2018 seems to the year that people woken up to the real problem that plastic poses to our societies and seas. An estimated 8.3bn tonnes of virgin plastic has been produced to date, of which only 9% has been recycled. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that two-thirds of all plastic packaging in the UK ends up being landfilled or burnt; the rest is finding its way into the ocean . By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish .
Yet there has been an encouraging upswing in the fight against plastic as we start a fresh year. On the back of the UN’s global campaign to eliminate “the plastic problem that blights our oceans” , Theresa May unveiled a long-term strategy to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042, extending the 5p plastic bag charge and introducing packaging-free aisles in supermarkets. Although criticised by environmentalists for not going far enough, quickly enough, it’s a step in the right direction.
While companies should be urged to tackle the problem at source, there are some simple steps that all of us can take to tackle our throwaway habits. Here are our six top tips for staying green on the move.
- Take your own coffee cup
The UK’s coffee drinkers use 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups each year, yet despite their cardboard appearance, the majority are not recyclable thanks to a plastic polyethylene lining that makes them waterproof.
Limit your contribution to the latte landfill by taking your own cup with you. Companies such as KeepCup now sell stylish options that can be kept in the car, and many cafes offer incentives such as discounts if you take your own reusable.
- Say no to straws
It’s so easy to overlook the humble straw, but by doing away with plastic straws in its pubs, Wetherspoons claims that this year it will prevent 70 million straws being binned. If you don’t like sipping your drink, swap disposables for reusable versions, like these by Lakeland. They’re supplied with a special cleaning brush, in case you’re worried about them getting icky.
- Avoid plastic cutlery
A clean-up by the Marine Conservation Society last year found that rubbish on the UK’s beaches is up 10%, and one in five pieces of litter are related to the grab-and-go food industry. Side step the problem by stashing a spork, available from the National Trust among many other places, in your glove box ‘green’ kit.
- Refill your water bottle
Drinks bottles are one of the worst plastic culprits, with over a million sold every minute in 2016, yet in the UK we’re lucky to have drinking water piped to every single tap. Ditch the expensive bottled water and refill a reusable flask instead – Refill are building a network of places around the country where you’re welcome to fill up, but you often only have to ask. Reward yourself by spending the saving on a slice of cake.
- Carry a tote
The 5p charge had a fantastic impact on our wonton use of plastic bags, dropping 85% in six months and spare us from the mushrooming bag of bags under the sink. Yet how often have you found yourself arms-full of groceries, without bag but guilt-ridden about buying one? Make a point of stashing totes in your handbag, coat pocket, and boot of the car to make sure you’ve got one whenever you need.
- Swap clingfilm for beeswax wraps
If you’re organised enough to take a picnic but your Tupperware collection is wanting, you might find yourself resorting to clingfilm to keep sandwiches and snacks fresh, yet it’s not commonly recycled. Try switching for reusable beeswax wraps, such as these made in the Cotswolds by Carly and Fran. They’re sterile, biodegradable and can be used to make food pouches on the go and to keep bread fresh at home. Brilliant.