Going plastic free is one of the ways we honour our Earth and the life that inhabits her. This beautiful planet of ours has been likened to the human body. The trees reflect our lungs; the water reflects our blood; the sand and stone our flesh and bones. How we treat our body is a reflection of how we treat the earth and vice versa.
Today we face a very real crisis concerning the amount of disregarded plastic polluting our magnificent earth. Plastic pollution has reached every corner of the earth and is smothering our oceans and poisoning our environment.
Oftentimes, the challenge involved in going plastic free relates to our purchasing behaviour and the habits we’ve likely been practicing for years. In this article we focus on a number of ways to reduce plastic use, and the easy steps we can implement to make a difference.
So, how did we get into this mess with plastic?
Interestingly, plastics have only been mass-produced for around the last 60 years. A major portion of plastic produced each year is used to make disposable items that are discarded within a year. Most plastics are highly durable and will persist for decades as debris accumulating in landfills and natural habitats worldwide.
The amount of plastic being produced is said to increase in the coming years. We are being called to make some very real changes, otherwise the consequences of our excessive plastic production and plastic use will only grow more severe over time.
The global plastic-free movement
Plastic Free July is a worldwide initiative aimed at educating people on how to decrease the amount of plastic they use, as well as encouraging people to try going plastic free for just one month. It’s all about learning to make small changes.
This movement provides us with the perfect opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the plastic-free world, and to adopt a few basic principles to help us combat situations that would normally require us to use plastic.
There are a number of national and international movements that are committed to spreading the word on going plastic free. We’ve focused on just a few of the inspiring companies and brands that are forming a part if this exciting initiative:
Eco alternatives to plastic
Bamboo baby offer cloth nappies that are both economically and environmentally friendly and are an alternative to disposable nappies.
Good for the Ground offers an alternative to everyday packaging. Their plastic lookalike bags are made from starch and are a biodegradable and sustainable way to store and pack sandwiches, veggies, dried fruit and nuts.
Mooncup is a soft, medical-grade silicone cup designed by women for women as a convenient, safe and eco-friendly alternative to tampons and pads.
Many smaller businesses are adopting a plastic-free ethos. It’s not always easy to do as there are many factors to take into consideration, but with each small change, it’s one step towards the bigger goal.
Soaring Free Superfoods is the first superfood brand in South Africa to offer organic superfoods in plastic-free packaging.
The Apothecary is a handcrafted range of natural cleaning and body products. They favour suppliers who dispense ingredients free from plastic-free packaging.
Grassroots eco groups creating change
Waste-Ed is an initiative that makes eco bricks that can fit 2 black bags of non-recyclable material into one 2L bottle. These bottles are then used as building blocks in structures providing insulation in the hotter and cooler months. You can make your own eco bricks and drop them off at the various collection points found in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Ocean Pledge is all about the collaboration between like-minded individuals, brands and industries to co-create positive change, decrease single use plastic and restore balance to the planet. These guys encourage restaurants to be more compliant and assist consumers in making sustainable choices. They are involved in education and work with lots of key ocean organisations.
Getting involved in the plastic-free movement can be fun and empowering, and also a really cool way to give back. You might even get hooked and fall in love with this way of living.
What is single-use plastic?
Single use plastic is disposable plastic that is only used once before being thrown away.
Millions of single use plastic is disposed of every day, including: coffee cups and lids, plastic straws, Styrofoam takeaway boxes and plastic disposable cutlery, plastic shopping bags, water bottles and the majority of food packaging.
6 ways to reduce single-use plastic:
1. Keep a reusable coffee, tea and/or drinks cup with you at all times
We use over 100 billion single use cups every year. The lids of these cups make the problem worse, and paper take-away cups have a plastic lining.
2. Say no to straws!
Straws wreak havoc in our oceans often getting trapped in birds stomachs and turtles nostrils – even biodegradable straws can take up to one year to break down. Let’s get up close and personal with our drinks.
3. Invest in a travel friendly stainless steel cutlery set and container
Prepare your own food for work, flights, picnics, and for cruising around town. It might require a little bit of preparation, but (a) its healthier for you, (b) you’re cutting down on plastic, and (c) you’re saving cash!
4. Carry a reusable bag with wherever you go
This is one of the easiest ways to decrease plastic use. South Africa alone goes through billions of plastic bags every year. That is a lot of plastic.
5. Clip a reusable water canister onto your bag
Plastic bottles are one of the biggest culprits in the plastic crisis. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle and fill up with filtered water before leaving the house. Stainless steel is a great option – durable and great for all adventurers alike.
6. Support food distributors that offer solutions to plastic packaging
Local farmers markets and a few supermarkets (like Food Lovers Market) now offer bulk goods with less packaging. These initiatives also use brown paper bags and cardboard boxes at the checkout counter as well as food dispensers for staples like rice, oats, legumes, nuts and seeds.
To be successful in this world you have to be pretty prepared all of the time. Inevitably we’ll encounter situations that would normally require plastic. It helps to be prepared.
Where to shop
There are other packaging solutions to the growing plastic problem, which include brands who care about going plastic free and provide consumers with solutions and alternatives to plastic:
Faithful to Nature is an online health store that offers multiple waste free options and packaging solutions to enhance the shopping experience of those wanting to be a part of the change and protect the environment.
Food Lovers Market offers bulk goods with less packaging, and customers are encouraged to use their own containers at the food dispensaries.
Organic Zone is a health shop on the border of Lakeside and Muizenberg in Cape Town. Their food is packaged in a plastic look-alike that is made from plant cellulose.
Other ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle:
Reducing, reusing, and recycling all help to cut down on the amount of waste we throw away. They conserve natural resources, landfill space and energy. The 3 R’s of waste management are also referred to as a “waste hierarchy” and list (in order of priority) the actions to be taken to reduce the amount of waste generated.
Use up products before investing in new ones, and avoid buying items that are over packaged in foil, plastic and paper. Where you can buy higher quality goods that are durable and that have a longer lifespan. Avoid buying on a whim. You can also learn a new skill like baking or making your own homemade beauty products that use fewer ingredients, resources and packaging.
Glass products are the ultimate environmentally friendly option: 100% recyclable, chemically inert and infinitely reusable. Glass jars and glass containers can be used for drinks and food on the run. You can also donate old books and clothes to charity organisations.
Support companies that use recycled materials to make their products. Buy products that can be recycled like glass, and invent new ways of recycling like the eco brick solution. Keep a bin for your ‘burnables’ and use throwaway paper and cardboard to stoke your fire! There are also companies who will collect recyclable material weekly or bi-weekly from your doorstep for as little as R90/month like the company Recycle 1st.
With every product you purchase you are making a choice to contribute to the problem or to the solution – this is known as ‘purchasing power’.
Our Earth, our home
How we treat our bodies and how we treat the earth are connected and interdependent.
Taking care of ourselves is often a prerequisite to looking after our environment.
When we acknowledge ourselves as healthy, whole and deserving of love and connection, we naturally see the interconnections between all things – including our connection to one another, as well as our connection to the earth and all of her interdependent living systems.
We are faced with a number of challenges that are calling us to be more mindful and take responsibility for our actions on the environment. By spending more time outdoors and in nature we strengthen our connection to the earth, and naturally find ourselves more willing to engage in the activities necessary to preserve our planet.
We can enjoy the beauty that this planet has to offer us knowing that we have done our best