I love wildlife. I think that’s clear to anyone who’s had to listen to me droning on about the wonders of peacock mantis shrimps, or about that time when I saw 10,000 rooks take off into the sky all at once from their roost at 5am and it was so amazing and overwhelming that I actually cried (perhaps the lack of sleep played a role here). Equally, I think it’s impossible to have even a passing interest in zoology without realising that a frighteningly large proportion of the natural world is in trouble. I haven’t been in conservation long, but I’ve been here long enough to realise that the problems are complicated and that for many of them we still don’t have all the solutions. But it doesn’t mean that they are unsolvable, and that I have to sit here helpless while the things I care about disappear.
Nobody’s perfect, and I think it’s important not to expect everyone to be an eco-saint. I still slip up, all the time. And sometimes I make decisions which I know aren’t the best ones for the environment. But I do believe that we should value the things that we can do, and that we should always strive to do better. So, I’m setting up a little thread on my blog I’m calling Little Ways to Save the World, mainly in the hope that if I’ve preached it I’ll feel compelled to practice it. First up, plastic.
Plastic is amazing. It’s lightweight, it’s versatile, it’s cheap. It’s everywhere. The thing is, three months of solid reading about garbage patches opened my eyes to the huge problem of marine plastic debris (if you want to read about it’s impact, I’d recommend starting here, here and here), and just because I wasn’t personally hiring a boat to take me to the gyres to heartily tip a big bin liner full of plastic overboard didn’t mean that I didn’t share some responsibility for it.
I’ve therefore been trying to reduce my consumption of plastic over the last few months- in particular, non-recyclable stuff that goes in my bin to spend an eye-wateringly long time decomposing in landfill. I’m nowhere near achieving zero waste- but these small things have added up to make a big difference.
1. BUY A KEEP CUP
This was flavour of the month a few weeks ago, when conservative estimates put the number of take-away coffee cups being handed out in the UK at over 8 million per day. Christ on a bike. 8 million per day???
That statistic doesn’t mean they all go to landfill, right? Can’t they be recycled? Well, technically yes- but because they have a plastic lining it is fiendishly difficult to do so. More often than not, they end up in landfill, as I can personally attest upon seeing the waste bins at work fill up with coffee cups day after day.
There was a very easy way of making sure I was no longer contributing to this, and that was to buy a reusable one. I went for a glass keep cup, and when it arrived it was love at first sight. Now it stays in my satchel, and is even paying slowly for itself in bring-your-own-mug discounts. I can testify to it’s splashproofness having run the length of Euston with a full mug after some unfortunate Platform 1B/ Platform 18 confusion. You can get them online, or 8th Day in Manchester stock them.
2. PACK CUTLERY
Because then you don’t have to use plastic cutlery designed for single use. I have one set living in my desk and another set in my bag. Extra brownie points and strange looks if you carry a small spoon around so you don’t have to use plastic stirrers.
3) NO STRAW, PLEASE
Straws are pointless. Along with plastic wrapped fruit and veg (see below), I tried giving these up for lent this year, and it was surprisingly difficult. They’d keep appearing in drinks I wasn’t expecting them to turn up in. A part of me was always sad to turn them down, particularly if they were extra curly, but then I thought of all the ocean life I was potentially saving (like, for example, this manatee) and it seemed like a worthwhile sacrifice. I’m currently looking at getting a reusable steel one, but haven’t yet come across any in shops.
4) REFUSE THINGS THAT ARE OVERPACKAGED
For lent this year, I gave up buying any fruit and veg that was wrapped in plastic. Living in Kentish Town made the task considerably easier as I was surrounded by packaging free market stalls- but even the average Sainsburys will sell things loose (I’ve found lemons, apples, pears, bananas, broccoli, onions, potatoes, carrots, ginger, mushrooms… all loose and packaging free). Because I’m usually only buying for one or two I never put my veg in clear plastic bags (instead they just go straight in my basket as they are)- but I if I did I would consider sewing a few re-usable cloth ones.
5) BECOME THE QUEEN OF TUPPERWARE
Things with lids to store things = less foil and clingfilm. A fantastic excuse to go completely nuts in the end bit of IKEA where you always end up buying stuff you don’t need. Some people avoid plastic tupperware and opt for glass or stainless steel, which is completely their prerogative. The point is to get to a stage where your supply completely eliminates the need to use freezer bags and cling film.
So there we have it. Five little things, which are having a significant impact on my plastic footprint. I’d love to hear any tips anyone has for other small changes I can make- I’m hoping to discover a few by following people that are about to embark on the Marine Consevation Society’s Plastic Challenge, and will no doubt update upon any discoveries.