The plastic pollution crisis is up there with Climate Change. And so it should be. It’s a global issue affecting us all, and if you’ve had your head buried in the sand of late, scientists are now predicting that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. Plastic is now present in our soils, it often ends up in the sea and is consumed by and is killing plankton, fish, mammals and seabirds and a depressing thought is that future fossil foragers will be identifying human existence on earth by the layers of rubbish and plastic in the earth’s geological records. Us humans have had such a dramatic impact on the planet in the last few hundred years, we have now entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene. Welcome to the ‘Age of plastic‘.
My Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with daily footage, photos and news pieces capturing injured and dead wildlife, overwhelming statistics on what impacts we are really having, the implications both known and unknown of plastics on our health, and the questionable survival of our planet in the midst of this great mess we’ve created. This information overload is overwhelming, it’s frightening, and it leaves one to question ‘what the hell have we done? And what can I do?’, or it leads one to switch off and shove their head right back in the sand.
But now is not the time to be switching off and more than ever we need everyday people changing their ways so that we can have a global impact. The good news is, this is accessible to EVERYONE.
We can all start the journey to plastic free living at any time, but what better way than to kick start your way to a cleaner life than in solidarity with others wanting to give this nasty lifestyle the flick.
Soooo… here are my tips for cleaning up your act for a plastic free future.
ENTRY LEVEL STUFF
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, and I am still on the journey myself. But these are some nice entry-level things you can integrate smoothly into your life and before you know it, you will be addicted to the cause and will never look back.
DITCH THE COFFEE CUPS
Guess what, they’re not recyclable. No. Nope. Nuh uh. 500 Billion Coffee Cups are produced every year globally. That’s a hell of a lot of waste. Despite the seemingly “green” alternatives floating around on the market, the plastic lining in these cups actually prevents them from being recycled and can actually contaminate tonnes of recycling causing it all to head to landfill. Well that backfired didn’t it.
Not only are they a plague on our waste system, coffee cups are one of the most common culprits we find on our beach cleans. In rivers, creeks, wetlands, in our streets and parks, and on the beach. There’s never a clean up we don’t find them laying around doing their dirty work on the environment.
What to do? REFUSE. Get yourself a reusable coffee cup and use it. Always. I even keep a spare in the car for road trips.
“Ew but it will leak in my bag.”
Give it a rinse in the bathroom, and if that’s a no go for you, many of my friends shove a napkin in the cup after a hot one to stop the leaking and soak up any leftovers in the cup. Boom. Done. No more excuses.
My pick, KeepCup. You can even design the look and feel of your very own.
DITCH THE STRAWS
Now this can be a little tricky. Any of us plastic-free nutters will tell you a tale or two about refusing a straw at the cafe or bar. You order, “no straw please”, but before you know it the staff go into autopilot, and with light-speed ninja moves, a plastic straw is sitting there staring you in the face. Mocking you. And suddenly in your mind all the plastic-free purists are standing around you in that moment judging you.
“What a failure. Who are you? You don’t care about the environment”.
But here’s the thing. You can’t win them all, but there are a few tricks I have up my sleeve for moments like this. Take your own metal straw and show them you have one. I did this on New Years Eve and it became a great conversation starter with the staff. Before we knew it we were talking about saving turtles, hi-fiving and doing shots.
If you’re a regular customer, they will get to know you, my local restaurants all know I don’t dig straws, and they respect that.
Have a conversation. There’s nothing more powerful than respectfully asking businesses if they have considered alternatives.
Metal straws are increasingly available online, a quick search will see you find some pretty swanky designs. My pick would be Clean Coast Collective’s Pacific Gold Straw, they make clean coast living look so darn cool. Because it is. Get involved.
DITCH THE PLASTIC BAGS, YEP THAT INCLUDES THE BIN LINERS
I was reluctant to list this one actually because it’s such a no-brainer. There are so many bag alternatives out there. Take a backpack, Boomerang Bag, whatever you have lying around. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t own a plastic bag alternative.
But the tricky part is when you forget them. I’m so obsessed with this one, that if I do forget I either have to purchase another bag or I have to load up the pockets and only purchase what I can carry. My ex and I used to make a game of it, how much stuff could you load up on your body. We’d look like total cheeseburgers walking out of the shop, but we always had a laugh. For bigger stuff you can always grab a box off one of the supermarket shelves and load up!
“What about my bin liner?” Nope. No excuse. It was only two generations ago our parents and grandparents were happily existing without plastic bags and that includes for waste management.
Doing a good job of separating your waste should see you hardly need a bin. Soft plastics can be recycled now at various locations around Australia (although refusing is best), and if you compost, food scraps should go back to the earth. What’s left? It now takes me about three weeks to fill a bin (sometimes longer), and I only use paper bags from produce, or even the odd takeaway place. You can even fold your own bin liner using newspaper – check out this nifty tutorial by the legends at Boomerang Bags.
DITCH THE FOOD WRAPPING
Cling wrap is one that slides under the radar constantly. It’s heavily used in catering and around the home to protect food, keep leftovers fresh and pack lunches. But luckily crafty humans are onto this one and you can totally re-think the way you manage food around the home.
Try taking on the nude food (package free) philosophy every day. Investing in some decent containers to store your lunches for work or school is a must do! With a little online stalking you will soon discover the world of packaging alternatives to keep your meals plastic-free.
DITCH THE PLASTIC TOOTHBRUSHES
This was a huge one for me and came about after a horrific beach clean I was involved in at Royal National Park. Our Landcare group was doing some work in a pretty remote part of the park. We finished early and decided to head down to the beach and pick up any plastic that might have been there. What we stumbled across had such a profound impact on me that I rethought all of my consumer behaviours as a human being in that moment. Not only was the beach lined with bits of broken up plastic, but there were Barbies, toy trucks, dolls body parts, Kinder Surprise and Happy Meal toys, plastic bottles, buckets, balls, lighters and toothbrushes. So many toothbrushes. What was a remote beach in a National Park had suddenly become a dumping ground for everything I had consumed in my life. Although this load was a result of the currents delivering urban waste after rain and storm events from nearby Sydney, these were all items I had owned at some point and had also discarded. For what? A fleeting moment of perceived happiness or convenience? It was in that moment that it hit me, I was a massive part of the problem. And that kind of sucked.
So, to start the ball rolling I vowed to never to use a plastic toothbrush again. And I have never looked back.
Bamboo toothbrushes are so much nicer, my gums are happier and they break down! There are many companies selling these, again a quick online search will allow you to compare what is out there. Alternatively, most health food shops stock these now.
Stepping into a plastic-free life does bring its ups and downs, and as you start to challenge yourself you will experience days of blissful ease to complete paralysis and meltdown in the shopping isle.
One little trick I’ve taken on is to set up a little single-use swear jar. So for any item I need to purchase which is packaged in plastic, automatically incurs a penalty of a gold coin. So for some crackers for example, that’s one coin for the wrapper, and one coin for the tray. All $$ raised by the end of the year will go into our local Landcare group towards conservation projects we run for young people in our region. But you could send this on to any charity you feel connected to.
What I like about the single-use swear jar is that it’s not a get out of jail free card, it actually stimulates deeper thinking around my purchasing behaviour. So as I go for the convenience, I then stand there holding the item firstly cursing how much it is going to actually cost me with the swear jar, but then I start to question if I actually need it.
“Can I make this myself? Can someone else make this for me? (my preferred choice), or can I go with something fresher and package free?”
I have saved myself a lot of money doing this, and am probably healthier for it too. Clean package-free food is always a better option.
KEEP CHALLENGING YOURSELF
Once you start to make small changes in your life, you will be up for bigger things. Challenge yourself in the way you live life and the impact you are having, and don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon. We are all capable of change, the key is to keep at it and have fun along the way.
WHO TO FOLLOW
To stay up to date with the plastic pollution discussion and for ideas on how you can have an impact, there are loads of plastic-free, waste-free living blogs and social media accounts you can follow.
My top five picks are:
Of course, there’s more. Don’t limit yourself to these. Start stalking, start changing, and share your journey along the way. You never know who you will inspire to take on new ways, your action is part of the ripple effect in the bigger wave of change.