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 and other garbage on a Malaysian beach,
Credits: Wikicommons, epSos.de
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...
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 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.
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.
Decomposition time of some common items
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).
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.
Besides polluting wild animals’ habitat both chemically and physically, plastic poses direct threats to wildlife:
Who hasn’t seen the disturbing pictures of animal getting slowly strangled, or growing a deformed shell, because of some plastic part?
Over a million of sea birds and mammals die annually from plastic ingestion (that we know off anyway...).
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:
When plastic slowly breaks down, it becomes micro-particles or "microplastic". That gets everywhere: even into filter-feeding animals (mussels for example).
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:
Examples: buy in bulk, make your own yoghurt, wash with soap nuts...
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.
You are actively spreading the ideas! Recruiting more people on our side!
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!
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!
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!
Plastic bags are choking the Earth, credits: Ashraf Elfiky, Canada
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!
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...
If you love liquid soap, make your own with soap nuts and essential oils (more on that below), then use a glass pump bottle.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
These are action step two: nothing hard here, just get yourself a bit more organised and we're rolling.
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!
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.
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.
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.
- your own juices (freshly squeezed) and soda (you can buy a soda water maker)
- your substitute for milk (soy or nut milk)
- dips (you wont ever buy them again when you start making yours: they are so much tastier!)
Plastic toothbrush regurgitated by an albatross
Credits: Sabine's Sunbird
- 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.
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.
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!
There is still more you can do... You are getting closer to be plastic free! Keep on going, you are awesome!
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.
- 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.
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!
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.
If you like this, you might also be interested in this page: Challenge yourself: reduce plastic in your town!!!