#IQuitPlastics And You Can Too – Here Are 11 Plastics To Cut Back On First
Life is hectic, which is why we all love things that make our lives easier and save us time. Unfortunately, plastic seems to be our material of choice, and it’s in everything around us. I work in ocean conservation where times are tough and news is bad, so it’s important to keep a high vibe and focus on solutions – and when it all gets to be a bit much, just be a mermaid!
My passions and beliefs have led me to what you could say is a strange field: I campaign as a mermaid to help our oceans.
Plastic isn’t going anywhere fast
By now you’ve probably heard that plastic does not decompose; it floats about in the wind, littering our sidewalks and streets, slowly breaking down into smaller and smaller bits or “microplastics”. Mircroplastics act as a sponge, absorbing other toxins and chemicals, sometimes ending up one million times more toxic than the water around it. Plastics could take up to 1000 years to decompose, but may not fully biodegrade…ever.
Plastics could take up to 1000 years to decompose, but may not fully biodegrade…ever.
Plastic itself is still a very young material – a material designed for products to last, like cars or technology – but not for a product we throw after just one measly use, like a plastic bag or a coffee cup lid. There’s something wrong with this equation; that we have a material designed to last a very long time, for products designed for single use.
After years of activism, petitioning politicians and lobbying against corporate greed, I realised we can’t expect Coca-Cola to quit distributing plastic bottles or Woolies to stop packaging dips in plastic, if we – the consumer – are not ourselves willing to abstain. So to walk the talk, #IQuitPlastics.
What being plastic-free has taught me
As tough as it was to wean myself off plastics, I’ve held strong creating a lifestyle initially thought to be extreme. Concocting my own delicious beverages and homemade dips fostered the realisation that going plastic-free connected me to a more meaningful way of life; not just because of what I could give up, but because of what I made time for in the place of fast plastic-packaged convenience.
After almost a decade of plastic-free living, I’ve realised it’s less about having all the fancy (or often daggy) reusable gear, and more about getting creative in those crunch moments when single-use plastics are about to sneak in to trash your life.
11 plastics you can easily give up, starting tomorrow:
1 / 11
Paper coffee cup
Why we should quit: Contrary to popular belief – these are not recyclable.
The paper cups that hold our coffee are printed with ‘recyclable’ on their bottoms, but they’re lined with a thin layer of plastic that prevents this.
Hack your habit: BYO! If you forget, and can’t reduce, reuse, recycle, or rethink, then restrain. Sometimes going without is the best thing for our body anyways. If you need an energy kick, try going for a walk or do some yoga.
2 / 11
Takeaway coffee cup lid
No matter how many you throw back a week (or a day!), the true cost is in what you throw away. Say I have three a week (which is far less than the average coffee-loving Aussie): that’s 144 plastic lids a year that never biodegrade. All of which end up in our landfills, or float down a drainpipe into our oceans. Then we factor in how many years I have been a coffee drinker, imagine all my friends and co-workers and all the lattes they consume. It’s enough to send your head twirling!
(Don’t even think about Styrofoam; it’s proven to leach chemicals!)
Hack your habit: Bring your own cup or go topless! Get a cute mug from an op-shop that will get you compliments and help you remember it. If you forget your mug, at least go topless—as in, skip the plastic lid on your takeaway cup. #ToplessForTheSea
3 / 11
Why we should quit: Australians use over 10 million new single-use plastic bags a day.
The way these are showing up in the environment is upsetting: choking turtles, starving whales, suffocating dolphins! China has had a ban in place since 2008 and Australia has fallen way behind the third world by not banning plastic bags. Until then, it is up to us to be radically bag-less.
Hack your habit: If we forget to bring a bag when shopping, get creative! All the food you buy at the store showed up in boxes. Most shops have those boxes lying around in the warehouse behind the store. Ask to use one. Or use you shirt as a pouch! Or gosh darn teach yourself a lesson and wait until you have a bag to go shopping. P.s. sign the petition.
4 / 11
Why we should quit: Discarded drink bottles account for 34% of the total rubbish volume.
Opinions on the safety of plastics vary widely, and despite more than five decades of research, scientific consensus on product safety is still elusive. Is it worth experimenting with your health? The melting point for plastic is low. Then imagine how far our plastic-trapped water has travelled and if at any stage it may have been in the sun or in a hot room too long. If it is heated it is likely to leach some of the chemicals that give the plastic bottle it’s shape, durability, and flexibility into your beverage. And these chemicals mimic estrogen, and can be hormone disruptors.
Even water that’s been contained in plastics that are BPA-free have ‘estrogenic activity’ (EA) and “In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than BPA-containing products.”
Hack your habit: Bringing your own bottle sometimes feels daggy, so choose your vessel wisely or else you are likely to forget it. Glass offers the best taste in my opinion; reuse a glass jar, whiskey bottle, or support my non-profit Save the Mermaids’ glass bottles.
5 / 11
Why we should quit: Over 500 million plastic straws are used every day in the US alone.
You know how smokers get those wrinkles around their lips? Wouldn’t straw users get those same wrinkles? If you need something more persuasive, try using a straw again after you watch this.
6 / 11
Why we should quit: Most things packaged in plastic are processed, contain chemicals and preservatives, and are generally unhealthy. A good rule is to avoid the centre of the grocery store. Stay on the outskirts where the fresh foods hang.
Hack your habit: Make your own. If it’s pesto dip you’re craving, blend the ingredients up at home and save yourself the additives. If you’re dying for chocolate chip cookies, look up a new recipe and make a batch for friends. When we make food ourselves our body begins preparing for digestion before we are even finished making food, helping us break down food better and absorb nutrients. Plus we know exactly what’s in it and are less likely to rip open a bag and finish it when love (sweat and tears) went into it!
Hot Tip: Find your local bulk foods store and work it in to your routine. Bring paper bags, jars, or small cloth bags. How healthy and cute is my pantry (above)?
7 / 11
Why we should quit: 100% of plastic cutlery will eventually break when attempting to utilise them as a food utensil.
I made that statistic up, but I feel quite confident in its accuracy. When was the last time you were trying to eat something with a plastic fork and the tines broke off into the meal? Or the knife cracked when trying to cut your food? Why is this the chosen material for our utensils?
Hack your habit: Carry a metal fork and spoon in your bag. Otherwise, you can almost always find a nearby shop with wooden chopsticks.
8 / 11
Fruit and veg produce bags
Why we should quit: Other states and countries are banning plastic bags at the checkout, but strangely not in the produce section. Fruit and veg came out of dirt and do not need a protective barrier like a plastic bag. Hopefully, washing them at home is already in the plan! If the item is loose like spinach or lychee, beeline for the fungi section…
Hack your habit: …the paper mushroom bag is your friend for ALL produce and bulk situations.
9 / 11
Sample spoons and cups
Why we should quit: Likely the shortest lifespan of any of the single-use plastics.
You’re at the grocery store and they have granola in a little tasting cup or cheese on a small spoon. If we can’t think outside of the box in this situation, we don’t deserve the sample!
Hack your habit: Have it in a napkin or have them plop some straight into your hand.
10 / 11
Don’t believe their lies! This material is highly conditional and can only ‘break down’ in an industrial compost with closely monitored heat and moisture. And it’s still expected to take at least 100 days to break down in the ideal setting and 100+ in the natural environment or landfill. When accidentally tossed in with recyclables, they actually contaminate and slow the process.
Hack your habit: Treat it like single-use plastics and avoid at all costs. It’s not worth replacing one harmful, under-researched disposable plastic item with another harmful, under-researched disposable item.
11 / 11
Greasy takeaway containers
Why we should quit: Chemical additives allow plastics to take different shape, colour or flexibility, and research reveals that these high amounts of toxins in plastics will leach into the substance within them if it’s hot or heated.
Sometimes we just need greasy Thai food from some else’s delicious kitchen delivered to our couch. I could humour you and act like you’ll reuse your plastic boxes the food comes in, but let’s be honest, they never truly lose that thin greasy sheen. I have to bring you back to your greater priority, which must be long-term health. Your steaming hot Pad Thai goes straight into a flimsy plastic container with a low melting point. Heat + flimsy plastic = a chemical feast.
Hack your habit: Call ahead to inquire, explain you don’t like to use plastic and ask if they use cardboard or will they hold your food in the pan until you arrive with tupperware (most places will do this as it saves them takeaway containers!).
I hope a few of these hacks get triggered in your memory when you are out in the real world. Every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in the world today, so remember that every piece you refuse to use truly does matter. Each straw, spoon, bag you don’t use, could save a mermaid.
All images: Kate Nelson. Lead image: celiagalpinphotography.com
Kate Nelson is the founder of iquitplastics.com and the co-founder and co-chair for environmental education and advocacy group Save The Mermaids. She teaches yoga, surfs and practices what she preaches – find her on Instagram @plasticfreemermaid