Each year, Australians use approximately 2500kg of plastic, most of which ends up in landfills where it pollutes the ocean, soil, air, and even our bodies.
Plastic is so rife in the environment that humans are now ingesting an average of five grams of plastic per week, equating to roughly the size of a credit card.
Most Australian states have implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags in an attempt to reduce the environmental impacts of plastic pollution, and people are making a shift towards plastic-free living.
If you want to reduce your plastic footprint but aren’t sure where to begin, read on for some practical and easy tips to get you on your way to quitting plastic for good.
Avoid single-use plastic
Plastics that cannot be recycled usually end up in oceans or landfills where they harm wildlife and destroy the ecosystem.
While many councils accept hard plastics via local recycling bins and programs like REDcycle allow you to recycle soft plastics, we should not rely on this.
In January 2018, China imposed a ban on the importation of several types of recyclable materials, including plastics, leaving Australia in a recycling crisis. A Science Advances study revealed that of exported plastics, 89 per cent were made up of single-use food packaging.
This means that much of the plastic we send off for recycling is being stockpiled in warehouses or sent to landfill. It’s best to avoid single-use plastic in the first place.
BYO everyday reusables
There are many alternatives to single-use plastic products, so consider keeping a reusable coffee cup, water bottle, cutlery set, shopping bag and food container with you to avoid getting caught out on the go. Beeswax wraps or silicone food covers are great reusable alternatives for keeping leftovers fresh without using plastic clingwrap.
If these products are difficult to find or unaffordable, a washed jam jar makes a sustainable container for coffee, food, water, soaps and almost anything else that you currently store in plastic.
Climate resilience researcher Tarsilla Lehmann said it helps to find reusable products that are multi-purpose.
“Instead of carrying items that all have independent functions, use multi-function products like a thermos bottle that can act as a water bottle, a coffee cup and a food container. We don’t need to buy each individual item to be plastic free,” she said.
Avoid packaged produce
You’ve seen them at the supermarket: bunches of bananas wrapped in plastic or plastic tubs of apples. Not only are these products usually more expensive per kilogram than loose fruit and vegetables, their superfluous packaging creates unnecessary waste.
Choose loose fruit and vegetables at your supermarket, or visit your local farmers’ market to get fresh, seasonal and local produce.
Buy staples in bulk
Avoid excess packaging for things like grains, nuts, and legumes by visiting your local bulk food store. These stores are a cornucopia of delicious dry goods, and you can usually find things like oils, vinegars and cleaning products too.
Bring your own jars and containers with you to stock up on staple items, and you’ll drastically reduce how much packaging you throw away each week.
See this directory to find a bulk store near you.
Plastic-free personal care
Plastic toothbrushes, disposable razors, plastic-wrapped toilet paper, tampons and sanitary pads can all add up to a huge amount of plastic waste.
Some great alternatives include switching to bamboo toothbrushes and hairbrushes and investing in a high-quality electric razor to replace disposable ones.
Consider switching to Who Gives a Crap toilet paper, which is plastic packaging-free, tree-free and the proceeds are used to fund the construction of toilets for people in need. You can also try reusable cloth nappies if you have small children or, if you’re a fur-parent, OhCrap dog poop bags made from compostable corn starch.
Many women are now swapping tampons and pads for reusable period panties or a menstrual cup. Not only are they better for the environment, reusing them will save you money and shopping trips to stock up on sanitary items. You can find out everything you need to know about them here.
Small changes make big impacts
Given the conveniences we live with today, it’s hard to become plastic-free overnight but Lehmann said it’s important to start small.
“Pick one goal to focus on per month. Start with popping a rolled-up shopping bag in your handbag for easy access or concentrate on telling each bar tender ‘no straw please’ when ordering a drink,” she said.
“Focus on one thing at a time and be kind to yourself. If you forget, don’t give up. Habits take time to build.”
Reducing your plastic footprint may feel difficult to begin with, but it will quickly become a habit that benefits the planet, your wallet and your wellbeing.
Cutting out plastic encourages us to slow down, plan ahead, and make mindful, conscious choices.