July is here and, since 2011, July has meant Plastic Free July – a month to think about the plastic we use in our lives and to try to reduce our reliance on plastic, one step at a time.
Here at LEaF Translations, we care deeply about the environment and the impact that we have on our planet. Although LEaF stands for Language Expertise and Finesse, it is also a reference to the world around us and a nod to our desire to show that business can be ethical.
As Plastic Free July is now upon us, it seems the perfect time to talk about some of the things that we do to reduce the amount of plastic we use and to give you some great hints and tips to do the same.
Before we move on to our top tips for both individuals and companies to reduce the amount of plastic they use, let’s take a quick look at what plastic actually is and where it comes from.
How is plastic made?
Although plastic looks clean, it is actually made from one of the most polluting raw materials on earth – oil. According to Greenpeace, oil is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after coal and is responsible for 27% of the CO2 that is released into the Earth’s atmosphere. Besides the pollution associated with oil, it is also a finite resource and is the cause of wars, corruption and the moves by oil companies to mine the tar sands of Canada, deep ocean waters and the fragile Arctic.
Why do we need to use less plastic?
The fact that plastic is made from oil is a big problem. But it is not the only problem. In fact, the main issue with plastic is the simple fact that plastic is terrible at decomposing. When we throw plastic away, it doesn’t break down after a few months or years like organic materials – some plastics can take over 1,000 years to decompose.
Plastic often ends up in rivers and eventually oceans. In fact, it is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year. There, the plastic breaks down into what are known as microplastics, which are then ingested by marine life. A study by Plymouth University reported that a third of UK-caught fish contains plastic and a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated that, by 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans [from The Guardian].
And the biggest problem with plastic? As a global population, our use of plastic is increasing at an alarming rate.
So, what can we do about it? Although big change is needed to have a real impact, we can all do our bit to reduce the amount of plastic in the world. We can stop buying things wrapped in single-use plastic and, by changing our own behaviour, we can show supermarkets, multinational companies and governments that this is an issue that we really care about.
LEaF’s top tips for Plastic Free July
So, without further ado, here are our top tips to reduce the amount of plastic in your life. This list is by no means exhaustive. It has not been designed to cover everything and you are not expected to adopt all of these measures immediately and become a Plastic Free July Superhero. Instead, consider it a collection of helpful hints and tips to inspire you. Hopefully they will plant a seed or two and be the start of something wonderful.
1) Reduce the plastic in your kitchen
- Fruit & veg
Get your fruit and veg from your local greengrocers or a veg box service, rather than pre-wrapped in plastic from your supermarket.
- Refill shops & bulk buying
Use refill shops for things like pasta, rice, nuts, oats etc. If you don’t have one near you, try and buy items that you use a lot in bulk – a 5 kg pack of pasta uses a lot less packaging than 10 lots of 500 g bags.
- Jam jars
Keep all your jam jars and use them to store leftovers, herbs & spices (buy in bulk) etc. You can also get glass storage containers instead of plastic tubs for keeping leftovers in the freezer.
- Say no to coffee pods
Avoid coffee pods like the plague. I once translated an article for the fabulous German chocolate company VIVANI, which explained how capsule coffee machines are a disaster for the environment. Each capsule is used once then thrown away. Compare this to buying a bag of freshly roasted beans. And, if you buy the right kind of beans (i.e. freshly roasted ones from small coffee companies who know what they are doing and not the ones you find in supermarket aisles that have been roasted months ago) the coffee is sooo much better!
- Beeswax wraps
Check out non-plastic alternatives to clingfilm – beeswax wraps are a great solution here, and they don’t just work well, they look great too.
2) Plastic-free bathroom hacks
A strange concept at first but, trust me, you will soon learn to love them. DENTtabs are toothpaste in tablet form. They come in fully compostable packaging and, when stored in a clean jar, look great in your bathroom. You can get DENTtabs with or without fluoride. In short, they are a really great alternative to toothpaste, without any plastic packaging.
- Soap & shampoo bars
One of the main ways plastic is used in bathrooms is in bottles of shower gel and shampoo. The good news is that traditional soap has been experiencing something of a revival in recent times. There are dozens of great small-scale soap businesses around now and some fantastic soaps out there. The Glow Soap Shop is just one example – based in York and producer of fabulous soaps. You can get shampoo bars now too, although results with these can be hit and miss, so perhaps try a few before you ditch all your bottled shampoo.
- Sanitary wear
Reusable sanitary products are the way forward for women who want to cut their plastic waste. They range from silicon cups to washable sanitary towels to period pants. There are loads of options out there now, so you are sure to find the right one for you. And the best thing about reusable sanitary products is that you only have to buy them once!
3) Use less plastic when out and about
- Stop buying bottled water
I once saw a quote saying something along the lines of: the bottled water industry is not about selling water, it is about selling plastic bottles. And, when you think about it, it is true. In most countries, you can get drinking water from a tap. Unless you live in a country where tap water isn’t safe to drink, it is very easy to stop supporting the “plastic bottle industry”. Take your own reusable bottle with you. Leave one in your car or in your bag. If you forget to fill it up, you can do so from a tap when out and about. A ridiculous one million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. Every minute. Treat yourself to a brand new water bottle and start making a difference today. We recommend One Green Bottle – they reclaim 25 plastic bottles from the ocean for each reusable bottle they sell. A great way to maximise your impact!
- Switch to reusable carrier bags
3.4 million tonnes of plastic carrier bags are produced in the EU each year, which is equivalent to the weight of more than two million cars. And to make it worse: most plastic bags are used for around 15 minutes and only 9% are recycled worldwide. In 2015, a 5p charge was introduced for plastic bags in England and plastic bag usage dropped by 85% as a result. Seven billion plastic bags were handed out in England in 2014 and this dropped to 500 million after the charge was introduced. But 500 million is still a heck of a lot of plastic bags and it is up to us to bring this number down further. The good news: it is easy to do. Keep some large reusable bags in your car and a couple of small, compact bags in your bag, and you will always have one to hand when you need one. Why not set yourself a challenge: see if you can get through the whole of July without using a single plastic bag.
- Avoid takeaway coffee cups
While lots of cafés (especially independents – support your independents!) now offer takeaway coffee in biodegradable cups, lots of coffee shops, including the ones you see on every high street in every town, still use plastic-lined cardboard cups with plastic lids. The best way to make sure you are not needlessly adding to landfill waste is to simply take your own coffee cup. We love the brand KeepCup – the brew cups with the cork middle are our personal faves, but they have so many different styles, you are sure to find one you love.
So there you have it: a bunch of tips and tricks to help you reduce the amount of plastic in your life. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will help you get started on your journey and will make Plastic Free July a little more accessible to you.
As individuals, there is so much that we can do. Even though many of these suggestions are small changes, they all add up and when your friends and family see what you are doing, they will hopefully feel inspired to make their own changes too.
[Cover image by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash]