From the wrapping on a packet of painkillers to the clothes hanging in our wardrobes, plastic has infiltrated just about every aspect of our waking lives.
With bans on straws and bags trending worldwide, it might appear that plastic is on the decline. It is not. In 2021, as the Australian Government announced it would phase out single use plastics, it was projected that 100 billion more PET bottles would be produced globally that year than the 485 billion produced five years earlier. Projections to 2030 expect the global market for plastic to continue expanding – not decline.
The basic take-away message is that the world continues to produce and consume plastic at an unsustainable rate, with no sign of slowing down.
What’s wrong with plastic?
So many things. For one, a lot of natural resources (coal, gas, water, etc) are used to make plastic, and the production of plastic emits a lot of greenhouse gases. Secondly, plastic isn’t very biodegradable, it hangs around for a long time – about 450 to 1000 years. Thirdly, as it’s hanging around and slowly breaking down it doesn’t harmonise very well with the earth’s ecosystem; Fragments, or ‘microplastic’, end up in our soil and waterways, changing the way organisms naturally live and behave. It’s estimated that humans ingest about the equivalent of a credit card of microplastic in a year. Researchers are only just starting to hypothesise the potential impacts on our health of so much plastic in our environment.
Here are three easy but impactful ways you can limit your own use of plastic:
- Switch to refillable home cleaning products
Here’s a simple explainer on the refill concept: Think about all the liquids, creams and powders housed in plastic that you will buy over your lifetime. Dishwashing detergent is a good example. The detergent comes in a plastic bottle. When the liquid runs out, you toss the container into your plastic recycling bin (I hope), and purchase more detergent in a brand new plastic container. In the world of refills, you only buy the container once; It’s the liquid (or powder) that you continue to purchase, and in some form of biodegradable or circular packaging.
If you think this simple switch won’t make that much of a difference, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, one of the world’s leading authorities on environmentally mindful economies, begs to differ. The Foundation estimates that replacing single use bottles for beauty, personal care and cleaning products with a refill option would affect an 80-85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This incredible reduction is due to the savings in packaging and transport.
(Read more about refills: The One Easy Thing You Can Do At Home To Make a Big Difference To Climate Change)
There are now so many refill brand options: Reco and Zero Co all quickly come to mind. Among my personal favourites are Resparkle and Pleasant State because they’ve distilled their cleaning solutions into concentrated powder formulas that require less packaging in general, and their sachets are home compostable. BUT this isn’t the easiest solution for me because I live in an apartment without easy access to compost. It actually drives me bananas when I receive a delivery in home compostable packaging. I have a collection of bags under my sink waiting for friends with home compost to drop by.
2. Choose clothing made from natural fibres
Textiles – or the material your clothes are made of – are among the biggest contributors to our global plastic problem. Unless you’ve consciously shopped for clothes in natural fibres such as cotton or linen, the odds are high that you have a wardrobe full of polyester, nylon and acrylic, which are all forms of plastic. Even that beautiful chunky knit ‘wool’ cardigan you’ve been living in this past winter probably contains a high proportion of acrylic, not wool. Flip the cardigan inside-out to find the label and take a look. When you wash synthetic materials, plastic microparticles seep into our waterways, altering marine ecosystems. Microplastic pollution caused by washing plastic-derived materials is now understood to be the main source of primary microplastics in the oceans.
You could buy some of the clever gadgets and wash nets on the market now to catch microparticles in your wash – but then you’re only going to have to dispose of those particles somewhere else. Prevent the accumulation of the microparticles in the first place, and buy clothes made from cotton, linen, hemp and other natural fibres instead.
You might be interested in reading: 5 Up and Coming Australian Labels Every Sustainable Fashion Lover Should Know About
3. Stop buying cling wrap
I haven’t used cling wrap for almost two years now, so believe me when I say you don’t need it. You don’t even need to go looking for fancy (and expensive) replacements, a trap I almost fell into when I started being more eco-conscious. You don’t need beeswax. I promise. There are plenty of alternatives to cling wrap already (probably) in your kitchen. I have a good collection of tupperware in different shapes and sizes, and I save plastic take-away containers to store cut and unused fruits and vegetables like lemons or pumpkin. I almost bought a collection of calico bags to store fresh produce in, but then I realised almost every third or fourth purchase I make comes in a linen, calico or plain cotton bag now, and they work just the same! I also save glass peanut butter and jam jars, they come in handy when I’ve run out of tupperware and I’m storing soup or taking homemade smoothies into an office. When I’m out of containers, I use my nanna’s old trick and place any leftover food in a bowl with a plate on top, to keep in the fridge. Stop buying into marketing gimmicks and the belief that you need to purchase anything to live more sustainably, because you absolutely don’t.