Plastic is a problem and we all know it. It’s not always comfortable to think about the impact our waste production is having on the planet, its ecosystems and the humans within them. But knowledge is power, and we can’t begin to change things unless we have all the facts.
Making sustainable choices can often be a luxury, and not everyone is in a position to do so every day. And we’re not here to make anyone feel guilty about the things they are and aren’t doing. Instead, let’s shine a light on where we’re at right now, and find little things that each person can easily change in their lives that will make a lasting impact. It’s not about being that perfect eco warrior – because let’s be honest, setting the bar too high just makes you want to quit altogether! Instead it’s about lots of people changing little things. This is how we can make a big impact, together.
How much plastic does one person produce?
So let’s take a look at some stats. The average person in the western world produces around 129 kilograms of plastic waste per year. This includes plastic packaging, food containers, straws, utensils, and other single-use plastics. In 2018, the combined plastic waste of the Western world was around 350 million metric tons. This is equivalent to the weight of 1.9 million blue whales.
The majority of plastic waste produced in the Western world ends up in landfills or incinerators, polluting oceans, waterways, and soil. Plastics can take between several decades to literally thousands of years to break down (styrofoam is the worst contender).
In the meantime, it will break down into tiny microplastic particles which get into all aspects of natural life, including the soil and insides of animals,and humans, where they wreak all kinds of havoc (such as inflammation and hormone disruption), the effects of which are still being studied today. Some studies estimate that each person ingests the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of plastic each year.
Only a small percentage (the global average is 9%) of plastic waste is recycled. There are a number of reasons why so little plastic is recycled. These include:
- Lack of recycling infrastructure: recycling requires sophisticated machinery and processing facilities, of which not enough exist globally to deal with demand.
- The difficulty of recycling some plastics: Some plastics are difficult to recycle because they are mixed with other materials or because they are contaminated (i.e. food waste or other product remnants).
- The low value of recycled plastic: Recycled plastic is often worth less than virgin plastic, which means recycling operations can be less lucrative than producing new plastics.
How about New Zealand?
On a global stage, New Zealand is doing relatively well when it comes to plastic waste production, plastic legislation, and recycling. Although numbers differ, it seems around 40 – 60% of all plastic waste gets recycled. Which is a lot more than the global average, but still means around half of all our plastic ends up in landfill or is disposed of in poorer developing nations, where it affects the environment and health of local residents.
Interestingly, not all types of plastics can be recycled easily. Have you ever noticed the small number inside a triangle-like recycling shape on the bottom of plastic items? Turns out, only numbers 1, 2 and 5 can actually be placed in our yellow recycling bins and processed through the national recycling system. In addition, there are soft plastic recycling drop off stations around the country, e.g. at the Warehouse and some Countdowns.
The government is taking legislative measures to reduce the amount of unrecyclable plastics in the system (e.g. the recent phase out of plastic bags, styrofoam trays and plastic cotton buds), plus increase recycling facilities in the country. These legal developments are crucial and a great step in the right direction. But improvement won’t happen overnight, so individually we can do a lot to try and reduce our individual plastic impact.
15 Things you can do this July
For lots of us, doing everyday life already means operating at full capacity – between juggling paying bills, managing workload, family life, and maybe even finding a few minutes to look after our own wellbeing. Adding another thing to the plate can feel like the last drop in the bucket of overwhelm. But take a look at our list and see if you can’t try out one or two things this July and see how you go with them.
- Get meat from the butcher or the supermarket counter and bring your own Tupperware containers.
- Try biodegradable dental floss.
- Keep a reusable coffee cup in your work bag for the daily coffee run. OR just use a mug from home or the office.
- Switch to loose fruit from the supermarket over pre-packaged and use reusable produce bags (available at the supermarket for about $1-$2).
- OR explore local veggie box or options. They are often comparative in price, or cheaper! Plus this means you’re eating seasonally and locally. (some great options in this article) Alternatively, smaller local veggie shops also offer competitive prices and are less likely to sell pre-packaged veggies.
- Take a weekly or fortnightly trip to Bin Inn, Good For, or similar and use old glass jars for your pantry top ups like rice, pasta, sugar, flour, and spices.
- Invest in a few wax wraps to use instead of cling film. (Some good deals from this local company) Or make your own!
8. Invest in a silicone baking mat to use instead of baking paper (available from Kmart or the Warehouse).
9. Buy bread from a local bakery instead of the supermarket.
10. Consider switching to reusable coffee pods for your Nespresso.
11. Check brand alternatives with compostable packaging, e.g. YUM, Crafty Weka Bar, Mrs. Rogers, and Ceres Organics – compost them at home or take them to a friend’s or community composting facility.
12. Where possible, choose products in glass jars over products in plastic.
13. Try out plant-based cleaning products such as cloths and sponges – e.g. from Good Change Store. You might even find you like them better than the original plastic option.
14. Say ‘No’ to receipts from shops (Better for the planet, better for you: they are coated with BPA and BPS which are absorbed into your body through the skin).
15. Join the local toy library for your kids’ toy needs, rather than buying new.
To wrap it all up
Making sustainable choices doesn’t need to be a burden, and with an increasing number of brands making the decision to take the earth-friendly route, there are more and more options available to us. Which is great news! If you’re interested in checking out some more awesome sustainable brands, check out Ethically Kate’s Good Brand Directory. Lots of awesome options and discount codes on there.
What are your favourite ways to go plastic-free? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading, and happy Plastic-free July!
*Disclaimer: All links provided are purely for information purposes and we haven’t been paid or gone into any partnership agreements with any of the brands mentioned, other than YUM.