We know the problems of plastic in the oceans. Now that China has refused to take the plastic waste generated in Europe and North America, there is a growing crisis – with much plastic earmarked for recycling ending up in landfill. It’s more urgent than ever to ditch the plastic – and switch to sustainable paper.
Around the world, over 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year. These small, environmentally unfriendly pieces of plastic usually end up in landfill or in the sea, affecting marine wildlife.
Switching to a toothbrush made from a more sustainable material, such as bamboo, is an easy way to reduce this annual fifteen million kilos of plastic waste. It’s so simple and effective that it is the first switch to ditch the plastic that many campaigners suggest we make.
As a result, the humble bamboo toothbrush has become something of a talisman for the plastic-free shopping and green movements – whether you’re for it or against it.
While it’s easy to take a swipe at so small a change, big movements are made up of small changes like these – and every bamboo toothbrush replaces 15 grams of plastic that will not end up in the sea or landfill.
Bamboo and paper are alternatives
Switching to sustainable, biodegradable and easily recyclable materials such as bamboo and paper is critical if we are to reduce the amount of plastic waste we are creating as a planet.
David Attenborough, the British broadcaster and natural historian, did much to wake the world up the problem in his Blue Planet series. He says, “Ever since plastic was invented 100 years’ ago, plastic has become an integral part of our daily lives. But every year, some eight million tonnes of it end up in the ocean.”
China stops plastic
The problem has been exacerbated by China’s decision to no longer accept the plastic waste of other nations for “recycling”. In 2018, Beijing barred the import of such materials – causing a waste crisis in the USA.
Kerbside recycling schemes have been cancelled and much plastic of the separated for recycling has ended up in landfill.
As a result, recycling and composting rates in the USA are low: 65 percent of waste goes to landfill. Europe performs a little better, with 50 percent of waste going to landfill. However, there are some star-performers that do much better. The city of San Francisco, for example, manages to keep 80 percent of its waste out of landfill.
To achieve this, San Francisco has banned hard-to-recycle items, such as single-use plastic bags and polystyrene packaging, and implemented policies for color-coded bins and fines against people who don’t separate their waste.
San Francisco stands as a powerful demonstration of the impact that positive policies by municipalities can have – were these policies to be implemented on a national scale, the impact could be huge.
In the meantime, individuals have to step up. This does mean swapping the plastic toothbrushes for bamboo ones – but it means a lot more too. As a natural, sustainable, recyclable and biodegradable material, paper has a big role to play here. Ditching the plastic and switching to paper alternatives is happening at all levels – from paper straws and disposable coffee cups to industrial packaging.
There are numerous things we can all do to ditch the plastic:
- Swap plastic bags for cotton, jute or hemp tote bags. Carry them with you so you don’t have to rely on plastic.
- Swap clingfilm and sandwich bags for sustainable lunch boxes or this beeswax wrapping.
- Don’t buy bottled drinks in single-use plastic bottles – pack a sustainable flask to carry with you.
- Cut down on the amount of plastic bottles you have in your bathroom by choosing products with less packaging, such as these solid shampoo bars from Lush.
- Some bathroom and cosmetic products actually contain plastic – some Governments have banned these microplastics which end up in our rivers and oceans, but not all are banned. Check product ingredient lists and don’t buy if they contain polypropylene or polyethylene.
- You can make your periods more environmentally friendly too. At the very least, avoid products with plastic applicators. Consider whether you can eliminate waste altogether by using a product like the Moon Cup or Diva Cup.
- If you have little ones, use washable nappy systems rather than the plastic-heavy disposable versions. This doesn’t mean you have to cut down on disposables altogether, but even switching to washables while baby is at home can have a big impact on the amount of waste going to landfill. If you are using disposables, use a plastic-free brand.
- Ditch plastic-filled wipes for biodegradable alternatives.
- Say no to plastic cup lids when drinking at fast-food restaurants.
- Switch from single-use plastic straws to paper straws – or forgo the straw altogether.
- Don’t use paper products impregnated with plastic. There is no reason for your paper kitchen towels to contain plastic – switch to eco-friendly recycled paper products instead.
- Try to make more sustainable clothing choices. This means ditching fast fashion and investing in pieces that will last. It also means buying clothes made from natural fibres; the plastic microfibres in artificial materials ends up polluting watercourses when run through the washing machine.
- Don’t buy coffee in pods – use a French press and loose ground beans If you must buy pods, choose them from speciality roaster Volcano Coffee Works – the first to create fully compostable coffee pods.
- Look for products with little or no packaging. If packaging is necessary, look for products that aren’t wrapped in plastic.
- Avoid frozen and refrigerated convenience food – this is particularly bad for generating plastic waste. If you can, it’s far better to batch cook and freeze portions in reusable containers for yourself.
- Opt for buying refills wherever possible.
- Choose loose fruit and veg.
- Some supermarkets are happy to fill your own containers – check whether this is an option for you. Others are introducing re-usable packaging of their own for loose goods.
- Switch your disposable biro for a refillable fountain pen.
Opting to shop sustainably is easier if you choose local and eco-friendly retailers. Even better if you can walk to the shop and don’t have to rely on deliveries – you can help cut your carbon footprint at the same time!