Until a couple of months ago, I’d not really heard the term ‘single use plastics’, but recently it’s been a topic of much discussion and awareness has been raised. This site explains more about what they are, and why they are such a huge environmental issue. I’ve always been fairly environmentally conscious, and so I’ve really been thinking hard about my own plastic usage and how to reduce it.
Lots of items that we buy come in plastic packaging that isn’t always reusable, such as fruit and vegetables in plastic bags. It makes it convenient, being able to just pick up a bag of apples and know it is a week’s worth, but how hard would it be to count out 5 loose ones and put them in the basket or a paper bag? Although the major supermarkets are very cheap for fruit and vegetables, I am considering buying more from our (slightly more expensive) local greengrocers as they don’t prepackage many items. They do provide a biodegradable plastic bag to carry home all of your purchases, which reduces the plastic usage considerably (if you buy 6 types of fruit/vegetables all in their own bags and just have one bag, that’s a big difference over a year), and taking my own (reusable) bag would reduce it further.
Milk is another frequent purchase that comes in plastic packaging (let’s face it, it wouldn’t fare particularly well in paper bags!), and I do wonder if perhaps people in the ‘old days’ had the right idea with glass bottles. The milk man has seen a huge rise in popularity around here, and we are considering jumping on the bandwagon. Even if we didn’t get all of our weekly milk delivered in traditional bottles, we could reduce our plastic usage considerably. (I calculated that it is around 4 times more expensive to do this, so I’ve yet to take the leap as the children do get through a lot of milk!)
The allotment is also an area where plastic is too common for my liking. I try to reuse and recycle where possible, for example the plastic trays that mushrooms come in make handy trays to contain pots with seedlings in on the conservatory windowsill. Although not technically single use, it would be nice if our efforts to grow our own produce were also environmentally kind. Last year we grew many seeds in peat pots. but I didn’t manage to get any more in the sales at the end of summer. However, I have read that the cardboard toilet roll inners can be cut in half and used to sow single seeds-especially squash and beans, which need to be kept in the greenhouse until late May. I’m planning on trying this, as the cardboard will break down nicely in the soil once they are planted out. If they do go too soggy before planting out time, I’ll repot into saved plastic pots with the cardboard.
I’m also looking at changing the brand of tea bags I use to one that doesn’t use plastic in the bag construction. I’d been composting them, not knowing that they contained tiny fragments of plastic, which then go into the soil. I’m hoping to find one that I like that I can also compost afterwards, wish me luck! I’d never even considered that they had plastic in, why is it even necessary?
As well as my own use of plastic, I’m trying to pass on the message to my children, for example encouraging them not to have a plastic straw at parties, and getting them to reuse their cups. (Parties are a real eye opener when it comes to single use plastics-forks, spoons, straws, cups, the list goes on!)
I have decided that we will continue to use up the things in our house that are on the single use list, but once they are gone I will be looking at more environmentally friendly alternatives (such as a set of reusable plastic cups and plates). It’s frightening just how much we throw away without a thought to the consequences. The only thing I will not use up is any product which contains plastic microbeads, as the damage they do to wildlife once they are in the water system is shocking. I looked at all of my beauty products and binned any with microbeads in straight away. I will also be considering purchases of plastic based items more carefully e.g. how long will it last? Is there a more environmentally friendly alternative?
Sometimes, when I am making one of these small changes, I think to myself ‘will it really make a difference?’ Then I think again, and realise that if we all thought like that, we wouldn’t make a change. However, if we all did something small, we could be really powerful. Some of the changes are also more costly financially, but I am trying to balance that with considering that the costs to our earth are far greater than a pound or two a week. After all, if people don’t start changing, we may find ourselves being taxed for our plastic use (think of the 5p carrier bag charge).
Change isn’t going to happen overnight, I’m thinking it will be more like the process of a ship’s engine being put into reverse. The use of plastics like this will continue forwards for a while as people use up what they have, and awareness and action spreads. Then hopefully, sales of them will drop off as the demand for these single use plastics will reduce, leading to production being massively cut down. Of course, there is the issue of all of the mess we have collectively created, and how that can be dealt with, but it isn’t too late, even if we can’t completely go back on what we have done. (Whilst writing this, I though of the scene in Titanic where they tried to avoid hitting the iceberg, I hope we manage to avoid a metaphorical scenario like that by changing in the nick of time.)
What changes could you make today? Tomorrow? Next week? Click on the link in the introduction to sign up to the single use plastics challenge if you want some ideas.