Plastic. Just the word makes me cringe. All the talk about an ocean containing more garbage than marine wildlife made plastic the enemy. But somehow we can’t seem to be able to live without it. Sometimes I just get lost in my thoughts and wonder how human society grew so dependent of plastic. How the hell did we get to the point where marine waste grew to at least 8 million tonnes?
By now humanity created an entire island formed by a base of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, also referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Our doing generated a wave of plastic that rolls in on the Pacific coast of Honduras crashing on the Bay Islands, which has grown to the proportions to which it can be observed on satellite images.
Our plastic addiction has caused uncountable deaths of innocent animals consuming or getting caught up in the controversial substance. All of this sounds pretty depressing and that is why no one likes to talk about plastic. But I do want talk about it. Because I want to make sure the amount of plastic doesn’t actually outgrow the number of marine wildlife in our oceans, continues taking innocent lives and polluting remote destinations. Even in the era of corona we need to stay motivated to decrease our use of plastic.
USE OF PLASTIC
Okay, so lets take a step back. How did we get so obsessed with plastic in the first place? Apparently this magic substance became significant just a little over 80 years ago. To answer this question I think it would be worthwhile to distinguish two types of uses of plastic. Firstly, we have the essential use of plastic, such as the plastic used in hospitals or to wrap food to allow it to preserve longer or travel long distances. In these cases the use of plastic is essential as it aids to medical care, increases dietary diversity and decreases food waste. Evidently, we have not come up with a better and cheaper substance for these purposes. Yet.
But whenever there is an essential use for something, there is a contradictory non-essential use. Such as in the case of plastic. Most commonly, the non-essential use of plastic merely refers to the convenient use of plastic. Textbook examples of non-essential use of plastic are disposables such as cups, straws, plates, cutlery and well, you name it. Another popular non-essential use is packaging. If someone can explain to me why the earplugs I bought last week were packed in a plastic package the size of my laptop please enlighten me. Lastly, plastic is sometimes hidden in products in the form of microplastic. I categorise these products under non-essential as these have a reusable substitute or are simply redundant. Nonetheless, these products are often used in a disposable context as it might be more convenient for certain situations, for the purpose of ecstatic packaging or to decrease costs in production.
Wait, what’s that? Basically, in the case of non-essential use of plastic, we choose plastic as it is more convenient for us or because its more ecstatic. And frankly, this is what concerns me. Because we claim plastic is the enemy, whereas I feel like the way we use plastic is the actual problem. Should we really blame the substance, or ourselves? Our accustomization to convenience made us weak and supports the use of disposable plastic over and over.
So we try to make up for our behaviour by joining a beach cleanup or similar initiatives. I honestly love the idea of these initiatives and I truly believe it creates a certain awareness of the issue at hand. However, we need to be realistic. Beach cleanups resemble a sink that is flooding and we are mopping up the floor before closing the tap. To realistically tackle our issue with plastic we need to change our habits to eliminate the need for beach cleanups.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There are countless things we can do to close the tap before mopping the floor. In order to close the tap we have to change our habits. Significantly. We have to get used to leave our house armed with tools to live a plastic reduced lifestyle. Oh by the way, I don’t like the term plastic free as this is simply impossible in 21st century, so lets stick to plastic reduced lifestyle. Check out these 11 tips to reduce your plastic consumption.
Don’t we just love buying our water bottles cooled at the store if we can’t drink it from the tap. I can’t deny I love this too but think about what happens to your bottle after you finish your last drop. Thats right, it ends up in the ocean or a landfill. Planning ahead, beyond convenience, and cooling tap water and filtering it before consumption is by far the easiest way to avoid single-use plastic bottles. Also when travelling. I use a Care Plus waterfilter that includes a filter and a straw which I would highly recommend for long- and short trips.
2. WASH YOURSELF PLASTIC FREE
Soap is just the worst. It comes in plastic packaging and contains particles of micro-plastic that ends up in our tap water eventually. But as we do know now soap is an essential weapon against COVID-19. But there is a solution. I find the use of soap bars comforting as they decrease plastic and microplastic waste. Moreover, they last longer, travel lighter and are by far cheaper than bottled soap.
3. USE PLASTIC FREE FACE WASH AND TOOTH PASTE
Be wary about the face wash and tooth paste you use. Make sure to avoid products containing ‘polypropylene’ or ‘polyethylene’ to avoid microplastic pollution. I highly recommend the Himalayan Charcoal face wash soap bar from Body Shop(which is vegan too). Organic plastic free toothpastes are a growing trend and you will find them everywhere, if you take your time to look. The best option would be a toothpaste in a glass jar such this toothpaste from the Ethical Superstore.
4. BRUSH YOUR TEETH SUSTAINABLY
Instead of buying a disposable toothbrush, you can also choose to purchase a toothbrush produced from reused plastic. Even better, you can order a load of bamboo toothbrushes with The Bamboo Toothbrush before your departure to eliminate all plastic waste.
5. USE ECO-FRIENDLY EAR SWABS
There are two ways to reduce plastic waste as a result of ear swabs. The first one is to purchase ear swabs created from paper instead of plastic. However, the best way to go is to invest in an ear swab with Last Swab, as these can be washed and reused. There are two types of ear swabs by Last Swab, one to clean your ears and one to perfect your make up.
6. USE COTTON BAGS
Most countries have abolished the free distribution of single-use plastic bags in stores. To avoid having to purchase a bag it is essential to carry your own bags. Be wary with cotton bags though, as research has proven a cotton bag needs to be used 1500 times to equalise the environmental impact of a single-use plastic bag. Therefore, don’t try to be fashionable by owning 12 cotton bags and just stick to the ones you have.
7. FIGHT THE STRAW WARS
I suppose you heard or saw the video of the turtle choking on a straw. Assuming you have a heart this must have hurt. Luckily there is no essential need for us to use a straw. If you really feel like using one, you can carry your own bamboo or (collapsable) iron straw. Some restaurants started using paper or spaghetti straws, but with your own reusable straw you are always prepared.
8. RETHINK PACKAGES
Somehow humanity has come up with the idea to wrap fresh fruit and vegetables in plastic. The best way to avoid this non-essential nonsense use of plastic is to purchase fruits and vegetables which are not wrapped in plastic. Some supermarkets started decreasing their plastic use in the veggie department and markets often offer organic fruits and vegetables plastic free.
9. USE REUSABLE CUPS
Out of convenience our coffee and other drinks are often served in a plastic cup. I get it, it is nice to get a good coffee at Starbucks and take it with you on the train. But you can make the difference by carrying your own cup. Either buy one of the fashionable Bamboo cups stojo cups and there is no need for reusable cups, but you can still have your coffee on the train. The same applies for any other kind of disposable that has a reusable substitute such as cutlery and food storage containers.
10. STOP MATERIALISM
The 21st century has become the century of materialism. Now more than ever we feel like we need to own a lot of things to be happy. During our travels our materialistc desires might persuade us to buy a lot of souvenirs. Often all the things we desire are wrapped in plastic. Take a step back to think about how badly you need something before you buy it. Will it truly make you happier or might it be better to spend this money otherwise? Or is there a substitute product that is packed with less plastic or no plastic at all?
11. BUY IN BULK
This advise might contradict the point I tried to make before, but please bear with me. If there is something you consume in large portions wrapped in plastic it might be worthwhile to purchase this item in the biggest quantity available. Take me and coffee for example. I am obsessed with coffee so I buy coffee in bulk, as bigger packages last longer but also relatively produce less waste. Two packages of 500 grams produce more waste than one package of a kilogram for example, and are relatively cheaper too.
Living a plastic reduced lifestyle may have financial implications and requires a change of habits. In order to close our tap and stop the ocean from flooding with plastic we might need to invest in essential gadgets such as a waterfilter, cotton bags and a cup. Our plastic free beauty products might be more expensive. It is hard to say no to ourselves and control our materialistic behaviour. Sometimes it is not convenient to purchase in bulk, especially when travelling as we need to carry our purchases around.
But can we really put a price on the future of our planet? Does humanity truly have the right to put our own need for convenience above the importance of a healthy habitat for other animal species? It is time. We have run out of excuses and we have to significantly rethink the way we use plastic. We might not have the solution for our plastic addiction, but we can join plastic rehab today by eliminating the use of non-essential plastic in the comfort of our homes and during our travel adventures. Because in the end our problem is not plastic itself. The problem is the way we use plastic.