We use plastic for nearly everything in our lives. In fact, plastic has become so ubiquitous that it is hard to find reasonable plastic alternatives.
From shopping bags, toothbrushes, storing food, product containers, you name it, plastic is involved in it.
The problem is that the majority of this plastic is single-use. Which means it can’t be recycled. Instead, it’s thrown away or littered and ends up as plastic pollution.
To give you some idea of the sheer amount of plastic pollution, here are just a few worrying facts:
- Environmentalists estimate there could be around 5.25 trillion macro and micro-plastic pieces floating in our oceans.
- There are an estimated 300 billion pieces of plastic floating in the Arctic Ocean alone.
- Every single day 8 million pieces of plastic pollution end up in our oceans.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area four times the size of France of plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean.
- Marine plastic pollution has been found in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 40% of seabird species and 36% of seals examined.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you look at the amount of plastic waste polluting the planet. And yet as individuals, it can be relatively simple to change a few of our habits. After all, if we all take on a couple of lifestyle changes then plastic pollution will eventually start to reduce.
You would be surprised at how easy it is, once you get started, to swap your single-use plastic for plastic alternatives. If you are struggling, it is important to realize that decades ago we didn’t have all this plastic.
We used cloth or wicker shopping bags, milk was delivered in bottles, beauty products came in jars, and our food was wrapped in paper. As a matter of fact, plastic was nowhere to be seen. Therefore, if our parents and grandparents could exist without plastic, so can we.
Here’s a list of products that contain plastic and their plastic alternatives:
1. Cotton Buds
Walk down any beach and you will see hundreds of little plastic sticks littering the shores. These come from cotton buds that have a totally unnecessary plastic stem in the middle. They end up on our beaches because people flush them down the toilet.
This is probably the simplest lifestyle change you can make that will create a huge difference. There are already talks to ban these types of cotton buds but why wait?
There are plastic alternatives available in the shops right now. They contain cardboard middles and degrade naturally.
This is a difficult one to swap as there are not really any plastic alternatives for the bristles on a toothbrush. There are products that have a bamboo stem.
However, there is a company called Boie that make 100% recyclable toothbrushes. The brush head is made from a type of rubber which can be recycled.
3. Tea Bags
Yes, this shocked me as well. I am a tea-guzzling Brit who loves nothing better than a strong, builder’s cup of char in the morning. But I found out that most of the tea bags in the UK contained a thin layer of polypropylene plastic.
Not only is this not biodegradable, but it is also more likely to end up in the earth and eventually in the seas. Luckily there’s a simple plastic alternative to tea bags, loose tea. Besides, it tastes much better anyway.
4. Cling Film/Wrap
Sometimes I forget that the really thin stuff like cling film contains plastic. Nevertheless, it does and it’s made from crude oil and it won’t biodegrade. There are other ways to keep your food fresh on the go or in the fridge.
Beeswax food wraps are not only biodegradable but reusable as well. In addition, if you don’t want to use anything animal-related there are vegan substitutes.
5. Plastic Cutlery
Another bugbear of mine. White, plastic cutlery. This isn’t even designed to be used several times as repeated cleaning or use can cause the edges to fracture and harbour germs. Think of the energy it must have taken to produce it in the first place?
One company, Bakeys Edible Cutlery, has come up with a novel idea they hope will catch on – edible cutlery. The cutlery is made using an abundant and rapid-growing crop called sorghum. A Bakeys representative said:
“Of the energy it takes to produce one plastic utensil, we can produce 100 sorghum-based spoons.”
The cutlery is organic and dairy-free, suitable for vegans, contains no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives and lasts for up to 3 years.
OUT AND ABOUT
6. Plastic Straws
This has to be the most needless and useless single-use plastic item there has ever been made. Use it once and then throw it away. You can now get plastic alternatives made from bamboo or even better, steel which lasts for ages.
You can also refuse them in bars and restaurants. If you are feeling extra brave, ask to see the manager and tell her or him why it is so bad for the environment.
7. Wet Wipes
Did you know that wet wipes contain a non-biodegradable plastic in them? This is another item that gets flushed down the toilet and is responsible for a whopping 93% of all sewer blockages in the UK. They also end up on our beaches and in the oceans.
There are plastic alternatives to the traditional wet wipes. Most are made from wood pulp and starch which will biodegrade. If you want to make your own that’s even simpler. Take an old Tupperware box, moisten a flannel or cut up an old towel, and pop in the box.
It saves the plastic box going to a landfill and uses up old clothes.
Unless you want to wear leather all year round, finding footwear that contains no plastic in them can be tricky. One US company AllBirds Footwear uses sustainable wool instead of synthetics.
They have a strapline ‘Mother Nature made us do it’, and feedback from many happy customers. The company even uses 90% recycled cardboard to ship products.
I hope I’ve shown that there are lots of ways to swap your single-use plastic for plastic alternatives.
For more information on plastic alternatives, check out the Marine Conservation Society who has loads of useful tips and advice.
Here is an amazing idea – One man’s trash can be turned into another’s building blocks: