Of the 300 million tonnes of plastic produced and consumed on a global scale each year, over half will be used just once – and more than 8 million tonnes of it will be dumped into our oceans.
These 12 simple steps will take you through the year ahead, helping you to demonstrably reduce your disposable plastic consumption and supporting you on the way to living a sustainable and attainable plastic-free life in 2019.
JANUARY – New Year, New You
It’s the month of resolutions, which makes January the perfect time to scrutinise your own plastic consumption. Not only is it the largest global industrial sector: plastic packaging production consists predominantly of single-use materials – often disposed of in the same year that they are produced.
Performing a simple audit of your regular purchases is the first step to reducing individual and household plastic consumption. Follow this up by seeking environmental alternatives: ditch wet wipes for bar soap; buy groceries in bulk and store dried food and non-perishables in glass containers; and for those avoiding Dry January this year, say no to any unneeded plastic straws.
Whether it’s starting small by taking your own reusable bag to the shops or resolving to order your weekly shop through the Plastic Free Pantry, make a resolution to “deplastify” at least one aspect of your life in 2019.
FEBRUARY – Join the cause and stave off post-January blues
Through a series of stark warnings and disturbing visuals, the global issue of plastic consumption exploded into popular consciousness over the past few years. From heartbreaking images of its impact in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and Liz Bonnin’s Drowning in Plastic, to ITV challenging its viewers to go plastic-free for a week, the population has been forced to confront the environmental ramifications of plastic production in a big way.
Shake off the January blues, look ahead to warmer days and shorter nights, and get involved with the plastic-free movement this February. Plastic-Free Me, a Yorkshire-based environmental conservation enterprise is using artwork and outreach events to minimise plastic usage. The organisation recently received Big Lottery funding to design and deliver a free six-week course for young people interested in conservation, activism and community engagement within the context of the global plastics crisis.
Less Plastic, an ocean-loving, family-run organisation based in South Devon runs monthly beach clean-ups, whilst offering inspiration, workshops and digital infographics, to educate people about the global implications of issues caused by ocean plastic, and to enable them to lead a plastic-free life.
And in London, Plastic Free Hackney is organising clean-ups in the form of litter picking across the borough throughout 2019, which you can sign up for here. Seek out an event, organisation or online community and pledge your commitment to a plastic-free 2019.
MARCH – A sustainable spring wardrobe
The ubiquitous nature of plastic means that it can be found everywhere – including in our clothing. And in addition to the harmful substances found in fabric itself, each year half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres are released via washed clothes.
As springtime and the promise of longer and warmer days approaches, make March the month that you commit to a sustainable and plastic-free spring wardrobe. Seek out materials such as cotton, linen and wool, whilst avoiding acrylics, nylon and polyester where possible.
Purchasing organic clothing from sustainable fashion brands is one of the most effective ways to eliminate your plastic consumption, as well as ensuring that garments have been made and transported ethically. On the high street meanwhile, H&M and Marks & Spencer also offer affordable organic clothing lines, as well as having dedicated programmes in place promoting the recycling of garments.
And above all else, good old fashioned second-hand shopping is one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to both buy clothing and to recycle your unwanted items, affording them a new lease of – eco-friendly – life.
APRIL – An environmental Easter
April is synonymous with several things in the UK: unpredictable rain showers, emerging daffodils and chocolate eggs abound. Enjoying a sweet treat (or several) is a ritual this month for many – but unfortunately it often comes at an environmental cost, with many Easter Eggs being packaged in unnecessary layers of single-use plastic.
As a general rule, Easter Eggs wrapped in foil are often likely to be more environmentally-friendly, as are cardboard multipacks. A round-up by Friends of the Earth meanwhile found that several of the major brands including Nestlé, Lindt and Mars are already scaling down their use of plastic, and have committed to eliminating non-sustainable packaging within the next few years.
There are also several companies now producing eco-friendly plastic-free eggs, as well as vegan alternatives at an economical cost: from Booja-Booja, offering hand-painted and handmade eggs made and painted in India; to Groupie, who this year are launching two vegan Easter Eggs in fully-recyclable packaging.
MAY – A sustainable summer crop
With summer right around the corner, this is the perfect month to begin preparations for growing your own eco-friendly and edible produce – entirely free from plastic.
Conditions between June and August make this season the perfect time for planting an abundance of fruits and vegetables: from carrots, courgettes and fennel to plums, currents and all the berries! But the plastic problem is abundant in the gardening world, where plastic plant pots and packaged materials have reigned supreme in the past.
When it comes to environmental gardening, an obvious answer to your plastic-production woes is to ensure that you reuse. Recycle food packaging such as soup containers for seedlings, and avoid purchasing new plants in plastic pots.
Seek out alternatives such as fully-compostable Vipots or Paper Pot Makers, made from biodegradable recycled newspaper. Lastly, opt for affordable non-plastic equipment designed to last a lifetime, such as Burgon & Ball’s metal rake or compostable jute twine.
JUNE – Eco-friendly glitter
The much-anticipated return of Glastonbury in June 2019 heralds the beginning of the festival season, bringing with it sunshine, music and that all-important glitter. Unfortunately, it’s often made from a form of microplastic and far from eco-friendly – which is why 61 major festivals banned plastic glitter in 2018.
Good news though: there’s no need to suppress your penchant for sparkles altogether in 2019! Guilt-free glitter can be obtained from companies such as Eco Glitter Fun and EcoStardust, as well as from distributors such as The Gypsy Shrine, who announced the arrival of their environmentally-sourced range in response to the demand for a shimmer that’s sustainable. Meanwhile, major retailers including M&S and Waitrose have announced plans to phase out their glitter usage in favour of biodegradable alternatives.
JULY – Plastic-Free July: join the campaign
Join a global plastic-free movement this July and collectively address one of the planet’s greatest environmental obstacles. Plastic Free July is a campaign originating in Australia in 2011, which has grown from an awareness-raising exercise to an annual challenge, involving over 2 million participants worldwide.
Participation in this initiative means joining an online community. Supplement your experience with advice from a multitude of websites, blogs and social media channels, joining like-minded people on a drive to a more sustainable way of living.
Making a reusable coffee cup part of your daily ritual means helping to diminish the 7 million disposable cups used in the UK every single day, 99.75% of which are unrecyclable. And eliminating plastic from the estimated £4.2 billion spent annually in the UK on takeaway food and drink – from straws and cutlery to the “package-saving” tables frequently found in pizza boxes – are small changes that can make a big difference to the fight against single-use plastic.
Join the plastic-free movement and #ChoosetoRefuse this July!
AUGUST – Tips for a plastic-free holiday
Cutting out plastic can be particularly problematic in August. Whether you’re abroad or at home, as the weather becomes warmer, plastic quickly creeps into our daily routine. Suncream, water bottles and the handy carrier bags we acquire to cart our possessions around in are just some of the staples of the summer months, where warm weather often has us opting for convenience above all else.
Choosing ice cream by the cone instead of the cup, carrying reusable straws, and seeking out plastic-free sun cream are just a few of the ways that you can continue to cut down on plastic throughout the summer.
Meanwhile purchasing a quality reusable bottle is one of the most effective and efficient ways to reduce plastic consumption. According to Forbes, a staggering one million plastic bottles are bought per minute around the world, 91% of which are not recycled. The majority of these items end up in one of two places: a landfill, or in our oceans. Conversely, if just 1 in 10 Brits refilled once a reusable bottle once a week, there would be 340 million less plastic bottles in circulation.
Take your pick from the products on offer from several eco-friendly companies striving to create a long lasting, sustainable solution to this problem, and find water on the go by downloading the excellent Refill app.
SEPTEMBER – Back to School Blues
Whether you’re returning to university, sending children to school or simply going back to work after a summer holiday, September often feels like an unwelcome return to normality – making it the perfect opportunity to audit your plastic consumption in the workplace.
In 2018 the government’s Education Secretary urged schools to seek alternatives to single-use plastics by 2022 – through a 2017 Plastic Free Schools initiative, created by not-for-profit Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), helped a primary school in North Devon to do just that in March 2018. Universities across the UK pledged their commitment to the plastic-free cause, with Aberystwyth becoming the first in the world to be awarded Plastic Free University status by SAS.
In spite of such developments, emulating this at school or in the workplace can be decidedly more difficult as an individual, with the vast majority of stationery being made of a variety of plastics. FSC ‘Mix’ certified notepads are a good alternative (the paper is sourced from controlled wood, reclaimed timber and FSC certified forests) and wooden, metal and recycled paper pens as affordable and long-lasting options.
OCTOBER – The scary truth about plastic and Halloween
On October 31st ghosts, ghouls and the dead roam the earth, seeking tricks and treats. In the UK, retail expenditure on Halloween products has almost doubled since 2013, whilst in the United States more than 70% of the population actively participate in festivities. This explosion of popularity comes at an environmental cost though: from costumes and masks to toys and sweets, plastic is rife during October – and much of it is single-use.
A survey by The Fairyland Trust found that of the Halloween costumes on sale from six major retailers, 90% were made from plastic – creating 2,600 extra tonnes of waste in 2018.
A truly eco-friendly Halloween can be created through a return to its roots. Toffee apples, pumpkin carving and handmade costumes are cost-effective and traditional ways to ensure that frivolities remain entirely plastic-free, whilst chocolates and sweets wrapped in foil or packaged in cardboard offer a sustainable means of satisfying visitors to your door.
To end the evening on a truly environmental note, enjoy a celebratory – and utterly waste-free – pumpkin soup.
NOVEMBER – An Eco-Friendly November 5th
On the 5th of November, the skies are alight across the UK, with bonfires and effigies of Guy Fawkes, in commemoration of the plot to blow up the House of Lords on this day in 1605. But with a general populace increasingly aware of the hugely detrimental impact this annual revelry has on the environment, what steps can be taken to ensure a more eco-friendly Bonfire Night?
Keeping fires themselves as green as possible will drastically reduce the harmful emissions released by the burning of substances such as oil, treated wood and plastic itself – all of which are illegal to burn. Sticking to clean, dry and natural materials such as untreated wood and foliage from your own garden will ensure that your bonfire remains eco-friendly.
The lighting of fireworks also comes at an environmental cost, with each rocket releasing a harmful combination of chemicals and toxins into the air – some of which never fully decompose or disintegrate. Unfortunately, plastic-free options remain scarce and expensive – so if a firework display is a must for November 5th festivities, opt for ground-based choices such as Catherine wheels and clear the plastic debris from the vicinity afterwards.
DECEMBER – Plastic-free wrapping for presents
A final exercise in eliminating plastic from your life comes in the form of the wrapping paper dilemma. Although it’s become traditional to present gifts in beautiful wrapping, both the materials involved in its creation and the sellotape used to seal this “paper” means that wrapping paper is one of the most prolific examples of single-use plastic, and is often unrecyclable.
Enough paper is produced per year to wrap up the island of Guernsey, resulting in 5 million tonnes being sent to landfill each year in the UK – and costing something in the region of 50,000 trees felled to create it.
To round off your plastic-free and eco-friendly 2019, seek environmental alternatives to wrapping paper. Simplicity and sustainability go hand-in-hand: jazz up brown packing paper with colourful cotton or ink-based decoration; use tissue paper as an attractive alternative; or recycle a fun fabric.
And a Christmas Day filled with recyclable and reusable wrapping paper, ending a year of sustainability, environmentalism and a commitment to the plastic-free cause, truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Give planet earth a present this Christmas!