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Life Without Plastic Is Possible: a simple guide to minimizing plastic in your life by Shivangi

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Life Without Plastic Is Possible: a simple guide to minimizing plastic in your life by Shivangi Sareen

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The Crisis

  • One million plastic bottles are sold every minute — less than 50% of these are recycled. Just 7% of the plastic bottles are transformed into new bottles.

  • 10 million tonnes of plastic pollutes the sea every year

  • Plastic outnumbers sea life by six to one

  • 50% of plastic is used only once — our throwaway culture has led to increasing levels of plastic waste in our natural environment

  • 7 million coffee cups are thrown away in the UK every day

  • One million plastic bags are used every minute

The waste from rich countries is exported to poor developing nations. China was once the main destination for plastic waste exports from the EU and America. However, China imposed strict standards on foreign plastic waste imports in 2018, which dramatically reduced the volume of waste it imported from Europe and the USA. Since then, other nations such as Malaysia and Turkey have increased the volume of waste they take in. [source]

We are producing and using colossally WAY more plastic than we can manage (and imagine) and that excessive plastic is burdening our planet and choking it with severe environmental consequences. We need to take responsibility for the waste we generate.

What can I do?

I'm currently reading Bill Gates' "How To Avoid A Climate Disaster" and he talks about how we as consumers can have a huge impact on the demand side of the supply-demand equation. There are some big impact changes such as buying electric cars, reducing home emissions. On the other hand, there are some easy ways to be a part of the climate solution and not the problem. These are some of the easiest ways that I’ve adopted to minimize plastic in my everyday life.

• A plastic shopping bag is used on average for 15 minutes [source]. After that it’s not reused as often and mostly ends up in the trash. These bags are 100% recyclable. But you can’t put them in with your normal household recycling like cans, plastic bottles (#1 PET). They need special recycling processes and the best place to recycle carrier bags is to check with large grocery retailers. So, if you’ve got some lying around, don’t use them as garbage bags — recycle them! And take your own reusable bag to shop! This one tote bag that I purchased two years ago from a small local shop in Notting Hill is still being used on Tesco trips! Not denying that these bags come with a hefty carbon footprint, which is why – make them last!

Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Buy fewer foods in plastic packaging. I see peppers and tomatoes wrapped in plastic packaging at stores that can’t be recycled so the simple switch is to buy loose peppers and tomatoes. Also, try to buy vegetables and fruits from local stores and choose paper bags over plastic ones. Prefer those goods that come in recyclable packaging as opposed to a single-use. An organic store right around the corner from where I live has the best fruit and vegetables. I try to get most of the produce from there — and it’s all plastic-free!

Photo by Robert Kalinagil on Unsplash

Recycle! Plastic No. 1 (PET) is widely recyclable. This includes peanut butter jars, plastic soda, and water bottles, microwavable food trays, and salad dressing bottles. Plastic No. 2 includes milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, butter tubs, motor oil bottles. Both plastics have a high probability of getting recycled. Find out whether or not you can recycle the things you buy often and prefer those over miscellaneous plastic. And if in doubt, whether an item can or cannot be recycled - bin it instead of risking contamination of recyclable waste!

Photo by Vivianne Lemay on Unsplash

Carry a reusable mug for your coffee runs. Around 5 billion disposable coffee cups are used around the world every year, yet less than 1% are recycled [source]. Coffee cups are a mixture of paper and plastic in their inner lining, making them difficult to recycle. By using a reusable mug, you'll cut down on unnecessary waste while saving natural resources and reducing carbon emissions and you'll get to drink in your favorite mug! My go-to is the KeepCup!

Photo by Globelet Reusable on Unsplash

Sanitary products are the fifth most common item found on Europe’s beaches, more widespread than single-use coffee cups, cutlery, or straws [source]. About 800 million people menstruate each day. That means all over the world, people are buying sanitary products. Mainstream sanitary products typically include tampons and pads — which are ridden with plastic. In 2019, an estimated 1.6 million people in the UK used 25 or more sanitary towels a month and 3.3 million used 1 to 9 towels a month. In 2018 alone, people in the U.S. bought 5.8 billion tampons. If you are someone who menstruates, look at menstrual cups, organic pads and tampons, reusable pads, ditch the applicator altogether, or period underwear to have a kinder period towards the planet.

Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

• We get lazy when ordering take-out and tend to opt for disposable cutlery (I know I have) but let’s stop right there. Plastic cutlery is among the items “most deadly” to sea turtles, birds, and mammals. Make it a habit to use your own cutlery and look for eco-friendly options like biodegradable and edible cutlery when traveling.

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Buy used items. Facebook marketplace is an amazing community to buy used items ranging from furniture, electronics to apparel, and much more. By buying second-hand, you’re giving another life to goods that take up a lot of resources to produce, that would’ve otherwise ended up in the trash, and you’re avoiding all the plastic packaging and waste. Depop is a great place to buy, sell and connect to make fashion more diverse and less wasteful. I purchased my current WFH set-up table from Facebook Marketplace and it is easily one of the best purchases.

Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash

We saw some massive numbers in terms of plastic waste. But if even one person replaces their use-and-throw habits with these eco-friendly and sustainable ways, it will make a big impact. Imagine if more did.


About the Author

Shivangi Sareen is a software engineer at American Express and part of the UN Volunteers Network. She graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 2019. She loves all things tech and has a keen interest in data science and machine learning, in particular, natural language processing. Shivangi loves reading and writing about issues she feels strongly about. She is a passionate advocate for animal rights and living more sustainably. She has a blog on Medium called The Sustainable Edit where she shares her experience about her ongoing journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.

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