Avoiding single-use plastics: Small actions with BIG impacts

Ever since I started living zero waste , I've been a bit braver about starting a discussion with friends about their own habits, and politely suggesting some ways that they can make a positive difference without having to radically change their lives.

It's no secret that our modern lifestyles come at a huge cost to the planet, but it's not really something that most people what to stop and think about. Why? Because we generally think that it's too inconvenient to have to change our actions.

However, if you're willing to start to make some small changes, you really can have a big difference in the long run. Start with these top tips for reducing the amount of waste you produce!

Ditch plastic bags

First on the hit list are single-use plastic bags. They're the poster child for environmental destruction, and can be found in pretty much every home, office and shop. In fact, around 1 trillion of these are used worldwide every single year.

Sadly, they can also be found in our oceans, rivers, and even in the stomachs of birds, fish and other animals. Around 44% of all seabirds have ingested or become entangled in plastic. Underwater, turtles often mistake plastic bags for food such as jellyfish. Once ingested, these plastic meals cause them suffocate or starve to death.

Living without plastic bags, in my experience, is one of those things that seems harder than it really is. I carry a scrunchable reusable bag (it folds up to the size of a post-it note!) wherever I go to ensure that I always have an alternative to a plastic bag. When I'm shopping, I always say "I don't need a bag" (always said with a smile) to the person serving me to let them know I'll be taking my purchases away "naked".

I also DIY-ed some reusable produce bags for family members to take to the supermarket (suitable for a kilo or so of fruit or vegetables), and I always gently remind whoever's doing the grocery run to take some bags!

Say "no" to disposable coffee cups

Disposable is probably my least favourite word, mostly because it gives the false impression that, once used, the object is simply throw "away" and winked out of existence. The truth is, of course, is that everything has to end up somewhere. If it's not holding your coffee, that cup will end up in the ocean, or rotting in landfill somewhere (and failing to break down for thousands of years).

Contrary to popular belief, most takeaway coffee cups cannot be recycled with paper products as they're covered in a plastic film to prevent leakages. Great for your convenience, terrible for the planet.

The solution? Have your coffee in a reusable cup. Either take the time to sit down and have your coffee at a café, or invest in a reusable takeaway cup. After 15 uses a keep cup starts 'paying for itself' in an environmental sense, meaning you'll be saving more trees, water, and energy than you would have if you had chosen disposable.

Avoid bottled water

Ok, in some parts of the world it's near impossible to avoid buying bottled water (eg. for health reasons), but unless you're in such a place, it's simply not a sustainable, or a logical choice.

You can avoid bottled water by:

  • Installing a tap filter at home or buy a filtering jug
  • Getting yourself a refillable water bottle and carry it with you whenever you can, especially if you are with children who are likely to get thirsty

  • Asking for tap water in restaurants instead of bottled water

You might even be surprised by the alternatives available, such as the vending machines I found in Thailand where you can fill up a large container of safe drinking water for a few baht!

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Some more items you might want to consider avoiding

  • Wet Wipes (read all about how these pesky things are clogging up our sewers!)
  • Coffee pods
  • Over-packaged products

  • Pads, tampons and other throw-away feminine hygiene products (find out about the alternatives here)

  • Straws (shout out to my mate who proudly told me that he's been asking for "no straws" when ordering his drinks at bars!)

READ THIS NEXT: Our complete guide to getting plastic out of your life

Share your top tips for kicking the single-use habit! Let us know your ideas in the comments below.

Images: Shutterstock

1 Million Women is more than our name, it's our goal! We're building a movement of strong, inspirational women acting on climate change by leading low-carbon lives. To make sure that our message has an impact, we need more women adding their voice. We need to be louder. Joining us online means your voice and actions can be counted. We need you.

Steph Newman Former Social Media Assistant Suggest an article Send us an email

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