Reducing Your Plastic Waste On The Go

We’re always on the go. We often spend our weekdays either rushed off our feet or with our minds one great muddled jigsaw of ideas and to do lists. Sometimes we experience both. Amongst the chaos of work, deadlines, family and commuting, plastic unknowingly slides into place by our side as the convenient coffee cups, drinks bottles and takeaways call out to our tired bodies from over lit shop windows. For many of us, keeping up our sustainable charade while leading hectic lives is too much, we confine our plastic cutbacks to the weekly shop and the odd litter picking session. So here’s your much needed guide on how to reduce your consumption of single use plastic with ease, whether you’re walking home from work or setting off on an intrepid six months of travel.

The key to keeping sustainable on the go involves just a hint of planning. Next time you head out the door, remember to grab a reusable bottle which is not only quicker to fill up from home than queuing in the shop but it’s also cheaper and contains the same level of minerals. One litre of tap water in the UK costs roughly 1p while the same quantity of bottled water will set you back 65p, even more once the cost of the bottle and profit have been added on. In 2018, the UK bought eight billion bottles of water, each of which will take 450 years to degrade and even then, their presence remains in the ghostly figure of microplastics. The number of free refill stations is rising, for example airports are increasingly providing fountains after the security gates to allow you to have an actual choice of whether you spend a fortune on a water bottle or not. Free apps will now even direct you to the nearest station, whether in a city or the countryside. However, in many places, stations remain absent, yet if you simply ask for a refill not only do the majority of employees say yes, but it also creates a greater demand for this plastic saving product with businesses ever eager to satisfy our every wish. This was tested as part of the BBC One documentary ‘War on Plastic’ who used the thirsty trucking community as a source of pressure on their much-frequented fuel stations, with both BP and Shell sitting up and taking note. This simple daily act can show businesses who’s really in charge. For those on the go in more exotic lands where the water quality may be questionable, there are several brands of reusable bottle which have a built in filter ready to combat bacteria, metals and chemicals and can last for up to 200 litres of water, cutting down massively on throwaway plastic and saving you the fumble with foreign coins.

For the colder or maybe just early, bleary mornings, takeaway coffees are a must for many people as the twirling tendrils of steam combined with the smell of coffee beans pull you in. In fact, British coffee, and more likely tea, addicts buy 10,000 cups every two minutes! Yet did you know that many large chains such as Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Costa are now offering up to 50p off your latte if you bring your own cup? These often bamboo alternatives are available in an astonishing array of quirky patterns and colours and due to their popularity, are now widely available for a surprisingly affordable cost. While many assume the takeaway coffee cup is made from paper, most sold from large chains are made from card which is fused with polyethylene, something which cannot be separated out again in recycling and therefore every cup we hopefully throw into the recycling is actually a contaminant. In the UK, only two recycling centres have the facilities to recycle these items, yet astoundingly, one of these centres has never had a single cup tumble through its doorway. Something possibly even more incredulous is that a tiny seam of cardboard in each cup touches our warm liquid, meaning that due to possible contamination, the whole cardboard cup cannot be made from recycled paper but only from virgin pulp. So while you’re on your way to buy a keep cup or maybe a thermos for those longer days, we’re all human and all have a morning where our good intentioned reusable container lies forgotten on the worktop. In these scenarios you can simply forgo the plastic lid or take the time to actually sit down in a café with an old-fashioned ceramic, or may even china, teacup.

For lunch, trade the takeaway for Tupperware and bring one of your own forks along for the picnic. While all this may sound a lot of paraphernalia to drag out with you every day, many of us already have all kinds of unknown objects hiding in our bags and cars; at least this clutter has a good use! To save on precious space, collapsible containers can be bought for when lunch is polished off or you can use beeswax or greaseproof paper to wrap your sandwiches in place of clingfilm. If time in the mornings is just too precious to spend making sandwiches, try buying lunch in local bakeries where the freshness of the food means they don’t need to be wrapped in plastic to preserve the taste and it will help support your local high street. Other almost effortless acts involve refusing plastic straws (or buying your own metal one if you can’t live without) and keeping a small scrunched up bag for life in your handbag or rucksack for those impromptu shopping sprees.

All these ideas can be used for long term travel too and while they may not be your ally for space saving, they will save you money and keep any newly sighted ocean wonders swimming. For the traveller, toiletries can easily be made more sustainable by using lightweight bamboo toothbrushes and by switching those clumpy plastic shampoo bottles for shampoo bars, something which can also handily be taken through the airport without being classed as a liquid. Lush have almost every scent imaginable in a shampoo, soap or perfume bar whilst also providing a simple fabric ‘knot wrap’ to secure them in as opposed to your standard plastic washbags. While Dr Bronners technically does come in plastic, this all natural super soap can be used on hair, skin, teeth and even dishes, cutting down on dozens of unnecessary travel-sized toiletries which won’t last you till the end of the holiday anyway. These switches may not seem very ground-breaking, however in less developed countries where the waste management systems have not yet been perfected, controlling your use of plastic is essential to avoid carrier bags drifting from open landfills to the sea and to stop your easily recyclable waste being turned straight towards the dump. While the convenience of going plastic free on holiday is harder without all the other ‘stuff’ which seems to make it easier at home, you can always combine your holidaymaker and eco-warrior sides by seeking out local farmers’ markets which wrap vegetables in less plastic, or carry out an exotic beach clean while holding out hope of spotting a turtle. Maybe you want to be even more ingenious and do a mountain summit clean whilst still ticking off that bucket list.

Keeping sustainable on the go is not the easiest thing in the world, not until the products on our shelves change for good but your small repeated actions as a consumer will help show businesses around the globe that our needs are changing and they had better keep up.

By Neve McCracken-Heywood

Rory Sinclair