plastic free

Plastic-free living: just how possible is it?

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  • Delphine Chui gives it a go

    I’ve always considered myself a mindful person when it comes to the environment. I’m vegetarian, I try to be conscious of the origins of my food, I take public transport as much as possible and I’m an avid recycler.

    But, if I’m being honest, I’ve never delved into what actually happens to my rubbish or recycling after I chuck it into the respective bins.

    So, I took on a challenge to live without plastic for a week and the statistics and realities of what I learnt was shocking. And, although I may never be ‘zero waste,’ I can certainly put a dent in how much I’m contributing to landfill and that’s a start, isn’t it? Here’s what I learnt…

    No one is recycling enough

    As a nation, we only recycle 14% of recyclable plastic. And around 50% of the plastic we do recycle is never actually recycled because it’s not been properly disposed of. I admit I never looked at my local council’s recycling policy before this week so was guilty of putting things like plastic bags in my green lid wheelie bin (rather than at a specific plastic bag collection bin) and being completely confused about what I should do with bubblewrap (which can jam recycling machines if not put in the right place.)

    Our coffee consumption is getting out of control

    Think about how much coffee you drink every day. Now, think about how many cups you chuck in the bin. Yeah, I quickly realised that it all adds up, with 7 million coffee cups thrown away in the UK every day – which adds up to 25,000 tonnes of coffee cup waste every year, to be exact. So, I got a bamboo forever cup instead since bamboo is the world’s most sustainable crop. And, it’s worth noting that coffee shops don’t even bat an eyelid when you hand it over for them to fill.

    London consumes the largest amount of plastic bottled water in the UK

    I’m guilty of it. I liked the convenience of it but considering that by 2050, there will be more plastic bottles in the oceans than fish, we really need to fix this. Plastic bottles make up 10% of all litter in the Thames, with ¾ of the fish inside consuming it, and considering how much I care about animals, these stats really hit home for me.

    You can’t really recycle plastic bags

    It takes the average plastic shopping bag 100 years to decompose and that’s only if it’s exposed to sunlight and air (which landfill rubbish often isn’t) so that plastic bag you chucked in the bin last week will probably outlast us all. So, now I have a ‘dirty’ tote bag that I put shoes in, a ‘fresh food’ tote bag for any fruit and veg and a ‘dry’ tote bag for everything else.

    The sea floor is pretty much plastic

    Considering 12.2 million tonnes of plastic litter enter the marine environment each year, it’s no wonder that 94% of the plastic rubbish that enters the ocean ends up on the sea floor. It’s not realistic for me to think I’ll never buy another plastic bottle of water again but I can make sure I only bin it in a recycling bin and never in one that’s overflowing (as these will just end up blowing away)

    Plastic is seriously unhealthy for you

    Chemicals like BPA and phthalates are used to make plastics and resins and when plastic is heated up (which can happen if your plastic bottle is in the sun for example), these chemicals can leech into the contents. And, since they’re known endocrine disruptors, they can cause a whole load of health issues so I’ve traded in for a glass and stainless steel as they’re both natural elements so are free from chemicals and wholly recyclable.

    Plastic cutlery and straws aren’t ever recycled

    I’m normally the first person to choose a plastic fork rather than a metal one. But, as it’s too small to recycle, it just adds to our ever-growing landfill. There is, however, a way around it. If you store it in a plastic takeaway container and recycle the whole thing, that works – but otherwise, just choose metal cutlery or invest in a stainless steel foldable spork! And, after finding out that the UK and US use almost 550 million straws a day – most of which end up in the ocean or take 200 years to break down into toxic particles – I’m all about refusing the straw, or using reusable stainless steel, glass and bamboo straws (I got mine from eco straws.) 

    What I bought to start my no plastic life

    BKR glass bottle, £30

    Pukka bamboo coffee cup, £8.99

    Cleeve Outdoors stainless steel folding spork, £2.49

    Wasara compostable tableware, from £12.99 – 

    Alphabet big canvas tote bag, £22

    Stasher reusable silicone food bags, £11.99 

    Le Parfait Familia Wins Terrine jars, from £5.25, 

    Bobble Insulate Stainless Steel bottle, £24, 

    Who Gives A Crap 100% Recycled Toilet Paper, £24 for 24

    Nature and My bamboo toothbrush, £7.99 

    Odylique 2-in-1 shampoo, £12

    All Naturals soap, £4.99

    Myroo facial cloth and cleanser, £27

    Friction Free Shaving razor, from £5

    Kjaer Weis make-up, from £20

    Woobamboo! biodegradable silk floss, from £4.15

    The verdict?

    Heartbroken by what I learnt we’re doing to the environment and wildlife (as well as to ourselves), I finally saw just how unnecessary so much of my disposable plastic use was so, not to sound like a poster but really, it’ amazing how much a difference we can all make by refusing, reducing, reusing, repurposing and recycling everything we can.

    This article was originally published in 2017.

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