Whilst many initially approach mindfulness to help improve their mental wellbeing, mindfulness naturally ends up increasing our awareness of our general lifestyle. We become increasingly aware of what we consume, be that food and drink, sounds, media, etc. Subsequently, we also become more aware of what we waste. Reducing waste is something I’ve become passionate about, although I still have some way to go in meeting a level of waste that has resulted only from the bare essentials. Today’s post is about one area of waste that has particularly caught my attention: plastic.
The Earth Day Network, who are best known for their World Earth Day campaigns, released startling facts about our global plastic wastage. According to their website, there is 8 million metric tonnes of plastic in the ocean. The rate of plastic being disposed of in the ocean equates to one garbage truck per minute, with one of the five main debris sites matching the size of the state of Texas. Moreover, 74% (dry weight) of turtles’ diets around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was reported to have been composed of plastic. The fact sheet in its totality is shocking, pointing out how we as humans have also likely consumed plastic microfibres by the way of eating fish.
The lifespan of plastic
Why is plastic so dangerous? The fact is, it can take an insanely long time to degrade, meaning that it will sit in our oceans, continuing to be consumed by our marine life and humankind for up to a 1000 years (if our species even survives that long). According to 4Ocean, on average a plastic bottle will take 450 years to decompose. To put that into context, that bottle is likely to outlive you 5x over. A plastic bag will take 10-20 years. The disposable diaper you’ve placed on your beautiful baby will also outlive him/her. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t use plastic at all (although that would be something amazing to aspire to!), more to increase awareness of the global issue and to encourage reduction wherever possible.
Plastic in the household
Plastic has become such a standard feature in our everyday life that it can be surprising when you start to take note of how much of it can be found in your own home. Regular offenders are, food packaging and the protective packaging within the many parcels we now have delivered through online shopping. In my own home, we are a household of two. Plastic, glass and cans can all be recycled within our 340 litre recycle wheelie waste bin provided by our local council in the UK. On average, it takes us just over a month to fill the bin to the brim. Whilst this probably is by no means the worst level of waste, it has made me more mindful of the amounts of throwaway plastic we have in our home and how important it is to make sure that we recycle what we can.
I’ve scoured various .org websites to uncover the rules of what plastic can/can’t be recycled and also just how clean the plastic we aim to recycle needs to be. There appears to be variations of information. In the UK, it would be best to visit your local council site as different councils provide different types of recycling services. Some allow for bottle tops to be recycled, whilst others recommend against including this. A few items appear consistent, for example how polystyrene and plastic bags can’t be included in the recycle bin and need to go into the main rubbish. I feel it is these types of items we should most focus on cutting down on – those plastics that cannot be recycled. As for cleaning items before they go into the recycle bin, these should be as clean as possible to avoid contamination during the recycling process.
How can we cut down on plastic waste?
Armed with our knowledge about plastic and the issue the world is currently facing, we can do a number of things to reduce our plastic waste footprint.
1) Recycle – recycle whatever plastics we can
2) Use reusable bags – when going shopping, we should aim to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags
3) Buy unpackaged food – for fruit and veg, it is easy to select these items and place into a paper bag rather than buy packaged food with all of their plastic wrappings. It also can end up more cost effective too as you only buy what you need rather than in bulk
4) Take a reusable cup to the cafe – there are many schemes in place now that offer discounts on your favourite cuppa if you bring your own cup
5) Opt for packages to be delivered without additional packaging – I have unfortunately received a few wildly packaged products by Amazon. I once bought a wetsuit that was folded to the size of a tshirt, but delivered in a 3ft by 1ft box and stuffed with plastic airbags to ‘protect’ the item. Whilst unfortunately this product wasn’t eligible to be delivered in its own packaging, a number of products are. Check before you click to shop and help cut down on wasteful packaging
6) Avoid using plastic straws – if you can drink fine from the glass, reconsider using a plastic straw
7) Find alternatives to the plastic option – I have started buying solid shampoo to cut down the plastic bottles my shampoo and conditioner comes in. Lush sell some pretty awesome and super foamy options
We may never be able to return to a plastic-free world, but opening our awareness to the challenges our planet faces will hopefully place us on a path where we can reduce our plastic-waste footprint, conserve our oceans and save our marine life.
You can find out more about the global plastic issue here: