Plastic is everywhere. The petroleum-based material is released into nature through mismanagement of waste streams and incorrect disposal. As microplastic, it makes its way up the food chain on to our plates. Thus, it threatens not only our oceans, but also our health.
We need to fundamentally rethink our approach to plastics and completely replace unnecessary single-use plastic. Where and how can we reduce and avoid plastic in our everyday lives?
Alleged alternatives such as bioplastics should be critically scrutinized – they serve more for marketing than help protect the environment. If plastic is unavoidable, it should be disposed of in the best way possible. This increases the potential for successful recycling. The better we follow simple recycling rules the better materials can be reused.
The STOP! Plastic Guide does not claim to be complete but provides practical suggestions on how to avoid plastic in everyday life. It encourages us to reflect on our habits to enable more successful recycling.
STOP! PLASTIC IN YOUR BATHROOM
Single-use products such as wet-wipes, tampons, dental floss, and cotton swabs should never be thrown into the toilet. These products are made of plastic and often contain synthetic coatings. Plastic-free alternatives made entirely of cellulose or cotton are easy to find. Contact lenses are more difficult to replace. Similarly, these do not belong in the toilet or drain. Wrapping should be separated into its’ individual material groups and disposed of in the recycling bin. Weekly or monthly contacts save unnecessary packaging. Use refillable soap dispensers to cut down on plastic bottles. But plastic can also be found in liquid form in shower gel, shampoo and exfoliants – make sure you check the ingredients. Numerous detergents contain silicates and with every wash avoidable plastics get into the environment.
STOP! PLASTIC IN YOUR WARDROBE
Textiles made of synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic or elastane all lose small plastic fibers when worn and washed. These are thus released into the environment. The same microplastic pollution happens with clothing made from recycled PET bottles or fishing nets. Buy less but better, prefer plastic-free alternatives, and use the Guppyfriend Washing Bag to prevent plastic pollution.
Clothes should be repaired first, not just thrown away. Clothing swaps are a sustainable alternative. If this is not possible, worn-out clothing should be donated. Wearable clothing is passed on to others, and the rest is processed into new yarns, insulating materials or cleaning cloths. Remember, textiles should neither be disposed of in the recycling bin nor in the regular trash.
STOP! PLASTIC IN THE FRIDGE AND FREEZER
Before plastic products or packaging are thrown away, they should be separated into their individual components as far as possible. The probability of high-quality recycling of yoghurt tubs for example increases if preparatory work has already been done. Just scrape the cup clean – water-intense rinsing is unnecessary. Remove the aluminum lid and paper sleeve from the plastic cup and dispose of all components separately. Cups that are stacked or filled with other materials make it difficult to be identified correctly in most recycling facilities.
STOP! PLASTIC COMPOSITES
Composite materials consist of at least two different materials. These are fully interconnected and very difficult to recycle and not always detectable immediately. They are used, for example, in sausage and cheese packaging, instant soup bags, blister packs of tablets or beverage cartons. The latter consist of three different materials that can hardly be separated: wood fibers, aluminum and plastic. Thus, most of it gets burned.
STOP! PLASTIC WHEN EATING OUT
Fast-Food and takeaway packaging leads to a gigantic amount of waste. A cardboard coffee or water cup always contains a plastic coating. Only one in ten cups is actually recycled. Bring your own reusable cup or bottle instead. Make sure you skip the lid if you forgot your own cup. Packaging made of bioplastics is absolutely no alternative: renewable raw materials such as corn starch, bamboo or sugar cane are used for bioplastic. This puts it in direct competition with food production. In addition, the environmental footprint of bioplastics is often even worse in comparison to conventional plastics. The production of bioplastics is energy intensive, materials are transported over long distances and pesticides as well as fertilizers are being used in the cultivation of raw materials. Moreover, bioplastics cannot be recycled and have negative effects in the environment similar to petroleum-based plastics.
STOP! PLASTIC IN YOUR ORGANIC WASTE
Plastic is not only a problem in rivers and oceans. The concentration of microplastics in our soils increases steadily. Soil pollution is easy to avoid – don’t put any plastic in the organic bin or compost. Especially in apartment buildings the quality of waste separation is often insufficient. Composting facilities can’t sort out all plastic materials. As part of industrial compost, microplastics end up on our fields and in nature. Make sure no bags, labels or fruit nets enter your organic waste or compost.
STOP! PLASTIC IN YOUR CIGARETTE BREAK
Countless cigarette butts, chewing gums, and bottle caps are heedlessly thrown on our streets every day. Cigarette butts consist of cellulose acetate, chewing gum of synthetic thermoplastics and bottle caps are made of a tinplate and the plastic polyethylene. Through wind and rain these materials enter the sewage system and end up unfiltered in our waterways. Cigarette butts contain a variety of toxins and are the most commonly found plastic item on the world’s shorelines. The solution however is pretty simple: make sure that these materials don’t enter the environment. Use trash cans instead.
STOP! MAKING EXCUSES
We often use single-use plastic because of carelessness and don’t separate waste properly out of convenience. Be conscious and make smarter decisions. Statements like “Separating waste is unnecessary. In the end it’s all just mixed again” are simply false and an excuse to not do your part. About half of the waste doesn’t end up in the correct bin. Hence, the better we separate our waste the better it can be recycled and reused.
We often hear things like “The real problem is not the western world. Developing countries are causing most of the world’s pollution.” This claim is also false. Large quantities of waste produced in North America and Europe is in fact exported to developing countries. These countries often lack appropriate landfills, recycling infrastructure and have low recycling standards. Instead of being recycled properly a large part of our waste is shipped around the world to finally end up the environment. Be aware: your contribution to less plastic and recycling counts. It is up to you!