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2 July 2020

In the UK we use an estimated five million tonnes of plastic each year.

An incredible worldwide movement actively tackling this problem is Plastic Free July. This challenges millions of people to reduce their use of disposable plastic by making small, gradual changes, or even going 100% plastic free.

Although we have seen reports of positive environmental change during the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in disposable plastic waste has heightened the issue of plastic pollution. At Firefly, we advocate taking simple, sustainable steps to collectively reduce our environmental impact.

We understand that making these changes can feel overwhelming to begin with, but with practice, they can quickly become second nature. That’s why in this journal article, we delve into a few of our top tips for reducing our consumption of single use plastic.

Being prepared

In the UK 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away every year. Instead of foregoing your favourite takeaway latte to combat this issue, why not invest in a reusable coffee cup? Brands such as KeepCup offer a range of beautifully designed options.

To help ensure you don’t get caught out, we would recommend preparing a sustainable kit, complete with all of the reusable necessities. This could include a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, cutlery, tupperware and tote bag to take with you when you are out and about. This can even save you money, with many cafes offering a discount on hot drinks when you supply your own coffee cup.

Preparing you own lunch to bring to work or take with you on trips can help you to avoid the need to buy food wrapped in excessive packaging – and it’s cheaper.

Saying no to plastic straws

Although many restaurants, bars and cafes now only offer plastic straws upon request, they still pose a huge threat, with a study estimating that 8.3 billion pollute our beaches. If you don’t need a plastic straw or stirrer, simply avoid using one.

If you do need to use a straw, opting for the paper variety is a more environmentally friendly option, or better yet, invest in a set of reusable straws.

Shopping consciously

We’ve all seen the excess of plastic packaging that dominates our supermarkets. One way to help combat this is by refilling your own containers when food shopping. Although this option is not always readily available, many environmentally conscious supermarkets allow you to refill your own containers with everything from pasta and grains, to washing up liquid and shampoo. In Edinburgh we are lucky enough to have a range of incredible eco-friendly options to choose from, including Weigh to Go, The New Leaf Co-op and The Refillery.

If shopping at a zero-waste store is not accessible to you, try to opt for loose fruit and vegetables, as opposed to those wrapped in plastic packaging. In addition to reducing disposable plastic, only buying what you need can help to save money and reduce food waste. Last but not least, don’t forget your reusable shopping bag for the journey home (we’ve all been there!).

Storing leftover food

Over 1.2 billion metres of cling film is used by UK households each year. This popular item is difficult to recycle and often ends up in landfill, where it releases chemicals into groundwater and impacts marine life.

Using what you already have is always the best solution. For example, once you finish a tub of ice cream or a jar of peanut butter, why not wash it and use it to store food? This is a cheaper option and gives packaging a second use. If you do need to invest in new items to wrap up and preserve leftover food, Beeswax Wraps are a natural and reusable option. Moreover, if recycled, tin foil can also be useful alternative. 

Avoiding chewing gum

The vast majority of chewing gum is made from plastic – that’s why we’re told not to swallow it and see it all over the streets. Although the impact of choosing not to buy chewing gum may seem small, it causes an estimated 100,000 tons of plastic pollution every year.

Feminine care

Most tampons and pads contain plastic and unfortunately many are flushed down the toilet, ending up in our oceans. There are however several reusable and more sustainable options available, including menstrual cups, period pants and organic cotton tampons.

A few brands we would recommend are Mooncup, Cheeky Wipes and TOTM. Free from harmful toxins, these alternatives are kinder to our bodies and can save you money in the long run.

Getting started

Throughout this article we have covered a lot of ground, and we understand that knowing where to begin can be a challenge in itself.

You could start by monitoring your plastic waste for a week, two weeks or a month, making a note of which items you are consuming. Following this, could do some research into whether there is a reusable or plastic free alternative available and gradually make sustainable swaps. This can feel incredibly empowering and pave the way for a longer-term sustainable plan.

We realise that depending on where you are in the world, implementing some of these tips may not currently be possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we hope that this article has provided you with some new ideas, for now or the future, when it comes to reducing your plastic footprint.

If you are looking for more environmental inspiration, our journal article, Eco Warriors Making an Impact, highlights some of our favourite sustainable resources, from books and documentaries to Instagram accounts and websites. If you have any tips you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to contact us, we’d love to hear from you and add them to our list.


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