Did you know as part of our UK recycling policy, we ship plastic waste to other countries?
It’s something I knew nothing about until the recent uproar around China refusing to take anymore of our “foreign garbage”. Yet it leaves me asking the question: is this the best idea we could come up with?
The news represents a sudden half a million tonnes of plastic waste to deal with each year. That’s the same weight as 39,500 new London buses (you know, the shiny red ones with rounded edges). Imagine 39,500 buses all arriving at your bus stop at the same time. You wouldn’t want that. Nobody would want that!
Now imagine that much plastic. Couple it with a “chronic shortage of capacity to recycle plastics in the UK” and Michael Gove, our current Environment Secretary, admitting “I don’t know what impact it will have ... I have not given sufficient thought”, and you’ll find yourself faced with a grim future: all of this plastic is going to end up in a landfill or will be incinerated instead.
Some Home Truths
Before it gets that far, I’m hoping to hear the faint squeak of intervention. I’m yet to see it in the articles pointing the finger at the government, Brexit, whatever.
No-one seems to be asking whether we can reduce the amount of plastic waste we collectively make. We don’t have to make all that plastic waste, do we?
In fact, part of China’s planned refusal of our waste includes a total ban on plastics from household recycling, pointing to contamination as the reason.
And while only 13.7% of the UK’s waste is from households, that’s a fair bit we can reduce.
It’s Time We Made A Change
I’ve always been a big believer in the power of individual action. My blog, Curiously Conscious, relies quite heavily on this belief: we can change the world for the better through our own, everyday actions.
In this instance, I’m giving options to cut down on plastic that I’ve adopted myself, and have found to work well.
I’m not talking about becoming a hardcore zero-waster, although if that appeals to you, be my guest.
These are all incredibly simple to follow, and the impact they’ll have is clearly huge - 5,400 big red buses huge!
1. Invest In A Reusable Water Bottle
Remember when you took a lunchbox to school, and in it was a little flask with [insert TV character of your childhood] on the front? You actually were doing more good than you thought. Horrifyingly, a million single-use plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. It’s easily done - at airports, in vending machines, as part of your meal deal. Instead, swap to a flask or carabiner.
2. Save Money, Bring Your Own Coffee Cup
So it turns out, single-use coffee cups are almost as bad as single-use plastic bottles. Only 1% of 2.5 billion cups thrown away annually are recycled. Save on plastic waste by purchasing a longer lasting coffee cup (the shorter ones are preferred by baristas, so I’ve heard) and also save money when you take it to the counter - Pret A Manger will give you 50p off your drink if you bring a reusable cup, while Costa Coffee will give you 25p off.
3. Take Shopping Bags To The Supermarket
It’s the change we’ve all started to make already, in an effort to avoid the 5p bag charge. I’ve been caught out countless times, taking my shopping home by the armful. An easy solution is to bring your own bag - cotton tote bags are an ideal option for a light shop, while jute bags are great for tins and heavier items.
4. Choose A Metal Straw (Or None At All)
Unless you’re in a neck brace, why do you need a straw? They’re one of the quickest ways to generate plastic waste, especially if you’re given two of those mini black ones that feel pretty useless in any drink. Say no to straws, or if you really can’t do without them, keep a glass or metal one in your bag.
5. Go For Recyclable Packaging
Plastic packaging is tough to avoid. It’s shrink-wrapped to almost all of our fresh produce and it’s even lurking in cardboard cereal boxes. If you can, try to go for paper, card, glass or aluminium packaging instead, which is much more widely recycled in the UK.
6. Leave Your Veggies Loose
Try buying your produce loose, and avoiding the little plastic bags you’re expected to bag them in. Most foods have a skin you can wash or peel away, and apart from the odd look you might receive when your tomatoes come rolling down the conveyor, what’s the problem?
7. Sort Your Rubbish Properly
Most places offer a separate food waste bin to your usual rubbish bin and recycling bin. By dividing your waste properly, it can be more efficiently composted or recycled. And if you don’t have a food waste bin, phone your local council.
8. Donate To Charity
My final point covers goods rather than food. If you’ve got clothes, shoes, or appliances you no longer use, try donating them to charity. Items that can’t be sold on are often sold in bulk to recycling companies instead, meaning you’re giving to charity and getting rid of your unwanted things too.