Plastic pollution is a global problem that needs tackling urgently. Governments must take action, but there is also plenty we can do
We all know that plastic pollution is a real problem. In the UK alone, we generate 2.3m tons of plastic packaging waste each year – and only 35% of this is recycled.
The #BeatPlasticPollution tag on social media highlights many of the issues of plastic pollution, as well as offering solutions. One suggestion is for holidaymakers to collect three pieces of plastic from the beach, and recycle them.
But you don't need to live near, or visit, the seaside for this to be a great idea – you can also collect rubbish when out for a country walk. Discarded plastic can injure wildlife on land, or find its way into rivers and eventually the sea – so if everyone picked up and recycled just a few pieces of plastic when they were out and about, it would have a huge impact on our countryside.
As with many things, though, prevention is better than cure. To really tackle plastic pollution on our planet, we need to reduce our use of disposable plastics as much as possible. The UK has already banned plastic microbeads (tiny pieces of plastic found in many cosmetics) and has pledged to do the same with drinking straws, plastic drinks stirrers, and cotton buds.
But there are many other ways that individuals can act to reduce plastic pollution. Here are seven easy tips that could help.
Use reusable shopping bags
Now that it costs at least five pence to buy a plastic bag in most shops, this makes economical sense too. But all of us forget to take our bags to the supermarket every once in a while. So if you do need to buy a carrier bag when out shopping, choose a stronger one that can be reused multiple times. Even better is to keep a stash of lightweight organic cotton bags in the car boot, so that you always have them close at hand.
Enjoy a plastic-free cup of tea
Yes, that's right: there's a thin layer of plastic in some UK brands of teabag. Even if you compost teabags, the plastic breaks down and ends up as tiny pieces in the soil – which could then end up being washed into rivers and the sea. Many teabag manufacturers are working on this problem – including the Co-op, which is developing a fully biodegradable paper teabag for its own-brand 99 range, which should be available later this year.
There are a handful of companies, including , that are already producing environmentally friendly teabags – but to really ensure a plastic-free brew, choose loose-leaf tea and make a cuppa the old fashioned way. If using a teapot and strainer seems like too much effort, invest in an infuser that sits in your mug – you can then tap the used leaves straight into the compost.
…and ditch the disposable coffee cup
In the UK, it's reported that . These cups are often not recyclable – meaning they end up in landfill. Most coffee shops that sell take-away coffee in plastic cups now offer to fill up your own reusable cup instead – and some even give you money off your drink when you use your own cup. There are loads of reusable cups available to buy, but the cups from are particularly good. They come in a range of sizes and beautiful designs, and are made from biodegradable organic bamboo fibre.
Choose unpackaged fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables in the supermarket are often presented in a plastic box or shrink-wrapped in plastic. Choosing unpackaged carrots, courgettes and broccoli is often cheaper – and has the added advantage that you can buy the exact quantity you need, so avoiding food waste.
Even better is to subscribe to an organic veg box scheme. These deliver fresh veg to your door, usually in a re-usable and recyclable cardboard box. For maximum environmental benefit, choose a local company – then you'll be supporting the local economy too! Or, buy fresh produce from your nearest farmers' market. .
Say no to single-use plastics
According to UNESCO, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. A simple switch from single-use plastics – like water bottles – to reusable items could make a huge difference. Using filtered tap water instead of bottled mineral water will save you money too!
Like other new and single-use plastics, small plastic bottles of hand sanitiser – the kind you pop into your bag or keep in your car – are adding to plastic pollution. Millions of these little plastic bottles aren't recycled – ending up instead in landfill or our oceans.
smol – the eco-friendly subscription-based provider of sustainable cleaning and laundry products – offer a large 500ml bottle of to keep at home, with a smaller bottle to refill and take out with you.
The hand sanitiser is made with natural ingredients that are kind to skin to avoid irritation and drying out. The large bottles are made from recycled plastic, and are 100% recyclable. You can send the empty bottles back to smol to be reused, and for every four bottles returned smol will donate 24 of their laundry capsules to charity.
The small bottles are reusable, and made with durable, lightweight aluminium – they should last for years, and can be refilled over and over again.
Don't cling onto cling film
There are plenty of ways to store food or pack up a lunch without resorting to cling film. This plastic wrap can't be recycled. That means it ends up in landfill – or, even worse, in the countryside, rivers or seas, where it can seriously harm wildlife. And there are some reports that suggest the chemicals cling film contains may be harmful to human health.
Sandwiches or salads for a packed lunch can be transported in a reusable sandwich box. Or try beeswax food wraps – they're biodegradable and reusable, and will keep your food just as fresh. is one option.
Choose bars, not bottles
Plastic shampoo and hand soap bottles can often be recycled. But to reduce your plastic use even further, choose bars of soap wrapped in recyclable packaging. Coconut Blush are handmade in the Peak District and are wrapped in recycled paper from post-consumer waste from UK schools and offices.
There are solid shampoo bars for your hair, too. These are often made from natural, vegan ingredients, and tend to be free from harsh chemicals or parabens. They're also long-lasting and great for travelling.
has even more suggestions for reducing your plastic use. Their #PlasticFreeFriday campaign encourages people to live without plastic for one day a week – and is helping to raise awareness of the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans.
Little Green Space: article updated June 2021
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