Every Monday morning, as I walk through the office doors, I fantasise about the places I’d rather be. Currently that place is somewhere where the sands are white, the seas are azure and the hammocks sway gently in the breeze. I’d spend my time flopping between the warm salty water and the deck of my villa where my cocktails will be bottomless. Paradise!
Unfortunately for me, a colleague ruined that dream by sending me this video – the side of paradise that not many get to see. This is, obviously, just one example of how as we partake in a bit of la dolce vita, our impact on our environment slips by almost unnoticed.
“Not for sensitive viewers”
It seems as though most of our modern lifestyle comes wrapped in some sort of plastic packaging. Plastic has become so integrated into our existence, we’ve become desensitised to it and don’t fully grasp the extent of the issue until we see it.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are the facts in a nutshell.
Around 8 million of tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean every year (to provide some context, the average plastic bottle weighs only 12 grams when empty). While not the only place our waste ends up, this “ocean dump” has resulted in 5 massive plastic islands – the largest of which lies in the Pacific and is currently twice the size of Texas. At the current rate, it’s estimated that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh the combined weight of the remaining marine life.
But it doesn’t have to be so terrifying and depressing
On a scale this grand, what can we possibly do as individuals to stem the tide? As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, but I don’t think that is 100% true. We can’t all quit our day jobs to be environmental warriors, so while we may not be able to be part of the solution, with minimal effort there is quite a lot we can do to stop contributing to the problem.
Let me use pictures to illustrate
Mr and Mrs Smith live in one of these houses. Every day on the way to work, they stop for a takeaway coffee. Both their kids take their lunch to school in a plastic sandwich bag. As a family, they drink 3 2-litre sodas a week, get a takeaway dinner every Friday and once a week use 4 plastic bags to carry groceries home from the shop. Over the course of a year, this mind-numbingly average family generates 520 coffee cups and sandwich bags, 156 soda bottles and 208 takeaway boxes along with the equivalent number of plastic knives, forks and grocery bags.
There are 34 houses in this picture – if each family has the same habits as the Smiths, it equates to 5,304 soda bottles, 7,072 knives, forks and grocery bags and a whopping 17,680 coffee cups over the course of 12 months.
Now look at this picture and think about those numbers. To use the official technical term, it’s a “crapload” of coffee cups…
One small change
Imagine if each household made just one small change – got rid of just one of those plastic habits that we’ve developed. It’s not solving the problem, but it’d help reduce our impact. Simply by taking one tiny step, then another and another, collectively it makes a significant difference.
If you’re stuck on a starting point, here are some super easy ideas (high-fives all around if you already do all of these):
- Make your morning coffee at home or use an outlet that allows you to refill your own reusable mug (here in SA, Seattle Coffee gives you a discount if bring your own mug)
- Use a lunch-tin instead of plastic sandwich bags
- Use reusable grocery bags
- Carry your own reusable water bottle around instead of buying water bottled in plastic
- Recycle whatever you can. While not every type of plastic can be recycled (and those that can, can only be reused a limited amount of times before they degrade), whatever can be recycled should not be finding its way into the bin.
If you already do all of that and you’re looking at a potential next step:
- Shop at smaller fresh-produce shops. While some of the stuff is still packaged in plastic, overall it’s less than big-name chain stores.
- Shop in places where they sell “product only” and require you to take your own containers – milk, honey, spices, etc… a quick internet search will show you what’s available in your area.
- Make your own yoghurt, soda, beer, stocks, breads, jams, sauces, chutneys… If you have the time, space and inclination, making your own “whatever” is wildly rewarding, healthier and usually better for the environment too.
If this is all too tame for you and you want some more hardcore solutions, you can aim for “zero waste”. Zero Waste Chef offers some amazing ideas (in addition to awesome recipes). Ease your way in here or go all out with these 50 tips here.
Through adopting all of the changes from the first two lists (we’re not quite ready for zero waste), our household produces only 1 small bag of rubbish a week. We are not exactly “plastic free” and there is always room for improvement, but it’s a start. I can escape to my island paradise knowing I’ve done my part!
Are you up for making one small change?
The battle against plastic waste is a team effort. Please share your waste-reducing wisdom in the comment section!