Our Plastic Planet and What We Can Do About It: An Introduction to 3 Changes a Week

You watched Blue Planet.

You saw that Planet or Plastic? edition of National Geographic plastered over the news. You see, everyday, plastic littering our streets and shores.

What are you going to do about it?

We live in desperate times. We all know the statistics: more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, we produce 8 million metric tons of plastic waste a year, over 50% of plastic is single use…

How accurate these figures are is moot at this point. We know we have an issue with plastic, and we know that positive changes need to be made – and made on a large scale. Immediately.

We need to take steps to reduce our waste. We can start by doing this at consumer level, and the more people do this, the more that larger corporations will start ditching single-use packaging wherever they can, to give their customers what they want.

Zero waste is often, but not necessarily, a reaction to consumerism. Waste, especially non-recyclable, single-use plastic waste, is often produced by buying more, of buying quickly, of buying with thoughts of ease and convenience over lasting impact. Cutting down on waste, therefore, is often going to mean sacrificing some things, and working harder for others – but overall, if you buy less, and if you do it right, going zero waste will save you money, and stop you buying more and more clutter.

Plastic waste is, in many ways, the most problematic issue, given its permanency, but that doesn’t mean that producing thousands of paper bags is okay either – this still uses up precious resources and energy. Plastic alternatives (such as paper or so-called biodegradable plastics, which are discussed in this Guardian article) are not always the answer. Try to reduce and reject disposable packaging of any shape and form where you can.

But, what if you recycle it?

Yes, of course, this effort at positive action is better than nothing, but its important to note that not all plastic recycling actually gets recycled, and recycling systems both struggle to keep up with huge amount of waste that we produce, even if everyone did recycle everything correctly, and with the amount of contamination in the waste you send to recycle. This may be because it is dirty, because something that can’t be recycled ends up in the wrong bin, or because what you thought was paper was actually plastic coated and therefore mixed material – and much harder to recycle.

This is where this column comes in. Each and every week I will be sharing with you three important, yet simple, changes you can make to reduce waste and become an Eco Warrior. The perspective will be from that of an Exeter University student, and I will provide tips and tricks on how to best implement these changes in Exeter, but the changes will still be widely applicable to all, and easy to take home with you in the holidays. Each column will list 3 ideas along a specific theme – such as food, bathroom, or period products – that I have implemented in my own life, along with hints and tips, a rating of how easy it was to do, a rating of how expensive it was to do, and useful links to outside resources. It’s your thorough, one-stop-shop information resource.

Whilst my column will focus of being eco-friendly by reducing waste, don’t forget that there are other environmental issues which are just as important. Reducing our personal use of fossil fuels, and lobbying for large corporations to cut down their fossil fuel use is also something which we should work on. All that simple, put-a-jumper-on-rather-than-turning-up-the-heating stuff.

Also consider the impact of your diet on the environment, and consider cutting down on meat, which uses more land and water to produce than most crops (see the abstract from this study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition as an example). Furthermore, when buying food, look for products that don’t contain palm oil – the harmful process of farming palm oil has been rigorously documented – have a look at saynotopalmoil.com.

However, this doesn’t just stop at you.

I’m not just hoping for exposure when I say: please tell your friends. Your small part does make a huge difference in itself (each piece of plastic avoided could be a turtle saved) but if you can expand this range, do. Get your housemates in on it. Hell, make it a game. The first person to implement all three changes gets a prize. Do it with friends and keep each other accountable. Keep note of the changes you find most easy to make (or most effective) and subtly suggest these to friends and family. Hint at how much money it’s saving you.

Want extra brownie points? Share your changes with the hashtag #3changesaweek​

Who knows, maybe we will get it trending!