-friendly. Get them thinking.