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How to minimise single-use plastics

Keeping single-use plastics out of your home also keeps them out of landfill and the oceans after they’re discarded

It’s easy to feel powerless about the scale of the climate emergency facing our planet. There’s a limited amount we as individuals can do to steer national or international policy in areas like green energy, waste management and deforestation. However, we can all make decisions that help at a household level, and reducing single-use plastics is one of the easiest steps to take.


Many of us get through more single-use plastics than we realise, from wrapping paper and takeaway coffee cups to food waste and toiletry bottles. While other councils have their own recycling policies, Cumbria asks people to segregate their plastic – giving every household a fortnightly insight into how much plastic they’ve used. And don’t assume that everything you recycle is automatically repurposed. Mountains of British plastic end up in countries like Malaysia and Turkey, often rotting beside homes and water supplies. Even here, microplastics have been found in every British river tested, since plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose.


Happily, it’s easy to reduce your household’s environmental footprint by minimising single-use plastics. These are our tips on where to start…


Visit zero waste stores


From Penrith to Kirkby Lonsdale, there are stores in Cumbria which don’t sell goods in traditional plastic packaging. Instead, you either bring your own containers, or take items away in recyclable materials like paper. This is nothing new – Whole Foods Market was among the pioneers of help-yourself foodstuffs and toiletries. You might not be able to do a full weekly shop at these stores, but you can replenish stocks of items like cereals, soap and butter free from guilt.


Shop wisely


Supermarkets have been promising for years to reduce unnecessary plastic, but you can still buy four loose apples, or four apples swathed in cellophane. Skip the latter and buy the former – lead with your wallet, and retailers will eventually follow. Buy the biggest packets/tins/bottles on sale to reduce total plastic consumption per 100g/100ml, choose glass or metal packaging wherever possible, and invest in fabric bags for life.


Buy in-store rather than online


Buying goods online can be damaging not just to the environment, but to your local high street. As well as taking money out of the tills of local stores and giving it to (often overseas) companies who pay less tax, you’re requiring each online purchase to be delivered in protective packaging. This is often bubble wrap, while objects themselves may be encased in hard plastic. On the subject of packaging, shiny wrapping paper can’t be recycled, so stick to actual paper this Christmas.


Organise your kitchen drawers


We’ve previously discussed how to have a tidy kitchen, and organising your drawers gives you scope for reusable items. Scrap plastic straws in favour of metal ones, invest in a reusable water bottle (and a tap filter if your tap water has an unpleasant taste), and look for fabric or beeswax wraps to put leftover food in. With a suitable place to store these items, they’ll fall easily to hand whenever needed, helping to wean you off single-use plastics like sandwich bags and bag ties.


Spend a little more on long-term items


People in England use over four billion items of single-use cutlery each year, most of which is plastic and not recycled. Invest in durable and sustainable alternatives – bamboo chopsticks, ceramic plates and suchlike. If you work in an office, take metal cutlery in for stirring tea and spreading butter; at home, avoid polystyrene wherever possible. Even when it comes to parcel packaging, there are alternatives to plastic – they’re slightly more

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