New mantra for Single Use Plastics: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and then Recycle!

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Author – Richa Malik

Everyday, we keep hearing about how bad Plastic material is and how it is causing pollution and killing animal life. The United Nations Environment Programme is running a campaign named “Beat Plastic Pollution” as the theme for this year’s World Environment Day to combat this great environmental challenge of our times.

While we all know the omnipresent plastic problem in our cities, yet we keep waiting for someone else to make the move to fix this mega problem. We must change ourselves first and prevent this crisis from becoming a mega disaster. We humans have created a humongous crisis with our ever-increasing single use plastic consumption.

Let’s get our facts straight first:

  • Plastic never goes away – it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces like microplastics
  • Plastic kills 1 million seabirds and up to 100,000 marine life creatures each year globally. In fact, 52% of turtles and 44% of sea birds are estimated to have ingested plastic!
  • 80% of marine plastic pollution comes from land and 50% is single-use Plastics
  • Closer home in India, 80 kilos of plastic has recently been removed from a single cow!
  • A straw you use for a few minutes takes up to 200 years to breakdown and until then it can injure and possibly kill animals
  • Only 9% of plastic produced globally has ever been recycled – Simply recycling is not a solution, so we need to change our consumption habits right now to give clean-up efforts a chance

Solutions to Plastic Crisis

However, all is not lost and there is still a lot we can do. Waiting for government regulations to be implemented and big corporations to change is not at all where the solution starts – it starts with you and your simple habit changes. As long as, consumers keep on buying plastic packaging, companies will continue to produce them and governments will fail to implement a ban.

In fact, many state governments in India and national authorities have already banned most type of single-use plastics that have low micron weight. But every kind of plastic carry bags, bin-liners, straws, water bottles, disposable plates and cups are still being used across India. So the first step needs to be taken by us consumers.

Refuse unnecessary single use plastics

Zero-Waste-Housing-Societies
Image – Pixabay

Every time you purchase a product/ food item, spend a few seconds to avoid plastic packaging that comes along, usually unnoticed, such as:
• Bags – Carry your own reusable bag instead. Simply keep a cloth bag, or high quality non-woven bag folded in your purse/laptop bag/car/bike to be carried anywhere
• Bin-liners – Completely unnecessary plastic that we essentially buy to throw away! Use smaller bins and line wet-waste bins with newspaper instead. No liners are needed for dry waste. Start segregating even if your waste collector does not. Even the plastic bags that claim to be “biodegradable” and “compostable” and “eco-friendly” are anything but that!
• Straws – Pick up your drink glass and avoid the straw. If you must use a straw (for coconut water or for kids), use a reusable straw like bamboo or steel or copper (paper straws are also lined with plastic on the inside so avoid them too).
• Mineral water bottles – avoid mineral water bottles since they are neither have minerals nor is their water quality any better than filtered water. So carry your own bottle and avoid buying water bottles to help your health and the environment
• Disposable cutlery – If dining-in, request for reusable plates and cups. If you frequently take your coffee on the go, bring your own takeaway cup and avoid using single-use plastics. Even the so-called “Paper cup” has a plastic lining on the inside.
Reduce plastic packaging
• Opt for the biggest sizes of consumer products that come in plastic packaging like shampoos, detergents, hair oil, etc. to ensure more product, less packaging
• Buy fruits & vegetables without individual packaging – you can spend a little time segregating them at home or you can carry a cloth bag with compartments
• Opt out of cutlery for online food deliveries – better yet, order from restaurants that use eco-friendly containers
• Try to streamline your online shopping into a combined shipment delivery to minimize packaging – better yet, use social media to call out the companies of their excessive packaging – I do it often – join the club!
• Sanitary products: Try the reusable sanitary napkin or the menstrual cup! Try reusable diapers with organic cotton lining for your baby to avoid diaper rashes and be good for the environment as well!

Reuse plastics before trashing

• Upcycle plastic bottles, reused food containers, fridge magnet picture frames from plastic lids and many such ideas are available on Pinterest – get crafty!
• If a plastic piece enters your home, try to reuse it as much as possible before you trash it. But avoid consuming food or beverages out of single-use containers/bottles!

And finally recycle everything you can

• Milk packets are recyclable – milk cartons are not. Milk packets also have relatively lesser preservatives than milk in cartons!
• Bags, bottles, shampoo bottles, detergents packets – everything is recyclable. Even your local kabadiwala might accept them – they might not be able to pay you for it though! Otherwise, search online for recyclers – you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Start with just one change among these R mantras and you will see how easy it is to let the ripple effect follow!

Richa Malik is an Environmental Consultant working on plastic reduction in India in practical and cost-effective ways. She is a corporate professional turned scuba diving instructor turned Environmental Entrepreneur, who runs The Happy Turtle, a pioneering consulting firm for end-to-end plastic reduction.

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