We all know 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle'. But the first thing we should do to help prevent plastic pollution is to 'Refuse' single-use plastics
“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!”
It's a mantra that we're all familiar with, and although it can sometimes require a little extra effort, many people are doing their bit for the environment by reducing the amount of packaging they use, reusing waste materials whenever possible, and recycling rubbish rather than throwing it into the bin.
We'd argue that there should be a fourth 'R' – which should in fact be the first.
With these four actions you can go a long way to reducing your impact on the environment. Here are some tips to make it easier.
Refusing single-use plastics when they're offered is the first action you should take to reduce your impact on the environment. Although the government is recognising the harm these cause – especially to the marine environment – and is gradually banning some items, there are still lots of non-recyclable containers, wrappings and other things out there that are offered regularly.
By refusing single-use disposable items when they're offered, you're not only reducing your own plastic consumption – you're also sending a clear message to retailers and restaurateurs that disposable plastics are not acceptable. You may also be unknowingly influencing other consumers, by setting a good example.
Taking a reusable coffee cup with you on a day out can help reduce the mountain of takeaway cups that are disposed of each day. Similarly, carry a set of cutlery – you can buy some beautiful bamboo travel sets that are biodegradable when disposed of – so you don't need a throwaway plastic fork for your lunchtime salad.
If you have time, packing up your own packed lunch, using reusable food containers and eco-friendly, non-plastic food wrap, will avoid takeaways that come in disposable packaging.
And carry water in a reusable drinking bottle, made from either BPA-free plastic or stainless steel. One Green Bottle, who supply stainless drinks bottles and lunchboxes, have estimated that their customers have already potentially saved over 10 billion single use plastic bottles from going into landfill or into the ocean.
drinking bottles have wide mouths for easy filling and cleaning, come in a range of stylish designs, and are shipped in zero-waste packaging. Their Life Collection bottles feature thermal insulation that keeps drinks cold for 24 hours (or hot for 12 hours). These bottles, if looked after well, can last for many years – and when finished with, they are 100% recyclable.
Something else to avoid is balloons. Releasing balloons to mark a special occasion or remember a loved one may seem like a lovely idea, but many balloons take a long time to break down – if at all. They often end up in the countryside or in waterways, where they can cause serious harm to wildlife. And when balloons are filled with helium, it's especially wasteful – the gas is a non-renewable resource that's of vital use in medicine.
A better and more eco-friendly idea for a celebration is to plant trees. will plant a tree or a grove of trees on your behalf – this will help to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands, creating new habitats for some of the UK's most iconic wildlife.
There are all kinds of other ways to stop buying plastic. See our for some ideas for keeping plastic out of the bathroom.
There are lots of ways you can reduce the amount of rubbish in your household. Shopping wisely is the first step: plan meals carefully to avoid over-shopping and food wastage and choose products with as little packaging as possible. A single red pepper, for example, does not need a plastic bag and can go straight into the trolley.
For items that do need a bag – lots of carrots for example – invest in a set of reusable produce bags, such as these .
Shopping at the market or local farmer's market, and asking stallholders to put produce straight into your basket or shopping bag, is another way to cut down on plastic packaging. Or sign up to an organic veg box scheme – these tend to use a minimal amount of packaging.
If you get infuriated by the amount of junk mail that drops through your letter box each morning, you can sign up to the Mailing Preference Service by calling 0845 7034599 or visit
There are lots of ways to reuse unwanted items, including reusing plastic bags when you go shopping and using empty plastic containers for growing things in the garden.
Registering with your local freecycle group () is a good way to get rid of unwanted items, rather than throwing them away. Or you could donate them to charity. In some charity shops, such as Sue Ryder and the Red Cross, you can sign a gift aid declaration form, which – if you are a taxpayer – increases the value of your donated goods. The shop will then keep you up to date with how much your goods have raised, which can give you a feel-good glow.
And if you prefer hard cash to a feel-good glow, you could always use ebay () and pocket the profit!
Most councils offer a kerbside recycling service for paper, plastic, glass and tins. Separating your rubbish out and putting it into the correct bin is not at all time-consuming – yet, in the UK we still send lots of recyclable materials to landfill.
One of the worst things to put in the bin is kitchen waste such as fruit and vegetable peelings, teabags and eggshells. When sent to landfill food scraps produce methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – as it rots down.
Not only that, but rotting food in landfill sites also produces leachate. Leachate sounds nasty, and it is. It's a highly toxic liquid that needs years of collection and treatment to prevent it from becoming a hazardous waste and polluting ground water.
There are two ways to prevent kitchen waste from ending up in landfill. The first is to compost your scraps – and if you are a gardener, this makes perfect sense, as you end up with lots of rich, crumbly goodness for your veggie patch and flowerbeds.
If you don't have a garden, most district and borough councils will collect food waste along with your kerbside recycling.
Another way to reduce the amount of kitchen waste going to landfill is to reduce the amount of waste in your kitchen!
The average household throws away around £500 worth of food every year – and that's food that is perfectly edible. In fact, if all this food was eaten, rather than binned, it would have the same carbon impact as taking one in four cars off the UK's roads.
With careful planning and shopping, and a bit of kitchen creativity with leftovers, this waste of food and money could be prevented. An excellent website is , with lots of ideas and recipes, including some great “rescue recipes” which will use up those ingredients that are past their best.
For information on how to recycle, including a handy “What to do with…” section, see the .
Little Green Space June 2019
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