As individuals, we often feel we have no power to effect broader change. But there are several things we can do to make a difference in plastic consumption.
Know whether what you're buying is degradable or not, and where it comes from. This is the first step. Pick up an item in the shop and understand where it comes from. Is it plastic? Can it be recycled? Is it biodegradable or just degradable? Do you need an industrial composter to compost it, or can you throw it into your backyard? Are you going to reuse it, or is it strictly single use? How long will you keep it? Do you really need it, or is it a purchase on a whim? Is there a more sustainable option? Think plastic vs bamboo hairbrush, glass vs plastic food jars. Think about every item in your shopping trolley. To know more about where different materials come from, have a look at this article on our blog.
If you don't agree with a company's sustainability practices, write to them. Have you ever walked into the fruit & veg section in the supermarket and not seen a single unpackaged option? Maybe the only apples available are those in plastic bags, or all the mangoes come in foam mesh. This is when you can email the companies and tell them your concerns. Companies want to sell their products. If enough consumers write to them, and tell them they should not be using single use plastic, they will eventually change. The same goes for companies that sell medicine, lunchboxes, textbooks, handbags, toothbrushes … The list goes on. They will usually have a customer service email on their website, or even a phone number. You, as a consumer, have the power. For tips on how to address companies, have a look here.
Small, ethical businesses are usually a better choice than large corporations. To clarify: small businesses who are doing the right thing. Whether that’s an independent coffee shop which encourages BYO cups and only offer paper straws, or a bulk food store that lets you weigh your own boxes: small, ethical businesses are often a better choice than large corporations. Not only does it bring money back into the local economy, but it also allows more and more small businesses to flourish and provide sustainable options.
Conversations are a great way to let people know what you're doing. Tell others what you are doing, and why you are doing it—but remember, just because they are not conscious of their waste does not mean they are the enemy. Being condescending and aggressive is one sure-fire way to lose their interest in the cause. So listen to their opinions, give your own, and acknowledge that sometimes there is an item that they cannot do away with for medical or other reasons. Conversations are also important to have with business owners. If a coffee shop still offers plastic straws, ask them if they would consider supplying paper ones. If they only offer takeaway coffee, tell them you would rather they provided a sit-in (reusable cup) option as well. And let them know that, given a choice, you will go to the shop that is sustainably minded over the one that is not.
If people see you changing your behaviour, they are more likely to follow suit. Conversations are a wonderful way to connect with others, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. Refuse disposable bags and always have your keep cup handy. Shop in bulk and reuse any plastic you can’t reduce. With Christmas coming up, think through your gifts. Get your loved ones something they will use, not a token which sits on a shelf for years before ending up in landfill. Traditional wrapping paper cannot be recycled—what about some elegant brown paper with paper sticky tape and a reusable ribbon? Look here for some more tips on a plastic-free Christmas! If those around you see you changing your behaviour, they are more likely to follow your lead.