The key lessons I think we should take from London's Plastic Free July
Millions of people around the world are taking the challenge to refuse or reduce their use of single-use plastics.
Plastic Free July, the global movement to reduce plastic waste, led by the Plastic Free Foundation, began in 2011 in Australia. Now the campaign is all over my social media feeds and the not-for-profit estimates participants contribute to a total saving of 490 million kg of plastic waste each year.
I’m on a mission to learn and share as much as I can about solutions to tackling plastic pollution.
Here’s what I think we should take from this year’s Plastic Free July.
What everyone should know about tackling plastic waste in a nutshell
Apart from the fact that plastic works its way into pretty much every aspect of our lives, there are some cost-effective alternatives we can swap into our daily routines that can dramatically reduce our dependence on plastic.
Why it’s so important we act now
In case you hadn’t heard, plastic pollution has become a catastrophic issue, affecting our oceans, marine life and low-income communities around the world.
It’s very unlikely now that you’ll be able to go to any beach in the world and not be accompanied by plastic. Plastic is broken down into tiny sand-like grains which are unidentifiable amongst sand. Mae West, the snapping turtle circulating on the internet after being severely damaged by plastic pollution, epitomises how our throwaway culture and attitude towards plastic is impacting not just the land but it’s animals too. She was found being strangled by a plastic milk jug ring she got stuck in as a hatchling.
We see photos on the internet of children swimming amongst plastic debris, families hanging out their washing on rubbish heaps and birds’ stomachs full of plastic.
Plastic was made to last forever. It can only be recycled seven times. It’s then no longer viable and ends up in landfill or somewhere in the ocean. Once in the ocean it makes it’s way into the sea food chain.
Day-to-day we may think that this isn’t our problem or ask what difference we can really make. The truth is that plastic waste is from all of us and when we throw things “away” we need to think about what that means in reality.
Simple habit changes to reduce single-use plastic use
Removing single-use plastic from your daily routine saves you money and the planet. The important thing is, arguably, not that a few individuals do this perfectly, but that lots of people do it imperfectly. Here are some examples where you might be able to change up your habits, perhaps even saving you money while reducing your plastic footprint.
If you work in a big city, buying lunch everyday racks up your weekly bill. By doing a bulk food shop once a week and prepping meals it will stop you from purchasing takeaway containers. The average City worker can use up to 1,000 pieces of single-use plastic per year at work. If you are able to do your bulk food shop at a local market where the fruit and veg isn’t wrapped in plastic, even better!
It sounds obvious, and admittedly it’s often more hassle, but there’s no denying it can help. In a country where we can drink from the tap, use a reusable water bottle. Buy butter wrapped in paper, not in plastic tubs.
Toiletries and laundry
Bring the soap bars back! Seriously, stop buying plastic soap pumps and go for the bar instead when you can.
Have you ever thought about how many shampoo and conditioner bottles you get through? There are more brands popping up that sell the products in solid form and the more we buy them the more they’ll be developed.
I was also shocked to learn women spend roughly £18,00 over the course of their lifetime on sanitary products. It’s estimated that one pad is made of 90% plastic and a pack of menstrual pads is the equivalent of four plastic bags. A moon cup costs on average £20 and lasts for years. Girls, it’s time to invest in a moon cup.
For men and women, pick a metal reusable razor.
It’s also recommended to stop using face wipes. There are lots of brands that sell reusable make-up remover pads that you put in the washing machine.
Another quick win is taking a look at your washing machine tablets. There’s often the plastic of the tablet and the plastic packaging it comes in. I’ve decided to swap out the tablets and welcome the laundry egg to my routine. It’s a small, re-usable plastic (I know) egg that houses pellets. Mine says it’ll last for 720 washes – to be confirmed!
The biggest lesson
This is a great quote I heard: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept”.
We all have a responsibility to continue challenging our decisions to use single-use plastic. Change has to happen today, not tomorrow.
The views are those of the author. We cannot provide investment or pension advice; please speak to an independent adviser should you be uncertain what is appropriate for you.