Litter and waste is a huge issue, and one that is high on the agenda at the moment – at least. The amount of rubbish I throw away has always bothered me, and I am always on the lookout for ways I can do my bit to cut waste. I am a huge believer that small changes can make a big difference, and if we each to our part it can lead to world-changing results.
Research published in the journal Anthropocene suggests that as humans we have made enough plastic since the second world war to completely coat the Earth in cling film. That’s a lot of Blue Peter projects! Nowhere is immune; everywhere is polluted with the remains of water containers, supermarket bags, polystyrene packaging, cigarette ends, nylons and other kinds of plastic waste, including everything from microscopic grains like the kind found in our toothpaste, to massive lumps of compacted waste piled up high in landfill. And we absolutely know that the impact is extremely damaging to wildlife, nature, the environment, and our resources.
Put it this way… Every single piece of plastic you have ever used still exists. Water and coke bottles, the lids from takeaway coffee cups, straws, beads from exfoliating face wash, those plastic rings keeping multi-pack cans together, ready meal trays, even some clothing. Some of it may well have been reused or recycled if it was lucky enough to find its way to the right waste plant or project site, but it hasn’t actually gone anywhere; it is somewhere.
With all this in mind, I thought I’d come up with ten ideas for how we can each cut waste. I want to encourage you to make one or two small changes to your habits that could make a massive impact on our outdoors environment. Little things can make a big difference; here are my suggestions for things you and I can all do.
Ten Ways to Cut Waste
1. Use Cloth Shopping Bags
Possibly the simplest way to help reduce our plastic consumption is to stop saying yes to plastic bags when shopping. It’s been made even easier here in the UK because we now get charged 5p for each carrier bag, which isn’t very much, but it has worked and carrier bag usage is down significantly as a result. Excellent.
I have cloth bags in my handbag, in my desk drawer at work, in the cupboard under the stairs where I keep my shoes, and in the boot of the car. This means that, generally speaking, I have a bag available whenever I go shopping. It’s such a simple thing, but it makes a massive difference, it’s just a case of getting into the habit of carrying a bag and saying “no” when the cashier asks if you’d like a carrier bag.
And you can even buy a One Hour Outside tote bag if you want something a bit different…!
2. Buy Loose Fruit and Veg
While I’m talking about plastic bags, another super easy way to reduce plastic consumption is to buy your fresh fruit and vegetables loose. Either head to the market or farm shop instead of the supermarket to do your shopping (which will almost always be cheaper too, I’ve found), or choose the loose product rather than the pre-packaged stuff when you’re in the supermarket. You don’t actually need one of those little clear plastic bags they provide – you’re going to peel or wash the food anyway; just put it in your trolley or basket as it is, then into your cloth bag, and then bung it straight into your fridge or pantry drawer when you get home.
If you’re buying loads of veg in one go, and having it loose in your trolley becomes so annoying you can’t bear it, take a look at the reusable mesh bags that are now available – such as these from Amazon – they make no difference to the weight and therefore cost of the product, and look like a useful alternative.
3. Drink Tap Water
I’m afraid I don’t understand why people regularly chooses to purchase bottled water, some of which isn’t even mineral water, rather than drinking what comes out of the tap. Single use plastic water bottles are one of the most common pieces of litter to be found in our cities and countryside, and they are not as recyclable as you may think (not to mention the science that is now suggesting that the plastic is harmful to our health). The huge demand for single use plastic bottles means we are manufacturing more and more plastic; making the switch from bottled to tap water is a great way to make a difference to the environment.
Drink from a glass when you are at home or in the office, and carry a reusable water bottle when you are out and about. Personally speaking I prefer the stainless steel style water bottles, such as those by Klean Kanteen, as I find they keep water nicer and never take on any flavour of their own. I’ve found that more and more places are installing drinking water fountains to make refilling bottles easy and convenient, which also helps, and you can download the Refill app which will tell you where your nearest station is. I know there are times when bottled water is the only option, there are always exceptions to the rule, but if you use a glass or reusable bottle as much as you can then you will help humans make a huge step forward.
If you don’t like the taste of tap water you can buy a filter, either one that attaches to your tap directly, or one that goes in your fridge.
4. Carry Your Own Coffee Cup
If using a reusable water bottle solves one problem, then using your own coffee cup solves another. Because they have been coated to keep them watertight, takeaway cups from the majority of coffee shops cannot be recycled other than at a very specialist centre. Put your used coffee cup in a recycling bin in most cities, and it’ll just go to landfill. Starbucks, Costa, Café Nero and other coffee chains are more than happy to make your favourite brew in your own reusable mug, and many now give you a discount on your favourite brew to say thank you. Hand it over when you order and the barrister will gladly take it.
5. Take a Packed Lunch
There is so much packaging associated with take away and “on the go” food; whether you end up getting a meal deal from Boots, a super food salad from Pret, some noodles or other pre-packaged food from the supermarket, there is always food covered waste to throw away (which cannot be recycled either; only clean packaging goes to the recycling plant, everything else goes to landfill). One sure fire way to stop this problem is to plan ahead and take a packed lunch. Use a reusable container and take your own. We’d all save money by doing this, too.
I wrote a whole post on cutting lunchtime waste here, if you’re interested.
6. Eat In
Another way to avoid all the packaging associated with “on the go” and take away food is to eat in. Choosing to sit inside a coffee shop to drink your coffee, or head into a restaurant instead of a fast food chain, means you’ll get cups, plates and proper cutlery instead of lots of plastic. There are also some cool salad bars where they’ll happily fill your own container. Dining out is one of life’s pleasures, for me anyway, and so choosing to take time over my food at a table is a joy. Remember that it is okay not to eat while rushing around; build time into your schedule and choose to eat in.
7. No Extra Plastic Bits
Plastic straws, cup lids and disposable cutlery are three things we could easily say no to but we never think about it, it’s just an automatic provision. Convenience wins and we just stick with the status quo. We don’t need these things really; we can make do without. Ask for your coffee or soft drink cup without a lid (or don’t put one on), and don’t take a straw. Takeaway cups are never filled to the top and so a little bit of extra care as you walk along and you are saving quite a bit of plastic. Keep a spork in your bag or stainless-steel cutlery in your desk drawer so you don’t have to take the disposable cutlery from the counter when you buy a salad. If you really can’t do without a straw, you can buy a glass or bamboo one and carry it with you like you do your cloth bags.
8. Use Naked Packaging
Fruit and veg aside, which have their own very handy packaging built in, there are other things you can purchase that have no packaging. And some places are being quite innovative in coming up with new ideas and new things for us to try.
For example, I use solid shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush instead of buying bottles. I had a chat with one of the advisers who helped me choose which would be most suitable for my hair, and have been using them for a couple of days. It’s different to using traditional shampoo and conditioner that comes in liquid form in a plastic bottle, but it works incredibly well and I’m very happy.
You can also look out specifically for eco-friendly packaging and make choices based on less plastic.
9. Go Paperless
Okay, so this is paper rather than plastic, but if we all made an effort to reduce the amount of mail we receive or paperwork we print out, the environment would thank us. Think of the trees! Ask your energy supplier, phone provider, insurers and bank to send your bills and statements by email rather than in the post, and keep your files on your computer or in the cloud rather than printing everything else and keeping it in a physical folder.
10. Other Reusable Options
There are lots of other reusable options you can choose, and I’ve lumped these in my tenth suggestion as they may be a bigger step than the rest of the ideas, involving a bit more commitment. You could use reusable rags or tea towels instead of kitchen roll, switch to washable nappies and sanitary towels (or a moon cup style product), make your own household cleaning products and keep them in glass jars, start cooking everything from scratch so you don’t need package-heavy ready meals or freezer food, start a compost bin in your garden for all your natural waste. If you’ve got the time and energy to make this kind of commitment then you can be well on the way to becoming waste free! There really are hundreds of ways rather than just ten.
The list is huge, and while some of the ideas might seem difficult or maybe even pointless at first, most of these can be incorporated into life without much bother at all and they all go some way to reducing our impact on the world around us. It just takes a little bit of effort to begin with, and once it becomes habit you are absolutely doing your part. I’m certainly nowhere near being perfect with any of these, a long way from it, but I am trying different things to do my part in looking after the environment. And that’s what it is about – if we all made some changes then that adds up to something huge.