By Jasmin Lim
Food packaging accounts for most of our plastic waste, and its often completely unnecessary. Example number one - I love cucumber, and its frustrating to go to the local supermarket and not be able to buy one that doesn’t come sealed in a long plastic tube. So this is where I encounter my first plastic-free-living problem. Do I buy the shrink-wrapped cucumber, or avoid cucumbers entirely for the rest of my life… So now you may be asking, how hard is it to live plastic free? Well, lets dive right in to the subject.
Living plastic free requires some thought and planning. In todays modern society it is rather impossible and impractical to live entirely plastic free, as many of us (me included!!) use a phone, drive a car and work at a computer (like I am doing right now…). However, there are several ways that we can drastically reduce our plastic footprint. All it takes is a little awareness, initiative and planning (and I promise you won’t need to avoid takeout for the rest of your life!).
1. Avoid the worst kinds of plastic - PVC, polystyrene and polycarbonate. These extremely toxic plastics often contain many unsafe additives including lead, phthalates, styrene and BPA - which have been linked to numerous health problems including brain, nervous system and organ functioning. You will find these in some toys, cling wrap, bottles, containers, cooking oils, disposable cups and bowls, takeout containers and plastic cutlery.
2. Refuse plastic bags and bring your own reusable bags wherever you go.
Once that harmless little lightweight bag goes into the bin, it may be gone from your life, but it doesn’t disappear. EVER. Plastic bags break up into problematic micro-particles that pollute the air, get into our water sources and eventually enter the food chain – and its even worse if they do degrade… as they break up into toxic leachates, entering our soil, waterways and ultimately our food chain. That’s a high cost when you think about the estimated “lifespan” of a single lightweight plastic bag – 12 minutes from shop to car, to kitchen, to bin. There are all kinds of reusable bags out there now – from paper to cotton to canvas to hemp. Stash one in your handbag, buy your vegetables and fruit loose and have reusable bags ready to go in the boot of your car. Come on guys, there really is no excuse!
3. Avoid bottled water and bring your own reusable water bottle or mug wherever you go. In reality, bottled water is no better than filtered tap water. It is less regulated, it is very expensive and it requires enormous resources to collect, bottle and ship. These bottles are intended for single use, so if they are reused and exposed to heat or cold, they will break down faster and leach more plastic residue – would you like some plastic with that? Get yourself a reusable stainless steel or glass bottle (here in the office we’ve all up-cycled our Squeezery glass juice bottles into water bottles! – nifty, huh?)
4. Use stainless steel or glass containers for lunches, leftovers, freezing, storage and takeout. Here at Little Bird we support TakeOutWithout, an initiative designed to reduce restaurant packaging waste. In all of our cafes you can bring your own container when purchasing any cabinet item and you’ll get 50 cents off – and we are sure that if you ask, many other cafes and takeaway joints will do so too. When this isn’t possible, make sure you are using your dollar to support local businesses that care about the environment and use plant-based paper takeout containers and biodegradable plastics (see, didn’t I say that you could eat your chow-mein and be brain, nervous system and organ damaging plastic free too?)
5. Carry your own cutlery and straw with you. Plastic disposable cutlery and straws are just as bad as plastic bags. Like plastic bags, they are used for only a few minutes before being thrown away (but remember, there is no away. EVER.). So get in the habit of leaving a set of stainless steel cutlery (from the kitchen drawer!) and glass straw in your car.
6. Buy in bulk to minimise packaging. Bulk food bins can be found in most regular supermarkets and organic shops, so bring your own paper bags and buy your nuts, dried fruit, grains, beans, legumes and cereals from bulk bins (and many organic health food stores already use paper bags, so you won’t need to bring your own!).
Plastic is everywhere because its cheap, versatile and good at what it does. So what’s the problem? We simply just use too much of it, frivolously. Living entirely plastic free is rather impossible and impractical, but with some thought, planning, initiative and general common sense we can drastically reduce our own plastic footprint. So the moral of the story is that although sometimes it may be too hard to avoid, buy plastic free whenever you can, and when it’s simply unavoidable, make informed choices and buy biodegradable.
For more information on how to live a plastic free life, visit: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/store/blog/
Photo: Yamamoto Biology/Creative Commons