Plastic is everywhere in our lives. It’s in our homes, workplaces, shops, cafes, cars; the list goes on and on. However, that plastic has now made its way into our rivers, lakes and seas. Some of it visible, like the plastic cotton bud stems you may see washed up on the beach; some of it invisible, like the micro-plastics released in to our water system from beauty products or from washing plastic fibres. Don’t get me wrong, plastic can play an important role in minimising the environmental impact of products and services, but it’s those single-use plastics that I’m worried about.
I’ve seen how they can have a devastating impact on the environment so I asked myself, what can I personally do about those single-use plastics in my life? I decided to take stock of the plastics I encountered in a typical working day last week. It started at breakfast – cereal wrapped in plastic, plastic milk bottle, plastic in my tea bag. Then making the kids’ packed lunches – bread in a plastic bag, ham, cheese and pickle all in plastic containers, plastic wrapped cereal bars and apples in a plastic bag. Baby wipes, nappies and nappy sacks – all plastic. Soap bottle, toothpaste tube, shampoo, shower gel, make up – all packaged in plastic. I hadn’t even got to 8 o’clock in the morning and I was surrounded by the stuff!
Then the question hit me – had I become addicted to plastic?
Hidden in plain sight! The trouble is, it’s just so convenient. Take wet wipes for example. I was completely oblivious to the fact that they contained plastic until it hit the headlines. DEFRA announced they were looking to eliminate single-use plastic waste including from products like wet wipes. I’ve always disposed of wet wipes in the bin, never flushing them down the toilet so thankfully I hadn’t been inadvertently spreading plastics in the water environment, but it got me thinking: ‘Do I actually need to use these anymore?’ They have become an ingrained part of my life for the last six years with two young children at home. But I’d started using them for cleaning (yeah, I know)! They were so handy, I always had a pack on me and it was so easy to just whip out a wet wipe and wipe down the kitchen table. My behaviour had changed due to the convenience this plastic containing (and plastic wrapped) product had offered me.
But with so much plastic in my life, can I kick the habit and go cold turkey? For me personally, I need to take it one change at a time. I’m pleased to say that I have completely stopped using disposable coffee cups and always carry my KeepCup (as well as a reusable water bottle) with me wherever I go. Everyone in my family has one, including my kids for their babyccinos! It took a concerted effort to change our behaviour and get used to packing these in our bags and, importantly, remembering to wash them when we got home (you don’t want to find the dregs of a three-day-old latté in your car after a long hot weekend!), but we did it. We made the decision that it was the right thing to do and we’ve ditched the disposable coffee cups.
I’ve championed the reusable coffee cup at work and I’m pleased to see more people starting to use them. It’s starting to become socially acceptable, I don’t have to feel embarrassed when I hand over my reusable cup to the barista and I no longer get an odd look back as if to say “what is this?”
Other changes I’ve made include swapping out toiletries that contained plastic microbeads, and investing in a Guppy Friend to wash my fleeces. I’m now working on ways of cutting out plastic wrapped food and I’m looking forward to shopping at my local greengrocers in future.
Something seems to have changed in the public consciousness. Be it the Blue Planet 2 effect, the Government announcements on eliminating disposable plastics, or the action retailers are taking to tackle plastic packaging; things seem to be changing. Yet we are creatures of habit, we get used to doing things a certain way, we don’t always like change and we like the convenience single-use plastics provide us.
It takes a bit of effort to make a change, and we often don’t want to be the ones that stand out in the crowd and be seen to be doing something different. But we can all do our bit and take responsibility for the single-use plastics in our lives. Let’s take up the challenge and be seen to be doing something different, making those important purchasing choices to cut our plastic footprint where we can. The more people that do, the more of a social norm it becomes. So if we all #PledgeLessPlastic and make one change at a time, it can add up to a huge shift in behaviour, and a massive benefit for our environment.
We can kick that plastic habit, one coffee (or wet wipe!) at a time. Join IEMA and Partners this World Environment Day, on June 5th, and together we can help tackle the global concern of plastic pollution. How can you #PledgeLessPlastic? Make your personal pledge today.
About the Author
Sarah Jones- EHS Manager, Siemens. Environment and Energy specialist working at Siemens UK. Focused on driving environmental improvements, fostering best practice and taking personal action to make change happen.