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Five simple ways to kick your single-use habit

The first episode of Hugh and Anita’s War on Plastic hit our screens last week to shine a light on a very serious issue.

| 17 Jun 19

Plastic is a long-lasting material that makes up a lot of the items we use every single day, from cleaning bottles, to laptops and medical equipment. They serve an important function, and we still need them in some instances. The problem lies with the sheer quantity we produce for the wrong reasons. Single-use plastics are cheap to make and can be found polluting the environment.

But the episode highlighted a wider issue – our convenience driven lifestyles. Nowadays, it is so easy to stream your favourite television show on demand or order fast food at a tap of a button. The same is true with disposable items – regardless of what it is made of. Water comes in single-use bottles and take-away utensils are used once then thrown away.

Plastic makes up 70% of all litter in the ocean, so we need to think about how we use it responsibly. That means minimising disposable items or making them last longer.

Here are five easy ways to break up with single-use items:

1. Don’t bottle it

Single-use plastic bottles are everywhere. There are over one billion plastic bottles sold in Scotland every year, and they are often found blighting our coastlines. Replacing a disposable water bottle with a re-usable one cuts down on the amount of plastic in circulation and helps keep the environment clean.

Our tap water is the best in the world, so there’s no reason not to fill up at home or use a public water tap. After all, why wouldn’t you want to save money and skip the queues? More and more water taps are available, and you can now find them in airports, train stations and even on the high street. You can also find the nearest place to get a free water refill using the Refill app.

2. Shop smart

Supermarkets are a minefield when it comes to avoiding single-use packaging. While the plastic packaging keeps food fresh for longer, there are a few things you can do to cut down on waste.

When filling up on loose fruit and vegetables, simply swap a disposable bag with a re-usable one. There are many alternatives available, such as a small string or cotton produce bag. Some vegetables, like sweet potatoes and carrots, are sturdy enough without the need for packaging, just make sure to give them a rinse at home.

Where you can’t avoid packaging – then make sure you recycle everything that can be recycled. If you’re not sure, check with your local council about what they can collect at kerbside and local recycling centres.

Another big issue are the plastic bags to take your shopping home in. Invest in a reliable tote bag or a bag for life for those impromptu shopping trips. The 5p carrier bag charge has already helped us to avoid unnecessary plastic waste. The amount of single-use carrier bags has dropped by 80% since the introduction of the charge.

We are also witnessing the rise of stores with a dedicated section for selling loose products. Stores like Locavore in Glasgow or Sea No Waste in Arbroath enable customers to refill on kitchen essentials, like pasta, muesli or spices, using their own re-usable containers.

3. Up the re-usable cup

Get your caffeine kick without harming the environment. Once cups fulfil their function of holding a hot drink, they are often destined for general waste, or worse, become litter. Some stores offer a discount for customers who bring in a re-usable cup, so it’s worth checking with your local coffee shop. Carrying around a re-usable cup is an easy way to reduce your plastic footprint.

It’s a common misconception that compostable and biodegradable single-use items are automatically better for the environment. As with conventional plastics, these need be disposed of correctly. Compostable materials require specific conditions to break down and not all locations have access to industrial composting facilities that will accept them. In the wider environment, these items can last for years.

Confused? As a rule, it’s always better to replace a single-use item with a re-usable one. After all, waste is waste.

4. Time for a makeover

Our homes can contain a mountain of single-use packaging in the form of cleaning, health and beauty products. The bathroom is a great place to start if you want to reduce your single-use intake. Buy soap and shampoo bars loose. Swap disposable plastic razors for long-life alternatives. Disposable sanitary products also result in a lot of waste. For a waste free period, try out a menstrual cup, THINX underwear or re-usable pads or tampons.

5. Say ‘naw’ to the straw

This may seem like a small issue in light of the scale of the environmental crisis, but if everyone said ‘no thanks’ to a plastic straw and used their lips instead then we’d be saving a lot of waste. Straws – whether plastic or paper – are currently difficult to recycle. To help save the environment, avoid straws totally, or if you really need one bring along a re-usable metal straw to use instead.

Plastic has its uses but by making small changes, we can all do more to cut our single-use plastic habit.

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