Want to reduce your plastic use? Here are 12 plastic-free alternatives you can start using today
Is plastic really a problem? Yes. A revolutionary material that plays a big part in our modern lives, plastic is ubiquitous on our planet…and it won’t be going anywhere for a long time.
Where did plastic come from?
Before plastic, products were made from natural resources which often led to shortages of materials like ivory, wood and stone. In 1863 a creative billiard supplier in New York placed an advert in the paper offering ten thousand dollars to anyone who could create a suitable alternative to ivory. John Wesley Hyatt got to work in his homemade lab.
After years of trial and error in 1869, he created a material he called ‘celluloid’, the first plastic material made from the natural polymer cellulose found in cotton. Bakelite was the first truly synthetic plastic and today most plastics are made from hydrocarbon molecules that, depending on how they are processed, can be super malleable or extremely firm.
Initially created as a solution that helped protect natural resources, plastic is now a problem impacting the world.
Why is plastic a problem?
Plastic has woven its way into our daily lives – it’s everywhere. As the global population grows so does its production which utilises the burning of fossil fuels.
The real issue with plastic - we don’t know how to get rid of it.
Plastic doesn’t biodegrade so it lasts a long time, so long that it’s thought almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere on this planet, and considering 300 million tonnes is produced globally each year, it’s a huge problem.
Think of every piece of plastic you’ve ever encountered, from food wrappers, product packaging, drink bottles, your toothbrush – it’s all still out there – if not in a landfill it’s contributing to what’s estimated to be five trillion pieces of plastic in the world's oceans. So much plastic ends up in our oceans that scientists predict there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.
What about recycling plastics?
Recycling is great but it's not easy, even though all types of plastic are recyclable not all facilities are able to recycle all types of plastic and not all people recycle their plastic. Recycling also requires energy and most plastic is only recyclable once or twice.
The real reason that recycling isn’t the answer? In the next minute people around the world will purchase 1 million plastic bottles and 2 million plastic bags – recycling on this scale is not sustainable.
How can we help reduce the plastic problem?
Refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle (in that order)
Start by refusing single-use and other plastic products that aren’t necessary (like water bottles, coffee cups, straws and plastic carrier bags).
Reduce the amount of plastic you buy by looking for products made from sustainable materials that biodegrade or can be upcycled easily.
Choose long-lasting, reusable alternatives. Recycle where you can and make sure you adhere to the recycling rules of your local community.
Join clean-up crews
Taking part in initiatives like Clean Up Australia Day is a great way to actively help prevent plastic and other rubbish heading straight into the ocean and impacting wildlife.
Take the plastic-free July challenge
Plastic-free July has taken the world by storm, challenging individuals, families and businesses to go plastic-free for 31 days. The concept is simple, pledge to take the challenge and you decide how you're going to take part (going completely plastic free, avoiding single-use plastic or targeting takeaway items) and for how long you’re going to take the challenge (from one day to incorporating plastic-free living into your lifestyle).
About plastic-free July
Plastic-free July is a movement hoping to help millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution for cleaner streets, oceans and communities.
Each year plastic-free July changes household behaviours amounting to 2.5 million kg reduction in recycling waste and 14.5 million kg reduction in landfill waste. By consciously making the change, you’ll be breaking habits and learning new ones that will hopefully stick with you in the future and will have a positive impact on the planet.
So how do you go about reducing your plastic footprint on the planet?
12 plastic products you can remove from your life today
1. Plastic toothbrush
In Australia alone over 30 million toothbrushes are used and disposed of each year, amounting to 1000 tonnes of landfill annually. As plastic brushes don't degrade, opt for a biodegradable toothbrush made from bamboo and natural cellulose fibres. Bamboo grows extremely quickly meaning land use to grow and harvest bamboo is very quickly regenerated.
2. Plastic personal care packaging
Body wash, facial cleanser and toners are products we use daily, they can contain microbeads and chemicals that pollute our oceans, and most come in single-use plastic bottles. Switch out disposable plastic packaging for sustainable skin care. Fibre cleansing products harness natural skin-loving properties of water to cleanse, exfoliate (and even remove makeup) and are reusable for up to three years with zero-waste packaging.
3. Disposable coffee cups
We love coffee and use an estimated 1 billion disposable coffee cups a year. Coffee cups might not look like plastic but the cardboard cup has a thin film of plastic to keep the hot contents safely inside. This plastic film means the cups are hard to recycle and useful for approximately 15 minutes before they end up in a landfill. Choose a reusable option instead. Stainless steel and double-walled cups have the added bonus of keeping your coffee hot for longer.
4. Plastic water bottles
Bottled water not only contributes to the plastic problem in a huge way, but it also requires huge amounts of energy (and water) to fill, transport, refrigerate and recycle a drink that could have so easily come straight from the tap. Go back to the tap and invest in a reusable drink bottle as an earth-loving option for staying hydrated when your travel.
5. Takeaway food packaging
Grabbing lunch on the go can mean a plastic container or plastic packaging handed to you in a plastic bag. Prepare your lunch at home in a reusable container, or bring a glass or stainless steel container with you and ask your favourite lunch-stop to fill you up instead.
6. Plastic straws
Straws have such a short life span for single-use plastic, they are extremely damaging to wildlife, highly prevalent and highly unnecessary. If you can’t live without a straw, switch to eco-friendly stainless steel or reusable silicon straw instead.
7. Single-use plastic cutlery
It’s nice to eat out and buy lunch on the go, simply remember to bring your own cutlery and say no to plastic disposable knives, forks and spoons. There are plenty of handy travel cases for cutlery that you can simply pop into your bag.
8. Plastic fresh produce bags
Separating fresh produce into clear plastic bags became part of grocery shopping life even though plastic isn’t great for fresh produce. Take your own reusable bags for separating fruit and veg, repurposing your ENJO Laundry Bag is a great way to reduce your use of plastic bags while keeping your fresh produce organised.
9. Plastic shopping bags
Not too long ago, Australian’s were using 4 billion plastic bags every year – around 10 million a day. Fortunately, laws against plastic bags are coming into action across the country. This is great for the environment as we replace flimsy plastic bags with reusable bags that are far better for holding your groceries! Store in your car or invest in reusable bags that conveniently fold up into your handbag.
10. Disposable cleaning products
The plastic bottles used to store cleaning products are one of the hardest plastics to recycle. Reduce your household waste and remove this tough plastic from your life by investing in reusable fibre cleaning products. ENJO cleaning products arrive in plastic-free packaging and clean your entire home for 3 years. ENJO International offset the carbon emissions produced to make ENJO cleaning products and buying an ENJO Bundle means you can plant a tree with the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund. ENJO Fibres are also upcycled at the end of their cleaning life.
11. Plastic cling wrap
There are so many ways to avoid plastic cling wrap. Glass storage containers are perfect for storing leftovers. If you prefer storing food in bowls and crockery you already have or are looking for an alternative for wrapping up sandwiches, try reusable beeswax wraps. Bee Green Wraps are an Australian company who produce beeswax infused cotton sheets as a plastic alternative. Produced by virtually zero waste methods, use the warmth of your hands to fold the paper around your food and simply wash to reuse.
12. Plastic rubbish bags
Setting up an effective home waste system will see you dramatically reduce your household waste. Have your recycling box, your composting bin, and non-recyclable waste bin. Before anything goes in the bin – check if it can be recycled, repurposed or composted. Try lining your waste bin with newspaper instead of plastic and invest in compostable bin liners for extremely wet waste only. This will really reduce your use of garbage bags and thus, single-use plastics.
Are you taking the plastic-free July challenge? Share your plastic-avoidance tactics and plastic-alternatives in the comments section.
Editor’s note: this post was updated 1 July 2019