37: What difference can one person make? Count it up…

This is the plastic question I get asked the most. ‘I’m only one person. What difference does it make if I stop using a bit of plastic?’ The truth is one person can make a huge difference. Try counting it up….

addition black and white black and white chalk

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Let’s take a look at just some of the ideas that have been posted on this blog so far and what happened when I personally made those changes:
1. Switching from liquid soap to bars of soap saved 2 plastic bottles a month (one in the bathroom, and one in the kitchen). That’s 24 bottles a year.
2. Switching from shower gel to bars of soap saved 1 plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
3. Switching from laundry liquid to washing powder in a cardboard box saved one large plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
4. Buying less fruit and veg in plastic bags and choosing loose options in the supermarket plus buying more fresh produce in markets saved at least 5 plastic bags a week. That’s at least 260 plastic bags a year.
5. Switching from liquid fabric softener to using white vinegar (in a glass bottle) saved one large plastic bottle a month. That’s 12 bottles a year.
6. Not buying bottled water any more, investing in a water filter jug at home and taking reusable bottles out with me saved at least 2 large plastic bottles a week. That’s at least 104 plastic bottles a year.
7. Saying ‘no’ to plastic carrier bags every time I do any kind of shopping and keeping a cloth bag with me or bags for life in the car saved at least 4 plastic carrier bags a week. That’s at least 208 plastic bags a year

24 + 12 + 12 + 260 + 12 + 104 + 208 = 632…at least!

These are just 7 of the changes I’ve made (I’ve made more) and all of them are simple, and none of them have cost me more than what I was previously spending. In fact, some of them have saved me money. But it means I have stopped at least 632 pieces of plastic from polluting the planet. Even if some of these could have been recycled (and not all of them can be) it is only possible to recycle plastic a handful of times. After that, it’s buried in the ground or ends up in the oceans. We’ve all seen on recent documentaries, just what this can cause.

If I’ve inspired just one person to make the simple changes above, then together we’ve stopped 1,264 more pieces of plastic getting out into the world. If I’ve inspired three people, then between us we’ve stopped 2,528 in one year.

Try the suggestions above for one month and then see how much emptier your plastic recycling bin is. Multiply that by 12 months to see the difference you can make in a year. Then encourage one friend and multiply that by 2….and one more friend…

Of course, the mountain of plastic continues to grow, and probably will do for some time. Do you want to be responsible for slowing that down, or for adding yet another plastic bottle to the top? And don’t wait for the corporations, the manufacturers, the supermarkets to make the change for us. They’re too slow. In any case, they will only sell us what we want to buy. That’s commerce. If we don’t buy it, they can’t sell it and, more importantly, can’t make money from it.

Still think one person can’t make a difference? So did the other 7 billion people who put their empty plastic water bottle on the mountain.

Do the maths.

addition black and white black and white chalk

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29: Watch your language!

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Since setting myself this challenge of finding 365 different ways to reduce our use of plastic, the world appears to have gone plastic crazy. It’s like when you get a new car and you suddenly start seeing them everywhere. There are no more of them than before, but your brain has started looking for them…and there they all are.

I look around the house, I go shopping, I go and meet a friend, and everywhere I look I see plastic. Why didn’t I see it all before? Simply because I wasn’t looking in the same way. Also, it’s because I wasn’t consciously naming it. I would go shopping and say ‘I need some shampoo.’ I didn’t say, ‘I need a plastic bottle with some shampoo in it.’ And that’s when I realised that I was making a difference in my behaviour because I had started to make it CONSCIOUS.

Try it for one day. Name everything you see made of plastic – at home, at work, at the shops, on a night out – out loud to yourself (or in your own head, if you think people might point and laugh!). You will be shocked at how many times you say the word ‘PLASTIC.’ Then think about the things you can replace with something that isn’t plastic and you’ll be away. It will start to become conscious and (hopefully) you’ll feeel that you have to do something about it.

And while we’re on the subject of words, let’s stop using a big one incorrectly. And that word is…DISPOSABLE! Most things we call ‘disposable’ simply aren’t: Disposable fork, disposable lighter, disposable nappies, disposable coffee cup…most of these things are not! All we do is dispose of them out of our sight and shift the problem somewhere else. In fact, plastic will never dispose at all, it will just move around the planet or get buried to reappear some other time. Unless you can put it in your compost heap, or use it again, it’s not disposable. So let’s stop calling it that.

Language is a hugely powerful thing. Think about what you call things. Is that what they truly are? Make it conscious and you’ve started making a big difference to your life, to others and to the planet.

And so endeth a bit of philosophy for today. This blog is getting deep!


22: Water shouldn’t cost the earth.

nature water blue abstract

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Today is forecast to be the hottest day of the year in the UK – for the fourth day running! Yes, it’s hot. Way hotter than us weather-obsessed Brits are used to. But it’s not just here in England. It seems like the whole planet is catching fire this year.

One of the most important things to remember in this heat is water – keep hydrated and drink more water than you normally do. And here’s a dilemma. While you’re out and about, travelling to work or out enjoying the sunshine, it’s easy to stop off at a shop or cafe and reach for some water in a shiny, new, plastic bottle. And the chances are, that plastic IS new because those bottles are often not recycled at all – even if you put them in your own recycle bin.

Now, let’s get sensible about this. You know it’s going to be hot out there; you know you’re going to get thirsty, so either leave the house prepared or find an alternative to that plastic bottle that will take you minutes to drink from and forever to lie around on the planet causing trouble. Here are other things you can do:

  • Invest in a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at home and can keep in your bag when you’re out. Lightweight metal ones keep your drink colder than plastic ones and will last for years – and they’re easy to recycle. Bamboo reusable coffee cups are also good for keeping liquid at the right temperature and are very environmentally friendly.
  • If you must buy bottled water when you’re out, choose one in a glass bottle rather than a plastic one. Did you know that glass can keep being recycled for ever and ever? It’s also much easier to wash and re-use it yourself.
  • When it’s hot like it is right now, most cafes, pubs, restaurants, eateries in the UK (and probably anywhere else in the world) will oblige you with a glass of free tap water, even if you don’t buy anything else, and especially if you have children with you. Just make sure you ask politely. I’ve asked plenty of times and have never been refused. It’s actually good for business, because the chances are I’ll go back there when I want to buy something.

And remember, we are extremely fortunate in the so-called ‘developed’ world to have drinking water on tap – literally! – so fill up at home before you go out. Plan ahead, just a little, and you’ll never have to buy bottled water again…unless it’s an emergency, of course. Anything other than an emergency is laziness. Was that a bit harsh? It’s true….and it’s hot!

18: Plastic-free movies

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If, like me, you’re a film fan, you’ve probably got lots of dvds around the house; maybe even videos for the serious old school movie buffs. I can honestly say that I own lots of films that I’ve seen more than 20 times each – seriously! I love my fave movies that much, but apparently that’s not normal!

Obviously, don’t throw out your favourite movies. I’m not going to. After all, if you plan to watch them often they’re not single-use, are they? But how many times have you picked up a cheap dvd on special offer at the checkout, just because it’s cheap? And how many times did you watch that bargain dvd? Once, and then it went to the charity shop, right? You may think you’re recycling, but really you’re just delaying that plastic going into landfill by moving yourself one step further away from the responsibility of it.

Well, here’s an idea: the next time you’re tempted to buy a dvd on special offer, ask yourself, ‘How many times will I watch this?’ If the answer is ‘just once,’ then consider saving your money and not buying it at all!

If it’s a recent film, treat yourself and go and watch it at the cinema. Make a night of it with some friends, perhaps. There’s nothing like watching a great movie on the big screen.  If it’s an older film, why not check your local public library to see if they have a copy you can borrow? If it’s not on the shelf, you can ask for it to be ordered from another branch. Most libraries in the UK lend dvds either for free or for a very small cost. And you’ll be supporting your local library at the same time.

Also, there are so many ways to watch movies (legally please!) online, not to mention the multiple channels on TV, both free and on subscription.

Of course, if it’s a real favourite movie, and you know you’re going to watch it again and again (as I have done with 12 Angry Men, Cabaret, Doctor Strangelove, to name just 3) then by all means buy a copy for your home library.

All that is being suggested is that you stop, think and ask yourself if you really need that cheap bit of plastic before you part with your hard-earned cash – even if it’s cheap!

17: Don’t Cling to the Film!

Another simple change today: Ditch the cling film/plastic wrap/whatever it’s called where you live. How strange we humans are to think that wrapping food in single-use plastic is the best way to keep food fresh or clean or safe. Clearly it isn’t. Here are a few ways to replace it:

  1. Use tin foil instead. It’s only a little more expensive but you can re-use it, and it doesn’t stick together when you try to pull it out of its box, rendering it completely useless! Tin foil is also stronger and keeps food just as fresh. It’s also easy to recycle.
  2. Use paper instead. Obviously not so useful if you’re storing food in the fridge, but perfect for sandwiches or picnic food because you can re-use the paper for wiping your hands/face/clothing if you’re a messy eater!
  3. Invest in a few re-usable containers. Try to buy ones made of recycled plastic, if you can. For the price of 2 or 3 boxes of cling film, you can buy a couple of containers that will last for years if you look after them. Most can be put in the freezer too.
  4. Invest in a couple of glass containers or dishes if your leftovers are going in the fridge…or give the leftovers to the cat or dog to save on pet food! (obviously only things that your pet can actually eat safely!)
  5. If you’ve bought cling film to wrap your torso in (a la ‘The Full Monty’) in order to lose weight, don’t bother. It doesn’t work. Go to the gym instead!
  6. If you’ve just had a tattoo and the artist tries to wrap your anchor/naked lady/skull inky artwork in the plastic stuff, ask them what the hell they used before cling film and ask them to do that instead!

Really, I can’t thing of a good reason to use cling film over any of the suggestions above. So, it’s simple. Stop clinging to the film and strike it from your shopping list today!

foil cooked on metal grill

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16: Football, beer – what more do you need?

Did you know there was a World Cup on? Yes, so did I. And on a lovely, warm summer’s evening, what more do you need except a big TV and some beer (or soft drink of your choice)?

I’ll tell you what we don’t need: those annoying plastic ‘ringos’ that hold 4 cans together. Not only are they annoying for humans to pull off and chuck away, they’re absolutely lethal for wildlife. Millions of birds, animals and fish get caught up in those every year with devastating results.

Why do we need them? Simply so that a person can carry four cans of beer or soft drinks with one hand. Well, this is where I get tough – if you’re man (or woman) enough to drink four cans of lager, you’re man (or woman) enough to carry them with two hands! Or use a reusable bag and put them in there! Seriously!!

Now, in some supermarkets it’s actually cheaper to buy four cans, held together with a piece of plastic, than four seperate cans with no plastic at all. Why? How does that work? Don’t let them get away with it! Pick up four single cans and demand that they sell them to you for the same price (as long as the quantity of liquid is the same, of course). OR buy bottles, which don’t have those stupid ringos on them, instead. It goes without saying that you will then recycle the glass bottles and tin cans.

Even better, invite some friends round and splash out on a box – yes, cardboard box – of 12 beers with no plastic anywhere at all. Or more than 12 if you have lots of friends. The same goes for soft drinks.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not advocating the use of alcohol. If you must drink, be alcohol aware, and never, ever drink and drive. Thank you.


flat screen television

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10: Have you got a light?

Idea number 10 moves into the realms of light via the sacred flame and things that catch fire generally – Yes, this one is about disposable lighters!

Firstly to the smokers: Of course, I’m not advocating smoking itself, we all know it’s bad for you and those around you, but smoking is not illegal in most countries – yet! And smokers are people too, and as such, can help to reduce some of the single-use plastic in the world.

Of course, smokers are not the only ones who set light to things. Pyromaniacs aside, you might also need to light a candle, or several on a birthday cake (I’m not counting anymore): a barbecue; a camping stove for the adventurers; a log fire, etc. Fire is probably one of the most important inventions that humans ever made. Several million years later, a far more stupid one was invented – the disposable plastic lighter!

If you can afford to smoke (do you know how much a packet of 20 cigarettes costs in the UK these days? Phew!) you can afford to buy a refillable lighter – seriously. Why not go the whole hog and buy a nice, shiny metal one? Gold, if you’re a particularly wealthy smoker. In the long run it will actually save you money. Butane to refill lighters is pretty cheap and lasts for ages. If you’re extra cool, an old rock chick perhaps, invest in a Zippo and impress your friends by trying to refill it at the petrol station while gassing up your Harley Davidson!

In any case, those cheap disposable lighters always run out of flint before they run out of  gas, so you’re not only chucking the plastic away in the bin, but a bit of combustible liquid along with it.

And, for the old school among us, who only light the occasional candle in a power cut, you can’t beat a simple box of matches. Cheap, sustainable and totally biodegradable.

Disclaimer: Just remember to take care around anything flammable. Keep lighters and matches away from children, and also from adults who aren’t safe left in rooms on their own (see the annual Darwin Awards for examples).

7: Put a cork in it!

It’s Friday, the weekend has begun. You might be thinking of opening a bottle of wine to celebrate getting through another week alive or, if  you’re feeling a bit flush, a bottle of something fizzy. Today’s tip for ditching the plastic is extremely simple, but not particularly relevant if you’re teetotal…

The next time you’re selecting a tipple, have a look at what’s keeping that wine in the bottle. If it’s a plastic stopper, perhaps you might want to carry on looking down the aisle until you find a bottle with a cork in it. Or even a metal twist cap would be better than another piece of one-use plastic. At least that’s easier to recycle and will biodegrade more quickly.

Cork is not only biodegradable, it’s beautifully sustainable. It’s made from the stripped bark of the Cork Oak, the trees are unharmed in the process, and the trees will usually continue  producing cork for around 150 years – long after your hangover has gone!

Of course, sometimes you can’t tell if the stopper in the bottle is made of cork or plastic because it has that metal foil over it. If you can’t see what’s keeping the wine in there, don’t be afraid to make a nuisance of yourself. Ask the staff in the shop, restaurant, wine bar, pub if they know what the stopper is made of. If they don’t, ask them why not? And if they won’t/can’t tell you, and you really have to buy that bottle right now, and you get it home and find a naughty piece of plastic in the top, then at least you know not to buy that one again. And it will be fun to keep trying other bottles until you find one with a cork in it, which can then become your new favourite!

Take note: You can’t normally put corks in your regular recycling bin, but they can be put into your compost bin. If you cut them into little pieces, you can mulch them into the soil in your garden. Or why not collect all those corks from all those Fridays that you celebrated surviving another week, make them into a cork memo board and give it to your teetotal friends? After all, they won’t be able to make one for themselves.