Why Bother Using less plastic – What can one person really achieve?
It’s a question I get asked a lot, and something I regularly ask myself too when the grocery shopping becomes difficult to do without plastic.
What am I actually going to achieve by refusing to use plastic?
I don’t live a completely single-use plastic-free lifestyle, I think it’s currently incredibly difficult to do, and I strongly believe that the onus should not be solely on the consumer, but shared with the producers too. However I do refuse single use plastic wherever I can, and purposely buy products that are not wrapped in plastic. I think about what I’ll need when I leave the house, and take it with me to avoid having to buy into the throwaway culture we’ve found ourselves in. The effects of this, in my opinion, are further reaching than just a reduction in plastic consumption, and include improving our own wellbeing by living in line with our values, and encouraging others, including companies, to make their changes too. It’s working – there’s plenty evidence to that effect.
I think it’s really important to look at the big picture here, and see it not just as those individual pieces of plastic that are not used, but more of a global movement. There are several important reasons that I think reducing your single use plastic consumption is actually beneficial for not only the planet, but your own health, finances and state of mind. Whether that’s religiously refilling your reusable water bottle, asking for your drinks without straws, or shopping at places where you can get your groceries unwrapped, the benefits of reducing your reliance on single use plastic may be further reaching than originally thought.
Here are ten reasons to reduce your single-use plastic usage
1. Reducing the Plastic in the Environment
The first has to be, quite obviously, that each piece of plastic we say no to can no longer find its way into the environment, into the oceans, and injure an animal. 80 % of plastic in the oceans originates from land-based sources – the less we use on land, the less will find its way there.
2. Inspiring Others
Your refusal of that piece of plastic may also inspire somebody else to take the stand too. One person’s impact may be minimal, but scaled up to the billions of people living on this planet and all of a sudden we’re having an enormous effect.
3. Pressure on Producers
I agree with many people’s beliefs that the onus should not fall solely onto the individual, and that the producers and companies who are profiting from selling their products in plastic, at the expense of our and our planet’s health, should be taking more responsibility than most currently are. However, without the pressure from us as consumers, the ones who keep their businesses alive, it’s unlikely to happen. So taking a stance against unnecessary single-use plastic, refusing it, spending your money in places that are taking this crisis seriously, is sending a very clear message to those companies that this is something that matters to their customers, and something they need to start taking seriously.
4. Save money
With five litres of our lovely, drinkable UK tap water costing less than one pence, why are we paying a pound for a bottle which contains less than one litre?! Most coffee shops offer a 50p discount with your own cup. Over a year, if you had 3 coffees a week, you’d save almost £80 just by taking your own cup! Taking a packed lunch instead of buying pre-packaged food when your out will save you heaps of money, and even taking your own carrier bags will save all those 5p charges.
5. Mindset adjustment
We have to re-learn how to live without plastic, and readdress our reliance on single-use. This isn’t just about plastic, this is about our perceived entitlement to a throwaway culture, where the planet pays for our laziness. All disposable materials carry a footprint, and where that product is unnecessary, we need to be changing our relationship with it. Refusing single use plastic where you can is becoming easier and easier as more shops and companies understand the importance of it, and so this could be the first step in us readdressing our entire mindset around single-use.
6. Vote with your wallet
Where do we as consumers have the most impact? We can vote. In elections, and with our wallet. Recently on a trip to the Maldives, I asked the resorts who were ditching single-use plastic what their motivation behind this was. Yes there was some inherent desire to do the right thing amongst management, but more potently their consumers wanted to see no plastic, they wanted them to take responsibiltiy. Spend your hard earned cash at places that care about this stuff, support the businesses that are doing the right thing, and make it known to them how much this matters to you. This is where, as consumers, our strength lies.
7. Plastic is harmful to our health
We don’t know quite to what extent the plastic in our lives is affecting us, but certain types of plastic have been proven to be carcinogenic, harbour toxins, and are sometimes contain harmful chemicals. Consuming food wrapped in this, drinking water contained in it, could also be harmful to our health. I no longer use plastic tubs or bags to transport food as am concerned about the potential impacts on my health. We are not separate from the planet – we are part of it, and something that is affecting our planet’s health is also going to affect ours.
8. Cognitive Dissonance
This is one of my favourite concepts – the idea that if what we do is not aligned with our values, it harms our psyche, and our sense of wellbeing. It causes unease and sometimes even guilt. I am very keen to discourage guilt and shame – I think these are wholly unhelpful ways to tackle a problem. So I always encourage people to feel proud of the positive impacts they can have, rather than feeling guilty about the plastic they use. Living in alignment with your values will naturally nurture pride, and avoid cognitive dissonance, or the torn feeling you get when your actions and beliefs don’t match up.
9. Change the Status Quo
We spend so much of our lives on auto-pilot, doing the same things we’ve been doing over and over because, well, that’s what we do! It’s time to start thinking about our actions, living more consciously and mindfully, and even just getting curious about the products we’re buying and the plastic we’re using can be a step in the right direction to changing the way it’s always been. Up until people started asking for their drinks without straws, we didn’t even notice them in there. Now it’s a global movement.
10. It feels Awesome
It feels really blooming good to do something positive. We all have our strengths, powers and ability to do something positive in this plastic pollution crisis. For some that’s creating new policy, for some it’s cleaning beaches. For all of us, it can be switching out unnecessary single use plastic where we can. And being proud to do so. It helps convert concern into action. It makes us feel like there IS something we can do. Thanks for doing so.
For more information and tips on reducing your plastic usage, please see my other blogs here.