8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. Don't know what that looks like? Imagine 15 big, black garbage bags per metre of coastline across the world!
Our single use plastic shopping bags alone amount to 500 billion every year, approximately 150 bags for each person on earth.This plastic waste is consumed by marine wildlife resulting in deformities and death of approximately 100 000 marine creatures and approximately 1 million seabirds each year according to Plastic Crusaders.
Other plastics break down into microplastics that are ingested by some of our smallest lifeforms, such as plankton. The consumed plastic works its way up the food chain and ends up on our plates, threatening our own health, by causing cancer and birth defects.
With that being said, it's time for us to explore 10 options on how to reduce our waste.
1. Don't ignore it, do look at the waste you produce.
A good way to start is by going through a waste audit. Have a look at the contents of your rubbish bin. What are some of the main items you throw away (e.g. food packaging)? Keep track of what you throw away, daily, weekly, monthly, annually so that you know what you need to reduce.
2. Don't buy groceries with unnecessary packaging, do buy without packaging.
The plastic cling-wrap and polystyrene that covers most of the food you buy at most grocery stores - get rid of it. Most packaging at Woolworths cannot be recycled, have a look at the back of the packaging where it indicates recyclability. A recycling icon that has been crossed out or has the number 7 in it means that it goes straight to the rubbish dump once you are done with it. There are many places you can shop that do not use unnecessary packaging, such as your local farmers market, Food Lovers Market or Fruit and Veg City. These are great places to shop for your produce. Spar is also making a more concerted effort in some of their stores. You could even take it a step further and grow your own produce at home.
3. Don’t use disposable bags, do bring your own reusable ones.
It may seem convenient to simply get a plastic bag at the till, but comes at the expense of the environment as mentioned at the beginning of this blog.It is easy to buy or even make your own produce and shopping bags at standard retail shops or markets.
4. Don't use takeaway coffee cups, do bring your own.
Those single-use cups go straight to landfill. Bring your own travel cups. Many places will be happy to serve you - some even encourage it. If you find yourself without your cup,consider not even buying - it may seem a bit unreasonable, but these habits need to be developed. If you really need to have your fix, consider at least not taking the lid that goes on top of the cup.
5. Don't use plastic water bottles, fill up a glass or aluminium bottle on the go.
We are lucky enough to live in a country where the tap water is safe to drink. There is no need for you to buy plastic bottled water or use the plastic or polystyrene cups at the water dispenser. Many shops stock glass and aluminium bottles that you can take with you and often keep the water cooler than plastic.
6. Don’t use straws, do drink from the glass.
Every day over a billion straws are sent to landfill or end up in the ocean. There really is no purpose to using a straw if you can drink from a glass directly. If you can't give up straws altogether, rather replace plastic with stainless steel or bamboo straws that can be bought online or by specialty retailers. Be sure to tell waiters at restaurant when you order your drinks that you will not need a straw, as some places already insert the straw into your drink before bringing it to your table. Speaking of restaurants, look at our next tip.
7. Don't use polystyrene and plastic bags for takeaways, do ask if they have any paper based containers.
This is a tricky one, but once again its the argument of convenience and its negative contribution to our waste. If you can help it, try not to get any takeaways at all and eat everything at the restaurant. Overall it's important to educate restaurants about the harmful consequences of polystyrene packaging since it does not get recycled in South Africa.
8. Don't buy cheap once-off items, do buy things that last.
Focus on the quality of the items you purchase. Even if it costs you a little more now, it will save you in the long run. This refers to things like clothing, furniture, appliances.
9. Don't throw away, do repair.
If you buy quality items that last long, it will also make sense to repair them instead of throwing them away. This will allow these items to last you a lifetime instead of a few months or years if you care for them properly.
10. Don't carry on as you are now, do adopt a new mindset.
The most important thing going forward is to adopt a mindset of how you can minimise your waste. We need to shed the mentality of using things once or for a short period of time and then simply disposing of them and replacing them with brand new items. It is this mindset that has brought us to a point of unsustainable production and consumerism that our planet cannot keep up with. Look for opportunities where you can cut out waste and even educate others on how to reduce theirs. Support zero-waste initiatives and businesses. The more people change, the faster a zero-waste movement can grow worldwide, with businesses and governments alike being forced to offer more sustainable options. Hopefully, eco-friendly lifestyles will be more commonplace in the near future before we pass our tipping point.