9 ways to ditch single-use plastic

Choose to refuse – swap small single use items to make a big impact.

One of the most effective ways to ease your impact on the environment is to ditch single-use plastics. Plastic straws, cutlery, shopping bags and takeaway containers are used for a few minutes, but their impact on our planet can last thousands of years.

Only 9% of all plastic gets recycled. The majority ends up in landfill or contaminates recycling streams. And the problem is growing: since 2000, the world has produced as much plastic as all the preceding years combined.

So, your best bet is to avoid using single-use plastics altogether. 40% of the plastics we consume are single-use, so cutting these out of your life will make a big impact, even as an individual.

The change may seem daunting, so we’ve come up with tips to get you started at home and work.

1. Use a reusable coffee cup

In the inner city alone, 100 million takeaway coffee cups end up in landfill every year. While you can recycle the lid, paper coffee cups have liquid-proof liners, so they can’t be recycled with other cardboard products. Each cup takes around 50 years to decompose. Instead, take your favourite office mug into the cafe. There are also plenty of reusable cups in the market. Some people even prefer the taste from a glass cup, so why not sip your next latte from one. Many coffee shops offer a discount if you BYO cup.

2. Carry your own water bottle

Sydney’s tap water is perfectly safe to drink. It comes from natural catchment areas, including national parks and is tested against some of the strictest health guidelines in the world. Get your own refillable water bottle, but make sure it’s BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalate free, or carry a collapsible cup. The City has water bubblers and fountains available. You’ll find these in parks, playgrounds and near main roads and tourist attractions.

3. BYO utensils and take your lunch to work

Plastic cutlery can't be easily recycled in Australia. Because the items are flat, sorting machines often mistake them for paper. If you grab lunch out of the office, it’s likely you'll be offered plastic cutlery. You can simply say no and bring your own. Bamboo utensils are great, but having a set of your own cutlery at work is even better. Grab cutlery and a plate from an op shop and have them ready at your desk to avoid plastic or Styrofoam containers.

Pack your leftovers or pre-prepared meals in a metal container or cloth bag. You can get stainless steel containers with multiple compartments, which kind of look like bento boxes. These will save wrapping and extra containers. Swap cling wrap for a couple of sheets of beeswax wrap and reuse condiment jars for liquids.

4. Say no to the straw

Plastic straws are one of the most common items found on beaches, even though most of us can sip our drinks just as well without. A local initiative The Last Straw is getting bars on board. Last year, it saved 13 million straws, the equivalent of 50 cars in weight. Plenty of city bars participate. If you need to use a straw, just pick up a glass or metal one.

5. Change how you shop

Plastic bags fill our tips, kill wildlife and break up into smaller particles causing ongoing environmental harm. You're probably already onto this one: bring your own bag when you go to the shops. Check out our guide to the best alternatives to plastic bags. In short, hessian is the best option. If you have a stack of ‘green’ bags from the supermarket, make sure you use them for at least 2 years. Also, don't put your fruit and vegetables in plastic bags. Just let them loose in the trolley, at the register and in your shopping bag.

At the bakery, ask for your bread to be placed in your own cloth bag and avoid all the plastic packaging. Bread keeps fresh when stored in the cloth bag inside an airtight tin.

6. Change where you shop

The supermarket is not a great place if you’re trying to cut out single-use plastic. Aside from offering bags, supermarkets also package many items in plastic, including fresh produce. Try local markets, co-ops, bulk food stores and independent grocers instead.

Spending your Saturday or Sunday morning strolling around local farmers markets is not only a great pastime but also a convenient place to find local produce. Unlike shopping at the supermarket, farmers markets enable you to chat with the stallholders (often the people who grow the produce on offer) and ask them where their produce has been grown, what's in season or how their crop has been raised. By purchasing locally grown food in season, we’re eating foods at their most flavoursome, the most abundant, and the least expensive.

If the thought of getting up early on weekends to make it to the farmers market isn't your cup of tea, finding a local produce box system might be the way to go.

7. Inspect your bathroom

You’re supposed to replace your toothbrush every 3 months. Australians throw out 30 million toothbrushes every year. That’s 1000 tonnes of landfill. No part of a plastic toothbrush is biodegradable, so try a bamboo toothbrush instead. The cotton bud is another big single-use plastic culprit in the bathroom. Again, the bamboo version is your friend.

8. Use package-free toiletries

Shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, handwash, toner, moisturiser. The list of plastic-packaged products goes on. But there are alternatives. Try beauty bars, or make your own. Coconut oil can act as conditioner, moisturiser and makeup remover. While you’re at it, switch to a recycled toilet paper that isn't packaged in plastic. Some brands deliver in bulk.

9. Swap plastic synthetics for natural fibres

Synthetic materials like nylon and polyester shed microfibers when washed. This means, your clothes release millions of tiny plastic pieces into our drains. Look for cotton and wool instead. Aside from materials, consider where you’re buying from.

Brands with quickly rotating collections contribute to the fashion industry being one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to oil. Buying second-hand is always the better choice, as this saves unwanted clothing from the tip. You can do better than the 1 in 5 Australians who throw clothes in the bin after 1 wear.  

Let’s choose to refuse single-use plastic

The City of Sydney collects 65,000 tonnes of waste from more than 120,000 households every year. By 2030, we’ll manage 100,000 tonnes. We divert 69% of our residents' waste from landfill by processing recyclables and composting food and garden waste. But, this isn’t enough.

The less we all use, the less we’ll need to treat. We need your help in reducing how much we throw away in the first place.

Start by eliminating single-use plastics and join more than 6 out of 10 people already refusing plastic shopping bags, avoiding pre-packed fruit and veg, picking up other people’s litter and avoiding buying bottled water.

Soon, reusing your items again and again will come as naturally to you as recycling already is for most of us.

See the Sydney businesses signing up to our no plastics pledge.

Posted . Last updated .

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