With recent reports on the staggering amount of plastic waste floating in our oceans, rivers and lakes, it is high time we start doing something about this problem. Recycling is good, but for many reasons, it is not the answer to the global plastic pollution. We must all learn how to reduce the amount of plastic waste we are producing in the first place. Here are my five favorite ways to reduce your personal plastic footprint.
1. Bring Your Own Bag
Billions of plastic shopping bags are used worldwide every year. Shops give them out for free to their customers, but they have a huge environmental cost. Few are ever recycled and many of them end up in our seas, where they are mistaken for jellyfish and ingested by turtles and other marine animals. Help cut down on the number of plastic bags used by bringing your own reusable bags to the supermarkets and refusing the disposable ones.
You don’t have to buy new bags; use the bags you already have – backpacks, rucksacks, purses, the baskets on your bicycles. You can also reuse the plastic bags you already have. Give them a rinse if needed between uses. If you need to buy new bags, buy ones made from cotton. Avoid the polypropylene bags that look like fabric; they are actually made from plastic. They are not washable and they fall apart quickly.
Once you’ve got some bags, the next step is making it a habit to bring them with you on your shopping trips. Put some reusable bags in places that help you remember them. Keep some next to your wallet or keys. Stuff some in your purse. Tie some to your bike handles. Put a few in your glove compartment. With practice, it will become second nature to grab your reusable bags!
2. Don’t Buy Bottled Water
Plastic water bottles are one of the most common items of trash found in our waterways. Unfortunately, accessing clean drinking water that’s not in a bottle can sometimes be a challenge in the Middle East. The water in our homes may not always be drinkable straight from the tap. Invest in a water filter and have it installed for your whole house or just your kitchen tap. There are many filters available on the market. Research them and decide which is best for you.
Next, invest in a reusable water bottle that you can fill before you leave the house. Stainless steel is best if you can find it. Buy one for each member of your family. If you must purchase bottled water, look for a company that provides the large returnable and refillable bottles.
3. Say No to Straws
Yes, those little plastic straws we get in our drinks add up to a huge problem. When placing an order for a cold drink, tell the waiter that you do not need a straw. If you really can’t drink without one, check out options for reusable straws. You can purchase stainless steel, glass, and paper straws from various online shops.
4. Bring Your Own Containers
Ordering food for takeaway? Bring your own reusable containers and ask the restaurant to put your food in those instead of the plastic or polystyrene ones. If you order a lot of takeaway, consider investing in a set of reusable utensils so that you can also refuse the plastic disposable ones. Wooden or bamboo forks, knives, and spoons would be easy to carry in your purse or clear backpack.
Ordering a coffee to-go? Bring your own mug or thermos. The disposable cups the coffee shops use may look like paper, but they are often lined with plastic and come with plastic lids. Avoid all of the plastic by bringing your own mug!
5. Buy in Bulk Whenever Possible
For many people, most of our plastic waste comes from the kitchen. And a lot of it is plastic packaging for food. You can avoid much of this plastic by shopping from the bulk bins. Bulk bins (or bags as they often are in the Middle East) are a way of selling goods by weight. The product is stored in the bags and customers can measure out any amount they would like.
Typically, customers are given plastic bags to fill. Refuse those and bring your bag or container to fill. Since most shops now have digital scales, it is easy to put your empty bag on the scale, hit the tare button, fill your bag, and then return it to the scale and get the weight of the goods only.
Often products sold in bulk are less expensive than those already packaged in plastic. Reuse glass jars and fill up on rice, nuts, flour, beans, and more! Find a shop near you that sells what you want in bulk and then speak with the clerk to ensure that you can bring your own bags. You’ll most likely have better luck with this if you shop from smaller supermarkets and avoid the large chains.