The Big Plastic Count, an experiment conducted in May this year by Greenpeace and Everyday Plastic involving nearly 100,000 households, found that the average household throws away 66 single-use plastic wrappers in a week, the equivalent of 3 432 articles in one year. How can you reduce this mountain of plastic – and can it save you money?
Assess the problem
Steve Hynd, of environmental non-profit City to Sea, says: “Save all the plastic you use within a week, then make changes based on what you use the most. For different households, different things may appear.
Cut in the kitchen
The most common items accumulating in the Big Plastic Count were fruit and vegetable wrappers and snack pouches.
Wendy Graham, author of the eco-blog Moral Fibers, says: “The kitchen is the hardest room in the house to reduce reliance on single-use plastic. Supermarkets are not doing enough to reduce their plastic packaging, and in many cases buying food without plastic is neither affordable nor accessible.
Rather than viewing reducing plastic use as an “all or nothing” exercise, Graham says, “Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.”
Changing a few habits can help. “We don’t use cling film. Instead, we use old Tupperware bins to store food or cover it with plates or pot lids. We also do not buy paper towels wrapped in plastic. Instead, I keep a basket of reusable rags to mop up spills. It’s just old cotton rags or old T-shirts worn out beyond repair and then cut into squares,” she says.
Don’t forget your bag
The 5 pence tax on single-use plastic bags introduced in 2015 has reduced their use by 97%. However, in 2019 the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace said supermarkets sold 1.58 billion ‘bags for life’ – the equivalent of 57 per household in the UK and more than one bag a week .
“People come to the supermarket and think, ‘Oh, I don’t have my bag with me. I’ll just buy one of these bags for life, and it’ll be really useful because I’ll have it next time,’ said Hynd.
Except, of course, the next time the same thing happens. Getting into the habit of always keeping a bag in your purse, stroller, laptop bag, or car trunk can help break the cycle.
Find out where to refuel
When City to Sea’s refill campaign began, its research showed that one in five people regularly carried a refillable water bottle. By 2020, that had risen to one in two people.
The campaign started as an attempt to reduce the number of plastic bottles used each year (around 13 billion a year were used in the UK in 2017, including 7.7 billion water bottles).
The organization’s research showed that a key driver of buying bottled water was people not knowing if and where they could refill a reusable bottle.
The campaign started with cafes, pubs and shops in Bristol putting stickers on their windows to let passers-by know they could come in and ask for a free water refill, but has since evolved into an app covering 135 countries and translated into nine languages. “All National Trust properties have just signed up, and we have a partnership with the Welsh Coast Path showing where people can refill their water bottles along the way.”
It now covers coffee in reusable cups, bulk products using your own containers, and take-out food that will fill your lunch box. “It can geotag you and match you to the nearest locations for top-ups. We all have Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Caffè Nero, McDonald’s and Morrisons supermarkets on the map, as well as many independent ones,” Hynd says.
There are also discounts to be had. Starbucks, for example, offers a 25p discount if you bring your own cup. Pret a Manger tops them with 50p, while Costa offers extra loyalty points when customers bring in refillable cups.
People who bought takeaway lunches were responsible for around 10.7 billion single-use plastic waste in 2019. “An easy way to reduce it, and also save money, is to bring food from home,” says resource activist Anna Leitner. and supply chain at Global 2000, an Austrian environmental organization that is part of the Friends of the Earth network. “Prepare an extra serving the night before and bring it to work in a lunch box.”
Otherwise, collect your takeaway meals in a reusable box.
“In our office, we have a cardboard box by the door full of Tupperware containers,” Hynd explains.
“When people go out to buy their lunch, they grab one and take it with them to get their salad, or their soup, or whatever they buy. Then they wash it and put it back in the box.
Beauty and bath plastics
“The simplest and most obvious change is to go from liquid hand soap in bottles to bars of soap. You can get cheap supermarket brand soap, sold in a cardboard box.
“The next step is also to replace bottled shampoo with shampoo bars,” Hynd says.
For beauty products, adopting the “use it first” mantra is the easiest and most cost-effective thing to do, says Graham.
“If you have a closet or drawer full of products, try to use them before buying something new.”
An average package of sanitary napkins contains as much plastic as five carrier bags, according to Natracare, a maker of “plastic-free” menstrual products, while tampons are often wrapped in plastic, have a plastic applicator and even contain plastic. in the absorbing elements. and the string.
Switching to reusable menstrual products will reduce plastic waste by up to 99% and also save money, says Leitner.
“You can get a menstrual cup for as little as £10, and it will last up to 10 years. By comparison, women spend an average of £100 a year on disposable hygiene products.”
The hey girls… website sells menstrual cups for £10.40 (and other non-plastic menstrual products), while Mooncups cost £20.95 (£1 of which goes to City to Sea).
Period-proof trousers are widely available on the high street – at Marks & Spencer (from £18 for three), John Lewis (from £10) and Primark (from £6), for to name a few. Prices and absorbency levels vary, as do the rules of course, but they can provide protection equivalent to up to three tampons. A pack of 18 Tampax Compak Regular (which have plastic applicators) costs £2.10.
In the garden
“Flower pots are probably the biggest plastic problem,” says Alys Fowler, author of The Thrifty Gardener.
“Many are quite well made, so it’s a matter of saving and reusing them, washing them and stacking them properly, because you get very irritated by them when there’s an overgrowth.”
Consider jars as part of your purchase, she adds. “If you buy a potted plant, you also have to consider the pot as a resource. If you don’t want more pots, don’t buy the plant.
Instead, she says, grow more from seed and reuse your existing pots in the process, or order “bare root” plants directly from nurseries. “Almost all nurseries now do online sales,” says Fowler. The best time to buy and plant them is during the cooler months when the plants are dormant.
Heavy-duty plastic compost bags can be used as rubble bags or drilled for ventilation and used for leaf mulching. Upside down and with holes for drainage, they can make containers for growing potatoes.
During this time, learn to live with the weeds, or pull them out, rather than trying to prevent them with plastic. “Home gardeners often buy a plastic membrane to suppress weeds. It’s a pretty tough plastic, but it will degrade over time, right in the ground,” says Fowler.