In Depth

Ten ways to reduce plastic waste

New report reveals that inadequate disposal of plastic may contribute to a million deaths worldwide each year

Every second, a double-decker busload of plastic waste is burned or dumped in developing countries, with up to one million people dying as a result of mismanaged waste each year, according to a new report.

Environmental charity Tearfund found that the growth of plastic pollution is adding to the problems already existing in poorer countries, with harmful chemicals leaching into the environment and causing disease spread by uncollected waste.

On 5 June, individuals, charities and organisations from across the globe will take part in events to commemorate World Environment Day in order to raise awareness of pollution and waste.

United Nations introduced the day in 1974 to raise awareness and inspire action to help protect the environment, and it is now observed in more than 100 countries.

Last year, the theme of the day was beating plastic pollution, a major issue that has caused significant environmental damage around the world.

Plastic waste, according to The Guardian, has a number of adverse effects on the ecosystem. It can block waterways and cause flooding, which in turn spreads waterborne diseases, and when people burn the waste to get rid of it, it releases harmful toxins and causes air pollution.

So what can we do as individuals to minimise plastic waste?

Remember your Bag for Life

The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England dropped by 85% in the first six months following the introduction of the 5p charge, in October 2015. However, large retailers in England still sold 2.1 billion single-use plastic carrier bags during the year from 7 April 2016, according to government data. Opt instead to carry your own reusable bags: cotton ones are said to be the best as they don’t contain plastics, unlike nylon and polyester bags.

Use a reusable water bottle

A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, according the The Guardian, and the number is expected to rise by another 20% over the next three years. Refill a reusable water bottle and there’ll be fewer bobbing about in the ocean. You could also go old school by getting your milk from a milkman. Most are happy to deliver your dairy in reusable glass bottles.

Bring a flask to your coffee shop

Disposable cups play a major role in plastic waste. While some paper coffee cups are marked as recyclable, their plastic lining means they often end up in landfill. Take a flask to your favourite cafe or coffee shop to avoid adding to the problem.

Use matches

Opt for matches over disposable plastic lighters, which sit in landfills for years and have been found in the stomachs of dead birds.

Carry your own cutlery

Avoid using disposable knives, forks and spoons when you’re eating on the go by bringing your own. You could keep silverware in your desk for lunch at work, and keep an eye out for biodegradable cutlery.

Use cloth nappies

Eco-friendly parents of young children can swap disposable nappies, which experts claim can take up to 500 years to break down, for the cloth variety. Admittedly, cloth nappies are not as convenient, but you will reduce your child’s carbon footprint and also save money.

Grow your own fruit and veg

Packaging and transporting fruit and vegetables takes its toll on the environment. Growing your own cuts costs and means you don't have to worry about whether chemical fertilisers or pesticides have been used on your food. If you're not feeling green-fingered, seek out “zero-waste” shops where you can bring your own containers to take away fresh produce.

Give up teabags

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), plastic-conscious citizens should use loose-leaf tea with a tea strainer instead of teabags, many of which are sealed with plastic.

“Disposing of teabags ultimately leads to microplastics entering our waterways and eventually our food chain,” the charity says. It adds that some brands are moving in the right direction.

Chuck the gum

It may sound silly, but giving up chewing gum may help save the planet. The Green Education Foundation says it contains polyethylene, a plastic that is used in multiple industries, and is not biodegradable.

Good to Know reports that, currently, chewing gum is responsible for 100,000 tonnes of plastic pollution every year.

Grab a lunchbox

This week, environmental campaign group Hubbub revealed in a report that the UK’s lunch habits are creating nearly 11 billion pieces of packaging every year.

“People are saying that they are buying food to take out because life has got busier,” says Hubbub's Tessa Tricks. “It’s that sense that, ‘I’m important and having this on the go will make me do things more efficiently,’ but sometimes sitting with crockery and cutlery and enjoying it would be better.”

The BBC suggests that if you do not want to make your own lunch, you can “take your own container to the shop and ask them to fill it”.

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