Plastic Free: A Dream?

Being totally plastic free is a challenge – but there are many ways we can at least decrease our plastic consumption.

The advantages for ourselves and the wild animals are numerous.

Producing and destroying plastic is highly polluting and plastic and its toxic components stay in the environment for a long long time.

If it’s not always easy, fighting our plastic addiction is vital.

And as you will see below, some of the things we can start with are just so effortless!


plastic-on-beach

Plastic and other garbage on a Malaysian beach,

Credits: Wikicommons, epSos.de

Plastic Facts

Plastics are made from non-renewable resources

Non-renewable resources used in plastic are mainly petroleum and coal / gas.

Some of these resources are precious and they should be used in a better way than making things we use for a short time and throw away...

Plastics are toxic

Chemicals used in making plastic (benzene, Vinyl Chloridexylems, bisphenol A or BPA) are highly toxic – lots of toxic waste is produced.

Making plastic is also polluting the air – it releases carbon monoxide, dioxin, hydrogen cyanides and volatile organic compounds.

Plastics are not stable

Plastics can leak dangerous compounds, a health risk for humans, especially when they contain food or water. In particular, plastic type 3 (PVC or Poly Vinyl Chloride) and 6 (PS or polystyrene) appear to be the most dangerous.

Plastic 1 (PET or Polyethylenterephthalate), which is what plastic bottles containing juice and water are made of, is to be used with caution.

Obviously the same toxic chemicals leak to the environment.

Yet plastics have a very long life

Despite being not stable, plastics actually have a very long life: they degrade very slowly – they are present in our environment for a long, long time. For example, a plastic bag will stay in the environment for hundreds of years!

Yes, the plastic bag you got today from the shop will outlive you.

How Long does it take to Decompose?

Paper Towel - 2-4 weeks
Banana Peel - 3-4 weeks
Paper Bag - 1 month
Newspaper - 1.5 months
Apple Core - 2 months
Cardboard - 2 months
Cotton Glove - 3 months
Orange peels - 6 months
Plywood - 1-3 years
Wool Sock - 1-5 years
Milk Cartons - 5 years

Cigarette Butts - 10-12 years
Leather shoes - 25-40 years
Tinned Steel Can - 50 years
Foamed Plastic Cups - 50 years
Rubber-Boot Sole - 50-80 years
Plastic containers - 50-80 years
Aluminum Can - 200-500 years
Plastic Bottles - 450 years
Disposable Diapers - 550 years
Monofilament Fishing Line - 600 years
Plastic Bags - 200-1000 years

Decomposition time of some common items

Note:

Plastic bottle decomposition time = 450 years

Plastic bag decomposition time = 200 to 1000 years

And there is no other planet to dump these items, they will stay here with us on Earth until they decompose (or get burnt and release dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere).

Plastics are not a small problem

There is lots of plastic: 100 million tonnes are produced each year, and it’s still increasing.

And a lot of this plastic ends up in the oceans, check out this list of the 10 most common items found during International Coastal Cleanup.

About 6 categories in 10 of the most common items found on the beaches around the world are made of plastic.

Impacts on Wildlife

Besides polluting wild animals’ habitat both chemically and physically, plastic poses direct threats to wildlife:

  • Entanglement

Who hasn’t seen the disturbing pictures of animal getting slowly strangled, or growing a deformed shell, because of some plastic part?

  • Ingestion

Over a million of sea birds and mammals die annually from plastic ingestion (that we know off anyway...).

Particularly, plastic is mistaken for food (such as jelly fish of squid) by many species. Plastic is also dangerous to animals that feed by filtering such as whales: they gulp huge amount of water - and anything that's in it.

The most famous plastic eaters are marine turtles, whales and albatrosses from the Midway Atoll – one of the most isolated places on Earth, which by no mean protected it from the plastic plague.

Plastic kills animal by clogging their guts (as plastic doesn't get digested), either causing obstruction, poisoning or preventing them from feeding - a slow death often follows.

What can you see in this Albatross found dead at Midway Atoll Refuge?

Can you imagine if one piece of plastic you used end ed up here?

Credits: Chris Jordan

Birds have been found with all kind of small plastic parts - including cigarette lighters and tooth brushes.

Many whales that are found dead on beaches have large amount of plastic (as well as fishing nets, ropes, and other discarded fishing gear) in their stomach:

  • One whale found in Spain had 17kg of plastic, consisting of 59 different items - hosepipe, plastic bags, flower pots, spray bottle.
  • Another whale was found dead after eating a 30m long plastic sheet!

When plastic slowly breaks down, it becomes micro-particles or "microplastic". That gets everywhere: even into filter-feeding animals (mussels for example).

Added Bonuses of Going Plastic Free

Water bottles in the USA have been found to leek xenoestrogens like BPA, a substance that increases cancers and birth defects.

Also, the water in bottles are far less controlled than tap water, and studies have found feacal material and bacteria in bottled water !

Yuk.

As usual – if you go around the Wildhelpers website, you will see it’s a common find – what is good for the environment and its living creatures is also good for you:

  • Plastic alternatives often save you money

Examples: buy in bulk, make your own yoghurt, wash with soap nuts...

  • No plastic in your life makes you healthier

Examples: dump chewing gums which are plastic and full of artificial flavours, plastic bottles can leak plastic in your water!

In the bigger picture, the plastic that pollutes the environment and get into wildlife comes back in our food chain (fish, sea food...) and is as toxic as ever...

So we are poisoning ourselves as well as the wildlife.

  • No plastic in your shopping often makes you seek local alternatives (local markets...): a ripple effect, adding shorter transport to low use of plastic.

"Think about it. Why would you make something that you're going to use for a few minutes out of a material that's basically going to last forever?"

Jeb Berrier, BagIt Movie

  • No plastic often supports your local community – you buy closer to home.
  • When you go low plastic, you often have to communicate about it: to your extended family, friends, colleagues, or to the shop owner.

You are actively spreading the ideas! Recruiting more people on our side!

  • And the more people who will want to go plastic free, the more it will become the norm.

This mean:

1/ businesses will start going plastic free to get new customers and

2/ people still addicted to plastic will become un-cool – and people want to be cool! They will change too!

You have started a revolution!

plastic-free-july

There is a "Plastic Free" challenge in July, where you can take the pledge not to consume plastic for the month.

But more efficiently and usefully, why don't you start decreasing your plastic consumption, now and forever, one step at a time?

Keep reading and find out how to get rid of plastic in your life: we have sorted out actions by 3 levels: beginner, confirmed and expert!

Go Plastic Free!

Tips to remember:

  • Go one step at a time - you cannot do everything today

It's better to start small and keep doing it, than want to take on too big a challenge, get overwhelmed and stop.

  • You will find many ideas here, however not every detail is explained: use internet

For example: specific shampoo recipes, or tooth paste, or simply biscuits and juices: find exactly how to make it with sites dedicated to it.

  • Be prepared and organised

Half of the battle is won by good planning: don't forget shopping bags, always have a water bottle and cutlery in your bag or car, have all ingredients to cook dinner instead of take away, etc.

Make lists and get organised!


Plastic Free: The No-brainers

This is your Step One on your plastic free quest: so easy, you won't even notice you are changing your habits!

Plastic free: the beginner level!

Grocery shopping

  • Refuse plastic bags when they are offered for only a few items that you can easily carry.
  • Refuse to separately pack your fruits and veggies in different plastic bags. They will survive (actually, survive even better) without the plastic blanket.
  • In the grocery shop, prefer items in glass.
plastic-bag-choking-earth

Plastic bags are choking the Earth, credits: Ashraf Elfiky, Canada

Out and about

Buy yourself a nice re-usable water bottle and carry it with you always: it’s cheaper than buying single-use water bottle and you won’t get dehydrated!

Hygiene

  • Use natural deodorant, such as potassium Alum stone.

On top of coming in a plastic bottles, many deodorants you buy at the supermarket contain paraben and small molecules of aluminium that your body can easily absorb (aluminum chlorohydrate, aluminum chloride, aluminum hydroxybromide or aluminum zirconium). These have been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Potassium Alum stone in a card box container, works very well for me...

If you’re not comfortable with Alum stone (it’s still got aluminium, but supposedly not in a shape you can absorb) powder your under arms with bicarb or baking soda. You can also stop using any odour control and let your body be, if you are brave enough to ignore looks from other people...

  • Buy soap in bars packaged in card box instead of liquid soap.

If you love liquid soap, make your own with soap nuts and essential oils (more on that below), then use a glass pump bottle.

  • Swap your shaving cream for a bar of soap.
  • Buy natural facial scrubs.

Be careful when you buy your scrub: some have micro-plastics in them called "micro-beads".

Look at the ingredients: polyethylene means plastic so don't buy that!

Alternatives are: ground up seeds or stones, salt or sugar.

  • Choose the recycled toilet paper that comes wrapped in paper, too...

Other easy steps

  • Stop using straws

Come on, we do have lips! We can drink in a glass! If you cannot live without straws (!!) there are some paper or glass alternatives.

  • Don’t chew gums

They are made of plastic (polyvinyl acetate, actually)! Weird and true... Yuck. Plus, chewing gums are often thrown on the ground, more pollution. Plus they are not healthy for you (full of artificial flavours). If you need one more argument: look at how much packaging there is around chewing gums!

  • Don’t buy and / or let go of helium balloons

They look pretty, but when you let balloons go (including when the underlying reason is good, like for fighting breast cancer or releasing hostages...) ultimately they will blow. And go down and become litter.

Helium (the gas that make them go up) is also a finite resource on Earth and blowing balloons is not a reasonable use of a finite resource, is it?

  • Switch from plastic cigarette lighters to matches

Or stop smoking? No? OK, but I had to try...

Have you done all of these actions? Well done! You can now move to Plastic free: confirmed level!

Keep reading...

Plastic Free: Get organised and you can do it!

These are action step two: nothing hard here, just get yourself a bit more organised and we're rolling.

Shopping

  • Bring shopping bags to the grocery store.
  • Go to your local fresh food market or farmers’ market and get the fruits and veggies straight in your shopping bag or basket.
  • Bring reusable containers to the take away, deli or butcher shop.

Maybe you will feel a little bit self conscious the first time, but if you go to the same shop (shop local!) then people will know it and maybe become quite happy about why you are doing it. Of course, make sure you explain your reasons, and say you won’t need a plastic bag to carry the container, thanks!

  • Have your take-away latte / cappuccino / etc. served in your own re-usable cup, or sit down and take the time to enjoy your cuppa at the Cafe.
  • No more processed food.

Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, and raw ingredients, then make yourself a delicious, healthy home cook meal.

Get the pre-made processed meals out of your life for good: they are over packaged, over priced and really, when you read the label in fine prints; sorry but they are NOT good for you!

If you can't cook, get some cooking classes (makes a great green gift too!)! Seriously, this is a great investment money and health wise, and a wonderful skill to have.

Out and about

  • Carry re-usable knife and fork for when you are having take away on the go – you can buy some bamboo ones or just use your home ones.
  • Have all necessary cutlery and crockery for your lunch at work.

In the kitchen

  • Stop using plastic food wraps

If you like the easiness of directly covering your bowl or your half cut fruit or vegetable, there is a green alternative to plastic food wrap. It's called "Wrap it Green". It's made of organic cotton, hemp and beewax and works just like plastic food wraps.

Otherwise, just buy yourself lots of glass or metal containers.

  • Make your own yoghurt (how great to never get again these one portion yoghurts!)
  • Also, make your own ice cream!

You will stop buying it anyway after you read the fine prints of what they actually put in industrial ice cream... If you can’t avoid it, buy your ice cream in cones, packaged in card box.

  • Make everything else!

- your own juices (freshly squeezed) and soda (you can buy a soda water maker)

- your substitute for milk (soy or nut milk)

- biscuits

- snacks

- condiments

- dips (you wont ever buy them again when you start making yours: they are so much tastier!)

Hygiene

  • Use hair brush and tooth brush made from bamboo and wood.
Toothbrush_regurgitated_albatross

Plastic toothbrush regurgitated by an albatross

Credits: Sabine's Sunbird

  • Make your own house cleaners. Some of them are really easy to make! The ingredients you need are cheap and easy to find: usually vinegar, bicarb or baking soda, lemon...

For examples:

- All purpose cleaner: mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle (1/4 vinegar)

- Toilet: clean them by sprinkling baking soda then spraying with your vinegar spray

- Dirty kettle: boil the kettle with water and slices of lemon twice, dry with a cloth

- Blocked drain: pour 1/3 cup of bicarb or baking soda with 1 cup of white vinegar. Seal the drain with the plug and leave for 1 hour. Then pour boiling water down the drain.

- Wash your clothes with soap nuts: they are a natural soap that grows on a tree... Weird and kind of magic, isn’t it? They come in a cotton bag and you can put some in your washing machine, or even make yourself some natural shampoo and hand cleaner (add some essential oils for something different).

- Use lemon skins to add power to the washing up water.

Clothes

Choose plastic free fibers, which are the natural fibres such as wool, cotton, silk or hemp.

Try to avoid plastic fibres such as acrylic or polyester.

Plastic Free: If you are lucky, you might be able to do this too

  • Buy nuts, dry fruits and others from bulk bins, and put it in paper bags or your own containers (I don’t ever see them in shops where I live... A shame.)
  • Organic and local farmer co-ops near you might have a home delivery, usually fresh yummy fruits and vegetables come in a big box.
  • If you read papers, use them to line your bin instead of plastic bags.

You may also be able to use nothing (no bag, no paper): put your rubbish (non recyclable) in a container, then empty the container in your bin.

Cut the middle man!


Have you achieved all of that? You are ready to move further to the Expert Level!

Keep reading...

Plastic Free: If you are Super Committed, Go for It!

There is still more you can do... You are getting closer to be plastic free! Keep on going, you are awesome!

Food

  • Buy in bulk

If you and your friends are committed, you can buy items of common use such as rice, flour oats etc. in bulk and share it. Bulk bags usually look like a huge baker bag made of reinforced paper or calico and of about 5 to 25kg.

  • Grow your own food.

Hygiene

  • Use a menstrual reusable cup instead of disposable tampons and pads (they come packaged in plastic). You can also buy fabric sanitary pads and wash them.
  • You can buy shampoo in bars online.
  • Sun screen can be found in biodegradable containers online. Decrease your need for sunscreen by wearing hat and long sleeves: they are the most effective ways against skin cancer!
  • Use henna powder in fabric bags instead of packaged hair dyeing – or stick to the colour of your years.
  • You can make your own:

- beauty creams with cocoa butter, beeswax, distilled water and essential oils,

- tooth paste with baking soda, coconut oil or glycerine, table salt and essential oils to taste,

- facial scrub with a base of  baking soda (as usual!), cornmeal, yoghurt, milk or banana and additions of ground almond or oats, honey, sugar, cinnamon – hey, does it start to look like a cake recipe to you? There are lots of facial scrub recipes so just search the net for one and have fun!

- soap – but you will need lye (or Sodium Hydroxide) which is a harsh base so be careful with it.

Medecine

Before rushing to the pharmacy – most medicine is packaged with plastics – look online to see whether they are alternative natural remedies. Some of them work wonderfully!

Plastic items

If there are items you can't live without that contain plastic (because we have not created enough market for the businesses to create a plastic free alternative... Yet!), then buy it second hand.

At least you are not pushing for the production of more plastic, and you are giving a longer life to the item (re-use).

Treat it very well, take good care of it, and it will last as long as it can.

If it breaks down, try to fix it instead of throwing it away...


Becoming plastic free might be yet a dream but, starting today, we can all use less plastic.

By spreading the idea we can also hope that more and more alternative to plastic will be invented and widespread. That not using plastic will become the norm, not the exception.

One day we will have to live without plastic anyway (it’s made from and with non renewable resources), so we might as well start the transition now!

The turtles thank you.

 

plastic-bag-turtle


If you like this, you might also be interested in this page: Challenge yourself: reduce plastic in your town!!!