The plastic free movement is one that has gained many advocates in recent years, including a whole host of well known celebrities and big name brands. And for good reason, as the reality of how single use plastics are affecting not only our environment, but also our health, is finally beginning to hit home to the masses, partly thanks to the power of social media, it has to be said. After all, who hasn't yet seen the viral footage of the 'sea of plastic' off the coast of the Caribbean?
As we become more aware of the problem with single use plastics, reusable items such as coffee cups, water bottles and shopping bags are not only filtering into the everyday, but even becoming trendy. Being a zero waste-person is, it seems, becoming a fashionable life choice. The incentives are many, and they’re not just limited to the environmental benefits, though these are understandably a huge driving force. Going plastic free also makes good health and economical sense for those that embrace it.
There are two ways that single use plastics are affecting our environment: Via the toxic ozone depleting byproducts of its production, and secondly by way of its physical accumulation in the oceans.The build up of plastic in our seas is a major problem which, thankfully, more and more people are becoming concerned enough about to start taking individual preventative actions. Plastic pollution puts marine wildlife at serious risk, as animals eat the plastic thinking it is food. In addition, plankton eat microscopic fragments of plastic and transfer it all the way back up the food chain. The extraction, production and manufacture of plastics also releases large amounts of ozone depleting nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide into the environment, which contributes to global warming.
Cooking food in pliable plastic can cause chemicals such as BPA and phthalates - known endocrine disruptors - to leach into your food, the implications of which are significant enough for many companies to have begun using alternatives in this regard. However, given the often similar chemical structure of replacement materials, there is some debate as to whether these solutions have actually eradicated the problem, or just set us up for another one.
So how can we all take steps to join the plastic free movement?
Reusable coffee cups
If you regularly buy your coffee from coffee shops, take in your own reusable cup every time you visit. Some coffee shops will even give you a discount on the price of your drink for using your own cup.
Paper or reusable straws
Straws are one of the worst offenders for polluting our seas, so either go without or opt for a reusable or paper alternative if you must.
Many soap bars come with plastic packaging, so opting for a plastic free, sustainable product is a small step in the direction of a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. One company which strives to minimise their impact on the environment is Friendly Soap, whose bars are poured, cut, stamped and packed by hand in the UK. All their packaging is 100% recycled, recyclable and plastic-free and their products are made using naturally biodegradable ingredients – unlike commercial detergents that contain synthetic chemicals, which are then flushed into our rivers.
Plastic free sanitary products
Disposable menstrual products are as much of a problem as many other plastic containing items, but few women know their tampons and pads may have plastic in them. According to an article published by the BBC, pads can in some cases be made up of about 90% plastic, and tampons have components made up of polyester materials, as well as coming in individual wrappers with plastic applicators. Sanitary waste is either incinerated, which releases harmful gasses and toxic waste, or sent to landfill. The plastics used in sanitary products are not biodegrade at all, and waste is often picked up by birds, or blown across land and into streams, ending up in the oceans. A biodegradable alternative is Natracare, which are produced sustainably and can even be composted!
Reusable shopping bags
Single use plastic bags are amongst the biggest contributors to our plastic filled oceans, impacting water and marine life and also the human food chain and our overall health. One smart and simple way of eliminating the need for single use plastic bags is the ‘bag for life’ habit. The Carrinet Veggio (pictured below) is a Swedish innovation that is now launching in the UK via www.2tech.co.uk and is sold in retailers like Lakeland, Steamer Trading, and Whole Foods Market, and online through Amazon and Ocado, priced £6.99
A huge amount of cling film is used every year. According to an article by the Telegraph, more than 1.2 billion meters, equating to 745,000 miles (enough to go around the circumference of the world 30 times over) is used each year. Not only this, covering food in cling film raises some health concerns. Particularly if the food being covered is hot, condensation can accumulate underneath the plastic wrap (which could contain phthalates). This moisture could then drip down into the food, posing a potential risk to health. Beeswax Wraps, as an alternative, are all natural so no nasties will leach into your food whilst its being stored. They are made using 100% cotton (in super funky patterns), Pine Resin, Jojoba Oil and Beeswax.
Recently, Iceland became the first supermarket chain in the UK to sell plastic-free chewing gum. More than 100,000 tons of chewing gum are consumed every year, and the new natural gum - Simply Gum - is completely biodegradable, made from a tree sap called chicle which is extracted from the sapodilla tree, native to Central America.The decision to stock the product forms part of the supermarket’s pledge to go 'plastic-free' on its own label products – something the chain aims to fulfil by the end of 2023.
With an estimated 10,000 tonnes of UV filters produced annually, it’s little wonder these chemicals can have such a dramatic effect on ocean ecosystems. Once you’ve slathered on your sun lotion, just a 20 minute dip will result in 25% of the ingredients being released into the sea, according to Green People. Extensive research has found that oxybenzone and octinoxate, two of the most common sunscreen ingredients, have been found in high concentrations at coral reefs visited by tourists. When the algae that lives on coral disappears, known as coral bleaching, those reefs die and don’t renew. Green People offer a natural, ocean-friendly alternative that offers effective protection whilst being kinder to the environment.