Every year, eight million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature estimates that, if we carry on using the same amount of plastic that we currently do, by 2030 we will discard the equivalent weight of 87,000 double decker buses – none of which can biodegrade.
Climate change and sustainability have hit the headlines in recent months, with the Government announcing a state of emergency at the beginning of May 2019. To raise awareness, Extinction Rebellion recently organised international protests across Europe with thousands of people standing against climate change. According to the group, we only have 12 years left to reverse the damage caused by climate change, before we start to see lasting, catastrophic changes.
I’m a firm believer that we can all easily make some small changes to our lifestyle that, in turn, make a huge, positive impact on our environment. At the beginning of the year, I thought about all the single-use plastic items I use on a regular basis and I was shocked at the daily waste. As a result, I made a pledge to become more sustainable and make a few small changes to help do my bit. Here are the five simple steps I’ve taken:
Bought (and use) a reusable coffee cup
According to the British Coffee Association (BCA) more than two billion cups of coffee are consumed every day worldwide, and, on average, the UK contributes to 95 million cups of that. Now that’s a lot of coffee!
Every couple of days I decide to treat myself to a coffee on my way into the office and since the beginning of the year, I’ve made it my mission to only buy one if I have my reusable cup with me. The biggest benefit is that most high-street coffee chains will incentivise you for bringing in your own cup. Pret a Manger gives you 50p off your drink and it’s also the closest to dt HQ meaning that if I were to pop to Pret every single workday for my black americano using my reusable cup, I could save approximately £120 a year!
Take my tote bag everywhere
Since bringing in the carrier bag charge in October 2015 the UK Government has reported a dramatic reduction in their use. In a bid to continue this momentum, it is considering raising the charge from 5p to 10p per plastic bag – something a number of major supermarkets have already moved to.
More often than not I will pick up a free tote bag when attending tradeshows, conferences or industry events, so I’ve made a conscious effort to always pop one into my work bag or car so that I don’t have to keep requesting and paying for plastic bags.
I now have a stockpile of bags in the boot of my car and always take them with me when I go shopping. I took a couple of tote bags on a trip to Toronto, a city with a similar carrier bag charge in place and I only used two carrier bags the whole trip – and trust me when I say I did a lot of shopping!
Top tip: to save space in your work bag or luggage why not buy a collapsible shopping bag? The bags take up minimal space in your bag and some are even bigger than the size of a regular plastic carrier once unfolded.
I walk the walk
It is the easiest and cheapest way to travel. I appreciate it isn’t always a viable option but for short trips, I’ve tried to ditch the car or train and walk or cycle instead. After this year’s International Confex I decided to walk along Kensington High Street to the tube instead of hopping on the over-ground outside of Olympia – I did more than 19,000 steps that day. The bonus is you can get fit whilst helping the environment. In a 2017 report by the Department for Transport, it was revealed that 93% of total domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions were from road transport, something that can certainly be reduced if more people stopped using vehicles for short journeys.
Top tip: find out whether your company has enrolled in the cycle to work scheme and, if they haven’t, ask if they can. The scheme allows employees to spend up to £1,000 on bikes and equipment tax-free. Unfortunately, my journey is a bit too far for this to be an option, but it’s worth looking into as to whether it is available for you.
Only print when I really need to
Everyone is guilty of printing out the odd unnecessary email and bulky documents in the office. I’ve started to ask myself; do you really need to print it? If the answer is yes, I now use recycled paper and recycle it again once I’ve finished with it. It’s incredible what can be made from wastepaper, including magazines, greeting cards and even some reusable coffee cups.
Bring in a homemade lunch
Everyone knows how easy it is to nip to the shops at lunchtime and grab a sandwich or a ready meal to eat back at the office but, to really cut down on using single-use plastic I’ve started to bring in my own lunch in a reusable container.
But how does bringing in my own lunch reduce my use of plastic? Well, when I’m buying items in bulk as part of a bigger food shop, I’m only purchasing one large item encased in plastic, rather than lots of individual ones. To go one step further, I try to avoid using cling film or aluminium foil to wrap up food. There are a variety of alternative available, such as Beeswax wraps, which are reusable and if looked after correctly, they can last up to a year.
Typically, when I purchase loose fruit and vegetables, I boycott all bags that supermarkets provide – my rule is if it’s not already packaged it doesn’t need to be.
There has also been a rise of zero-waste stores where you can take your own containers with you and purchase not only loose fruit and veg but, coffee, pasta and nuts. The prices in these stores are typically cheaper than the supermarkets too as you’re not paying for the cost of the dreaded plastic packaging.
It seems that consumer giants and the Government are also embracing a more sustainable world, with more initiatives and developments coming into fruition each week. Following a public outcry, the UK Government has announced it will completely ban plastic stirrers, straws and cotton buds in April 2020; however those with medical needs or a disability will still be able to access plastic straws.
When I began this personal pledge, I did originally think how are my tiny changes going to help towards a solution for such a huge problem? Since January, I have become much more conscious of how much waste I can avoid by shopping smarter and thinking beyond the immediate consequences.
My bank account is feeling healthier as a benefit of these small changes but, I personally feel much better for it too. Of course there is definitely more to be done but, if we all made the effort to make these small lifestyle changes, we would really make a difference and help to change the world we live in for the better.