The UK throws away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups per year. Although made from paper, they are lined with plastic meaning that they can not be recycled by most recycling facilities and just 0.25% are eventually recycled.
Add to this 10 billion drinks bottles and over 5 billion single-use carrier bags per year. In England alone, we consume 4.7 billion plastic straws, 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds and 316 million plastic stirrers. Less than a third of single use plastics are recycled and the remainder is either burnt in energy recovery, littered or goes to landfill where it can take hundreds of years to decompose.
Plastic presents an enormous problem for our oceans and marine life: one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. As it breaks down, it forms microplastics which enter our food chain – it’s been estimated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year and, while the effects on human health are as yet unknown, there are concerns over toxicity.
- Reduce use of single-use plastics
- Reduce use of plastic packaging
- Keep a reusable coffee cup handy in places where you often decide to go for a coffee, e.g. your office desk, in your car / cycle kit. Collapsible versions exist so that you can keep one easily in your backpack, laptop case or handbag. Many chains offer discounts for customers who bring their own non-disposable cup.
- Use a reusable water bottle. Many places will fill your bottle for free if you ask.
- Take non-disposable cutlery with you for lunch. Some retailers stock lightweight sets in a travel pouch designed for taking with you, made from steel, bamboo or other materials. Reusable chopsticks are even more lightweight and easy to fit in a pocket.
- Bring reusable food containers for your take-away food. Especially in food markets, take-away stalls are often willing to fill your container instead of their disposable equivalent. It also saves on their business costs.
- Buy paper straws instead of plastic. You can even buy long-lasting bamboo and stainless steel straws that look amazing.
- Keep reusable bags handy for your trips to the supermarket, such as in your office desk, your car or with your cycling kit.
- Buy fruit and vegetables that are free of packaging. Local markets may have a good selection if your supermarket doesn’t.
- Try shopping at a packaging-free shop. More and more are appearing, stocking everything from cereals, grains and nuts to spices to toiletries and detergents.
- Try replacing clingfilm in prepared meals with sustainable alternatives. There are several on the market made from cotton, jojoboa oil and beeswax: washable, reusable, and compostable!
- Some plastic may be unavoidable… please recycle it!