HOW TO REDUCE SINGLE USE PLASTIC DURING LOCKDOWN
Updated: Feb 23
Let's be real. You're not alone if your single use plastic intake has increased this year. Lockdown has been hard, and the disruption to our usual shopping routine makes our low waste lifestyles a little harder to navigate.
When we first went into lockdown here in March, times were so uncertain and information about what to expect or how to shop was very limited. And as such, a lot of us resorted to being more lenient on our zero waste shopping habits.
Gone were the days of buying fresh produce the day we needed it because we couldn't go to the shops more than once a week. Gone were the days of picking different items from a few different stores, because we needed to limit time outside the house and the number of people we came into contact with. Gone were the days of forgoing an item because it was wrapped in plastic hoping we'd see it at that next shop because it was either buy it now or go without. So I don't know about you, but I started to feel guilty. But guilt has never served anyone and it certainly isn't serving us now.
So as the world heads into our second lockdown, we are armed with more information this time around and there is a little less uncertainty. We are now more prepared and armed with the information to tackle this lockdown differently. So let's focus on how you can start getting back to your eco-friendly values. Not because you have to, but because I know you want to find that balance. This isn't about perfection, it's about taking small steps back to the lifestyle that makes us happy and fulfilled. Let's take the time now to reflect on our values and take baby steps to get our actions back in alignment with them.
So let's go back to basics!
I'm sure we all know the old adage "reduce, reuse, recycle". Well did you know that you're supposed to think through them in that order? The first step is always to reduce your reliance first, then see if you can reuse something, and only *after* you've exhausted those two steps are you meant to recycle something.
Why? Well, recycling actually takes up a lot of resources.
Now don't get me wrong. Recycling something definitely uses less energy and water than making something new, but it still uses more than not having to recycle it at all! So if we can eliminate the amount of resources required to break something down, it's half the battle.
What's the other half? Well, did you also know that it's estimated only 9% of recyclable items actually make their way to the right plant and through the process? That's right. Even if you put something in that recycle bin, it doesn't always make its way through the process. And let's not even mention all the recyclables that just never get sorted properly, to begin with.
So what do we do? We need to start thinking about things differently. And actually, there's a new 7 R's system that helps us to do that. And more than that, there's some debate about which R's actually make the cut. So instead of teaching you that, I'm gonna teach you which ones I'm focused on right now which I know I can embrace in a pandemic and help me get back to basics.
REFUSE the single use plastics you really can do without
Life is hard right now, and sometimes I find myself purchasing things I really don't need because I think it won't make that big of a difference and I just want to have a little control over what I buy. Like the optional bean sprouts for my tofu bowl that are wrapped in plastic or the coriander that isn't package free. But it's time to re-evaluate what we're buying again. Do you really need it? Can you do without? Is there an alternative option?
Now if you really need something and it's wrapped in plastic, do it! I'm the last person who's going to tell you to give up a staple item right now. But what I'm talking about here is removing those things that you think you need, which are really luxuries and you don't need, which are going to compromise your low waste values.
So next time you've got something in your hand that's wrapped in plastic, please just ask yourself, can I do without this?
REDUCE the amount of plastic you bring into your life
Now this one is a little easier than I think a lot of us realise. And it comes down to one key phrase - buy the largest item available! If you have a staple item that comes in plastic, buy the biggest option available to you. It's generally less packaging and the energy that went into making the smaller option is probably pretty on par with the big one.
So if you can afford to and know you'll use it, just stock up on the larger size so you minimise the waste. It's also usually the larger containers that are more easily reused as well, which brings me to our next point….
RETHINK, REPURPOSE, REUSE what you do consume
This has become one of my favorites lately! One thing we can't seem to avoid is aluminum cans. Maple syrup, soup, tomatoes… you name it and I've got an old can stashed somewhere. But what am I doing with them? I created a boatload of plant pots for my propagated pathos plants which adorned my balcony this summer. I also started gifting them to friends to bring them a little joy. And now I've got a stash which will be turned into homemade candles and gifted to friends and family throughout the year. It's a fun activity to keep us busy without our usual social outings, and also a great way to use up these items.
So before you throw something into that recycling bin, have a think - can this item serve another purpose? Can I repurpose it for something new and fun? Or can I just use it as another container? Do a quick Pinterest or Instagram search and I'm sure you'll find loads of fun and crafty ideas!
RECYCLE properly according to your municipality
If you've made your way through the previous few steps, it's only then that you should look at recycling your plastics. And if you get here, please make sure that you're doing it properly! Take the time to learn what your local municipality will actually recycle. Because did you know that just throwing items into the bin and hoping they're recyclable costs the city more money and resources? So do your research. For instance, in my city, we cannot recycle #6 plastics. So I will go out of my way to avoid restaurants that I know use these or purchase anything of this kind.
Then, make sure you're cleaning and recycling properly based on your city's regulations. Here, they ask us to wash and dry everything, otherwise, the entire contents of a bag will be discarded. But I know in some European countries they ask you NOT to wash so as not to wastewater. Look for your local guidelines and follow them.
And lastly, look into the process for soft plastics. This has been a game-changer for us when we had to buy more packaged goods during the pandemic. But after I did the research, we found out any soft bags, shrink wrap, packaging, etc can be recycled as long as we combined it in one bag for easier sorting. Check if you have a similar option!
So yes, it's really that simple to reduce your single use plastics!
Let's just get back to basics. Plan again. Think differently. We have the info, the knowledge, and the drive to reduce this reliance once and for all, so let's put our minds to it.