How to use less plastic – 5 changes you can make today

Plastic pollution is rapidly becoming an environmental crisis.

More than 40% of the plastic produced every year goes into single use products – whether that’s food wrappers, bottles or plastic bags.

While it’s estimated that 79% of the plastic waste ever produced is currently sitting in landfill, dumps or the environment.

12% has been incinerated, and just 9% has been recycled.

Using less plastic in the first place is far better than trying to dispose of it efficiently, so here are five changes you can make to cut your own plastic consumption:

1. Invest in a reusable coffee cup

Disposable coffee cups are made from paper lined with plastic, which makes them very difficult to recycle. As of 2017, there were only three specialist facilities in the whole of the UK that could recycle this material.

Close up of young woman holding a cup of takeaway coffee cup, shallow depth of field
Disposable coffee cups are very difficult to recycle, meaning most end up in landfill
(Image: Getty)

Fewer than one in 400 disposable coffee cups are currently recycled, which means that 99.75% go into landfill.

Taking your own, reusable coffee mug will not only cut down on your plastic consumption, but it may also save you money. Many coffee shops, including Starbucks, Pret A Manger, Costa Coffee and Greggs, will now give you a discount on your drink if you bring your own mug.

2. Carry a reusable water bottle

The average person in the UK uses 150 plastic water bottles every year, which means as a country, we get through 7.7 billion annually.

While some of these are recycled, a significant proportion ends up in landfill, or is sent to be incinerated.

November 15, 2019 - University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - A waste picker collecting plastic bottles at the university dump at twilight.
A significant proportion of plastic bottles ends up in landfill

Investing in one, reusable water bottle will significantly cut your plastic consumption – and again, will save you money in the long run.

The Refill app allows you to find locations where you can top up your water bottle for free.

3. Bring your own bag

Plastic bag sales in supermarkets have fallen by 90% since the 5p charge was introduced, but there’s still more to be done.

Whether you’re shopping in a supermarket or on the high street, always bring a reusable bag to carry your goods.

4. Use your own containers

As more and more people become conscious of their plastic use, zero waste shops have been growing in popularity across the UK.

These allow customers to bring their own tubs, jars and bottles to be filled with goods – whether that’s pasta, coffee, shampoo or herbs and spices.

If you don’t have a zero waste shop near you, you can still minimise your plastic use at local supermarkets.

Try to buy loose fruit and veg, or ask whether the deli counter will fill your own containers with meat or cheese.

Sainsbury’s has committed to halving its plastic packaging by 2025, and will be introducing refillable and reusable schemes for customers to take advantage of.

And many independent shops and markets will be happy to fill your containers for you – just ask.

5. Think about the bathroom

From shampoo bottles, to toothbrushes, to disposable wet wipes, your bathroom is likely filled with plastic – some of which can be recycled, and some of which can’t.

There are plenty of swaps you can make:

  • Switch to reusable cotton pads instead of wet wipes
  • Buy bars instead of liquid soap
  • Try a bamboo toothbrush
  • Consider a menstrual cup, or tampons without applicators
  • Try shampoo and conditioner bars instead of bottles
  • Buy recycled, plastic-free toilet paper

Making changes gradually can be more sustainable than trying to overhaul your lifestyle all at once, so choose a few actions per month and see how you get on.

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