Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues. Because of the conveniences plastics offer – it’s cheap, incredibly versatile and keeps food fresh and clean – we have somewhat (unintentionally) become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic.
What can we do to help slow the flow of plastic and improve the way we manage our plastic waste? Together with Clipper Teas* I’m exploring the impact of plastic waste and sharing tips on how we can reduce plastic waste in everyday life. We’ll also discuss plastic alternatives and look at the benefits of biodegradable materials.
The plastic problem
Globally, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, and every year, 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used. What’s more, about half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once. Unfortunately, this plastic doesn’t just disappear. The fact is, it can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose.
Plastic waste can be found almost everywhere on Earth, with a large proportion of it making its way into the oceans. Only 1% of this plastic floats, which means that everything else sinks to the floor, polluting even the most remote places on Earth. According to the Guardian, by 2050, plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Once plastic gets to the ocean, it is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste. And plastic waste is not only harming our environment but also wildlife. About 700 species, including endangered ones, are affected by plastic, and nearly every seabird species eats plastic.
The recycling myth
When looking at this stat, you’re probably thinking, “right, that’s bad, but I’m sure most of it gets recycled anyway.” It turns out this isn’t even remotely the case. According to Greenpeace, globally, only 9% of plastic gets recycled.
Even though this rate is higher in European countries, the UK sends roughly two-thirds of its plastic waste overseas to be recycled. After recycling, the most common destination for rubbish is landfill, with 24% of waste sent there in 2016.
As one of the biggest producers of plastic waste globally, second only to the US, the UK exports the equivalent of three and a half Olympic swimming pools every single day. The lack of infrastructure and regulations in many countries the UK is sending the waste to – like Malaysia and Indonesia – make it challenging to manage the influx of trash from domestic and foreign sources.
So does this mean we should stop recycling our waste at home? Of course not. But if you have the choice, opting for brands that package their products with plastic alternatives and buying food packaging-free when you can, can really make a big difference.
Plastic packaging alternatives
Apart from glass and stainless steel, a plastic alternative that has gotten increased attention over the last few years is biodegradable packaging. Biodegradable materials are capable of decomposition, meaning microorganisms can break them down. Biodegradable material has the potential to reduce waste and ultimately water usage, electricity and emissions.
To fight against plastic waste, Clipper had created the world’s first biodegradable plant-based teabags in 2018. Clipper teabags are sealed with a non-GM bio-material made from plant cellulose, known as PLA, also known as bio-plastic. PLA is made from biomaterial, is fully biodegradable and nothing like the damaging oil-based plastics people are rightfully concerned about.
But it doesn’t stop there for Clipper! The next step is green packaging, which includes improving its recyclability and reducing the packaging weight. As of early next year, Clipper will completely remove the foil from their boxes, resulting in 20 tonnes of plastic not going into landfills each year.
Read more about plastic in tea bags here.
How to break the plastic habit
Totally avoiding plastic can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, finding smart alternatives to common items like plastic bottles and plastic packaging is becoming easier and easier. Here are three of my favourite plastic-free hacks that are super easy to adopt:
1. Carry a reusable bottle wherever you go
This is probably the easiest habit to adopt. And with one million plastic drinking bottles purchased every minute, this hack can really make a difference! Plus, you’re saving money in the long term!
I carry my glass bottle literally everywhere I go. And in the summer months, I also love to prepare some iced tea for the go. So refreshing and easy to make! Simply pour boiling water over the teabag in a mug or small pot – I love Clipper’s organic green tea and lemon blend – and allow to brew for about two minutes. Remove the teabag, stir in 1 teaspoon maple syrup and leave to cool.
Add ice cubes, 2-3 lime slices, and a few mint leaves to your glass bottle. Finally, pour in tea and enjoy!
2. Grow your own herbs or veggies
Cooking with fresh herbs is an easy way to increase the aroma and flavour of any dish. Unfortunately, herbs that you can find at the supermarket are almost always packed in plastic. So why not grow your own? And if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or balcony, you can also give growing your own veggies a try. It’s not only a great way to reduce your plastic waste but also super rewarding.
3. Store food plastic-free
While not biodegradable, glass is inexpensive and infinitely recyclable. Upcycling glass jars into food storage is a no-cost way to give your food packaging new life. Avoid cling film or aluminium foil by simply repurposing jars from nut butter or sauces for storage. They can easily be turned into homemade gifts too!
*this blog post was created as part of a paid partnership with Clipper Teas
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Co-Founder of Veano