When you first embark on a plastic-free journey, it can be difficult when it comes to changing your everyday habits. It takes a lot of research, shopping around, and discipline to find alternatives to the items you need.
It's really easy to trip up and forget things when you first start trying to quit plastics, things like asking for no straw in your drink or bringing your own shopping bags.
Not only that, but it can be frustrating, but you must have patience with yourself; you have lived your whole life one way, only to be told now that you must change it in order to save the planet… It's OK to mess up from time to time, we're only human!
It can also be difficult to know where to start when making those personal changes. So here are five easy ways to go plastic-free!
1. Say No to Plastic Straws & Plastic Bags
This, for me, is the best starting point, it's easy to do and will slowly change your way of thinking. Plastic straws and bags are one of the most common polluters; In the US alone, it is estimated 500 million straws are used every day, and in the whole world 500 billion plastic bags are used every year.
Neither type of plastics can be recycled and even though they're designed to last forever, they're often only used once. Sadly, the sight of straws and bags in the ocean is becoming the norm.
As humans, we are responsible for ocean pollution. If you don't want to be a part of it, don't contribute to the use of single-use plastics.
When ordering drinks, ALWAYS ask for NO straw. Sometimes the bartender will automatically put a straw in your drink, so make sure you ask them not to.
When shopping, bring your own reusable bags or reuse the same plastic bags every time you shop. I always have a small foldable bag in my purse just in case I need it - this has saved me a lot of times!
2. Purchase a Reusable Water Bottle & Coffee Mug
Plastic bottles and coffee cups (including lids) are up there with straws and bags regarding the top contributors to ocean pollution. Plastic bottles and most disposable coffee cups aren't biodegradable.
Although coffee cups have a paper appearance, the inside is lined with thin plastic! Most plastic bottles can be recycled, but many still end up in landfills and the ocean. In a landfill, seabirds sometimes feed on bottle lids etc and other plastic can blow into the ocean. In the ocean, they can be mistaken for food by various animals.
An easy way to avoid having to use these plastics in the first place is to purchase a reusable water bottle and travel mug.
A flask works for both needs and is a great way to keep drinks both cold and warm. You can fill your reusable water bottle before leaving the house to keep in your car or bag. On journeys, take your favourite hot drink with you in your travel mug, or keep it empty in the car to give to the barista at your pit stop. If you forget to bring your travel mug and need to get coffee in a disposable cup, try to avoid using a plastic lid.
As a positive, some companies are developing compostable coffee cups now, so that’s some good news!
3. Choose Loose Fruit & Veg
It's a constant disappointment to see the amount of plastic wrapping on fruit and veg at supermarkets… You try so hard to quit plastics only to see the crazy amount of plastic in your local store, it can be disheartening. However, in most stores, there is always a plastic-free (or at least less plastic) option.
As customers, it's important to put your money into the things that you want to support. If you don't want fruit and veg to be wrapped in plastic, don't support the company by buying their products. Instead, purchase the loose products and use your own reusable bags to save using the shop's plastic ones.
If more and more people 'cut the demand' on plastic-wrapped foods, companies will listen and change their packaging. They will always provide for what the customers want in order to make more sales.
Even if you aren't purchasing the foods wrapped in plastic, others will, because they're usually the cheaper option and are easier to carry. People will often choose the convenient option, after all, connivance kills the planet.
You don't need to accept this, demand supermarkets to stop wrapping fruit and veg in plastic! Write letters, make phone calls, form petitions - use your voice.
4. Stop Using Products With Microbeads
Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastics often used in face cleansers, body scrubs, face masks, shower gels and toothpaste. Microbeads act as exfoliators, filling agents and emulsifiers. They are extremely dangerous to the environment and products can contain up to 100,000 pieces of small plastics in each bottle.
808 trillion microbeads go down drains in the US every day. From the drain, they will eventually reach the ocean. Many animals ingest the small plastics while feeding; filter feeders such as whales and manta rays, are especially vulnerable to microbead pollution. Plastic is toxic, so if ingested can cause serious health problems. This applies to humans too, so using these products could also put you at risk.
The good news? There ARE eco-friendly alternatives to microbeads that more and more companies are starting to use. Companies are replacing microbeads with natural alternatives like crushed shells, sugar and salt!
Before buying a product, always check if it contains ingredients such as; polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polylactic acid or nylon. If it has any of these ingredients, it contains thousands of deadly microbeads!
5. Use Bar-form Products Instead of Bottled
Pretty much all products you find on the high street come in some form of a plastic container. Haircare, lotions, lip balms, exfoliators, makeup. A lot of ocean pollution is made up of bottles and containers from these products we use. Unfortunately, few cosmetic bottles are recyclable, so much of the waste ends up in landfills or the ocean.
As well as this, chemicals used in products are harmful to the environment once washed down the drain… We can't exactly stop using cosmetics, as they keep up feeling and looking good. Luckily, there are plastic-free, organic alternatives to all the everyday essentials.
Many companies now do plastic-free, organic cosmetics, so you can enjoy feeling amazing without the guilt. You can find liquid products in bio-based, metal or glass bottles, and you can also find solid bar forms.
Things like shampoo, face cleanser, body wash, deodorant and toothpaste can all be found in eco-friendly packaging, it's just a matter of looking around! It's important to find products that are kind to you and the environment.
These are great first steps in going plastic-free. There are many more ways to ditch the plastic, so keep an eye out for more tips! A great way to become motivated and inspired to quit plastics is to follow people online who give information and tips on the topic.
I recommend you follow @Plasticfreemermaid, she’s been plastic-free for the past decade and is great at advising anyone hoping to cut down on their plastic use.
Written by Keira Nicohl
I am a marine conservation student in the UK and love to be in the sea whether it be through free/scuba diving, swimming or surfing (or at least trying to).
I am very passionate about the environment and encouraging others to care for it! My main focus lies with plastic pollution as I feel it’s one of the worst issues we have right now.
I am hoping we can all do our bit to make a difference; ripples create waves!