Being a regular surfer, I’m unfortunately only too aware of the single-use plastic cancer affecting our oceans and beaches. Hardly a surf session goes by without my fellow wave-riders and me coming across some kind of plastic related debris and trying to carry as many items as we can to the recycling bin without dropping our boards in the process. Although a real stoke killer, this shouldn’t be surprising, as it’s estimated that only a third of UK consumers’ plastic is currently being recycled , with a truckload of plastics entering our seas every minute, from litter, landfill and from our plugholes. Such is this level of threat to our seas, to wildlife and to ourselves, the United Nations has deemed plastic pollution as a ‘planetary crisis’.
Thankfully some well-publicised campaigns have encouraged us to change ingrained habits and avoid disposable plastic when we’re out and about – using cloth shopping bags, refusing plastic straws as well as carrying our own re-usable drinking bottles and coffee cups. But what about plastic products lurking in our homes that sometimes go under the radar? I recently had a look at some everyday things I was using and was alarmed to discover the extent to which plastic had seeped into everyday items without me realising. So after making some adjustments, here are 5 simple suggestions for changes you can make at home which could have a big impact on reducing plastic pollution.
1. Swap tea bags for loose leaf tea – How many of us knew that teabags contain plastic? I was really shocked to recently discover this. According to a report by Which? Gardening, the majority of teabags contain polypropylene, meaning that as well as not being fully biodegradable, we could be ingesting plastic particles with our tea leaves.
A simple solution for me was to start drinking loose leaf tea. After switching, I found that it wasn’t much more time-consuming, and bonus, tea tasted fuller and more flavoursome. But if you can’t handle life without the bags, the Which? report found one brand of conventional teabag was polypropylene-free: Jacksons of Piccadilly. Also, Teapigs has recently changed its entire range from nylon mesh to a 100% compostable material made from corn starch, giving another green option.
2. Ditch un-recyclable coffee pods – We have become addicted to coffee pods. Despite being more expensive and not as eco-friendly as ground or instant coffee, Kantar World Panel claims that almost 200 million single use coffee capsules are being bought in the UK every year. As most pods are made from a combination of plastics and aluminium, they are not biodegradable, not easily recyclable and most of them end up in landfill. Given that it takes 150 to 500 years for aluminium and plastic capsules to breakdown, this is not good news for our environment. So what are the alternatives?
One option would be to return to the French press or buy a stainless stove-top espresso maker. If you struggle to live without the convenience of pods, fear not, there are now some compostable ones on the market as well as re-usable stainless steel ones. As well as producing much less packaging waste, the stainless steel kind could also save you money in the long term, which makes up for the initial cost. My husband is a real coffee-lover and uses some from Sealpod.
3. Use bars of soap instead of liquid varieties – As well as being packaged in plastic containers, the production of liquid soap has a larger carbon food print than bar soaps. But thanks to the perception that bar soap is unhygienic and covered in germs, sales have been falling steadily in favour of the liquid variety over the years. But do these beliefs really ring true? In 2015, a team of Korean researchers discovered that there was no significant difference between the bactericidal effects of plain soap and antibacterial soap in washing hands. So as well as being better for the environment, using bar soap seems just as effective as being hygienic. Another potential benefit in returning to bar soap is that it’s cheaper (depending on what you buy), as we use less soap each wash compared with liquid. And while you’re at it, don’t just stop at hand soap – there are some great shampoo and shower bar options on the market too to reduce your plastic consumption even more.
4. Stop using cling film – Why are we still using cling film? It’s simple to keep food fresh without using disposable plastic: plates, bowls, tea towels, jars, re-usable food containers can all be used instead. If you’re still stuck on old habits though, an eco-alternative would be to buy some beeswax or soya-wax re-usable wraps and cloth sandwich wraps, which are becoming more and more popular and accessible.
5. Swap conventional sponges and brushes for earth friendly alternatives – Hands up who like me, uses ecological washing up liquid, but still uses a plastic sponge and scrubbing brush? Our everyday sponges are typically plastic-based and can also contain assorted chemicals and synthetic foam as well as being packaged in the stuff. As sponges typically invite bacteria due to their porous nature, they need to be replaced frequently – not great for increasing plastic waste as well as releasing micro plastics down our plugholes. There are so many earth-friendly alternatives available,made from natural sustainable materials that are easily bio-degradable; and are just as effective at cleaning dishes. I’ve just switched from a plastic sponge to an ‘unsponge’ – a great plastic free alternative that can be washed and used time and again.
Hopefully, these 5 simple suggestions will inspire you to make some changes at home to reduce everyday plastic consumption. The plastic threat to our planet is only too real, but by changing some ingrained habits and by making some everyday adjustments, we can make a huge impact in helping to reduce it. As consumers, we have enormous power, and can use our wallets and our actions to call for environmentally friendlier alternatives which won’t harm our oceans and wildlife.
Finally, another easy and effective way of helping to tackle plastic pollution is to support some excellent organisations which are at the frontline of taking on this global threat and get involved with some projects. I met my husband on a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean, so you never know how karma will repay you!
Surfers Against Sewage – https://www.sas.org.uk/
Marine Conservation Society – https://www.mcsuk.org/
City to sea – https://www.citytosea.org.uk/
2 minute beach clean – https://beachclean.net/
Less plastic – https://lessplastic.co.uk/