How do I reduce my plastic use?

How do I reduce my plastic use?

How do I reduce my plastic use?

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It is hard to imagine our daily lives without plastic. Without realizing it, you use a lot of it. Unless you start paying attention and start reducing your use of plastic. Why is this important? Because plastic is extremely bad for the environment. I’m going to explain everything you need to know about plastic here and give you tips on how to reduce your own plastic consumption at the end.

Why do we use this much plastic?

Plastic is an incredibly sturdy material that is very light and long-lasting. It is easy to deform when hot, making it easy to create all kinds of shapes. These properties are very useful for car parts, for example. It does not burn when overheated and is therefore much lighter and easier to shape than metal, for example.

The only thing that had not been taken into account was that the fact that it lasts so long also means that it will be lying around for a long time when we are no longer using it. Plastic might be handy for that car, where it will last for years and thus be put to good use. And a plastic straw seems much more convenient than those paper alternatives that get wet and soggy after a minute and are impossible to drink through. But when you finish your cocktail, where do you think your plastic straw ends up? Exactly, into the ocean, where our marine animals choke on it. Plastic is very difficult to recycle, so most of it ends up floating around for years.

What are plastic alternatives?

Fortunately, many alternatives to plastic have come onto the market in recent years. Plastic that is recyclable is being made into clothing, shoes, bags, toys, lampshades and even cycle paths. The plastic is there, so we’d better do something useful with it until it decomposes. But that can take thousands of years. Even better are other products that are less harmful to the environment.

  • Glass lasts a very long time, as long as you don’t break it. Glass jars have been used in the kitchen to store food for generations. Whether you put dry pasta, herbs or home-made jam or pesto in them, a tightly sealed glass jar will keep for a long time and you can reuse it.
  • Stainless steel is used as an alternative to plastic straws, but also for a thermos flask or travel coffee mug, for example.
  • Silicone is very similar to plastic, but very flexible. There are refillable travel bottles made of silicone that are easy to fill and rinse. Silicone covers are also a sustainable option as an alternative to plastic film.
  • Bamboo is a popular alternative to plastic, for example bamboo cutlery, bamboo straws, bamboo hairbrushes, bamboo sunglasses and bamboo toothbrushes. The type of bamboo used can grow up to a metre a day, so there is a lot of it.
  • Paper and cardboard are also used more often as packaging instead of plastic bags. When it comes to dry products, this is an excellent alternative that breaks down much more quickly. Please note that some packaging still contains a layer of plastic, for example a coffee cup. Otherwise it would leak. But also paper bags at the nut or fish stall often have a plastic inside to keep the products dry.

Microplastics in products

In addition to plastic packaging, there may also be plastic in your products themselves. These are called microplastics and are very small particles of plastic that you often do not even see. An example where you can see them is in a scrub. The scrub granules are often made of plastic. These microplastics end up everywhere. You flush them down the shower or the sink and they end up in the ocean, but also in our food. They end up in our water, which the farmer then uses to spray the heads that you then get back on your plate. It is estimated that we eat around 50,000 mini pieces of plastic every year. These microplastics end up in our intestines, where they cannot be digested. In animals, plastic stays behind in the intestines, so the intestines slowly fill up with plastic to the point that no more food can fit in and they starve. In a recent study by Arizona State University (March 2022), microplastics were detected in the blood of 80% of the test subjects. It is not yet known what the consequences might be, but I’d rather not have them.

How to recognize microplastics in products?

It is not (yet) compulsory for cosmetic companies to state that a product contains microplastics. So it is difficult to be really sure. There are 3 ways to reduce the risk, by looking at the labels or by looking at the ingredients and checking for known microplastics. The disadvantage of the second option is that not all names are known, so it is impossible to say with certainty whether a product is free of microplastics. The third option is to use an app to scan products for microplastics. Here too, there is no guarantee, as the makers of these apps do not always know whether a product contains microplastics. However, it does enable you to find out which products have been approved.

One example of such an app is Beat the microbead by Plastic soup foundation .

Labels for products without microplastics

  • The European eco-label
  • Demeter label
  • Nordic Swan label
  • Cosmos organic
  • Natrue
  • Zero plastics inside

Ingredients known to be microplastics

  • Dimethicone
  • Triacontanyl pvp (possible)
  • Acrylates crosspolymer
  • Acrylates copolymer
  • VP/Hexadecene copolymer
  • Acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer (possibly)
  • Carbomer
  • Styrene copolymer

Living plastic free

Living a plastic-free life is a very big challenge that is not feasible for many people. Plastic is in everything, unless you consciously go for the plastic-free options. But electronics, chargers, household appliances, shoe soles, furniture, flooring, fleece clothing, tights and swimwear are also likely to contain plastic. Throwing all this away while it is still usable is, of course, a bad idea. As I said, plastic lasts for a very long time. If you throw away your plastic products now, it won’t solve the problem. So we need to make sure that we are aware of what we are buying new at the moment, and what does and doesn’t contain plastic. So, living a plastic-free life is really a day’s work. But if we all make sure that we at least stop using disposable plastic, plastic that is made to be used only once, we will come a long way.

8 Tips on how to live sustainably

8 Tips on how to live sustainably

8 Tips on how to live sustainably

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Sustainable living is a fairly broad concept. To understand how to live more sustainably, it is important to understand what sustainability is exactly. You can read about it here. Do you want to live a fully sustainable life? Then you have to be completely CO2 neutral. That means a vegan, packaging-free lifestyle with only green choices. You don’t use a gas cooker and you trade in your car for a bicycle. You generate your own energy and filter your own water, which you use to water your own vegetable garden. For most people, this is a tall order, which is why they often choose to do nothing. Because that ideal is unattainable. But really, every little helps. And if you choose to separate your waste, you’re already doing incredibly well. Here are 5 simple ways to live more sustainably.

1. Reduce your plastic use

You don’t have to live completely plastic-free because that’s still quite a task. But there are very simple steps to using less plastic. There are some simple things you can replace that will make you use a lot less plastic:

 

  • Tote bags as shopping bags. They fold up small and last a long time. Like this cute bag with a world map you can colour in.
  • Fruit and vegetable bags to put loose products in, then you also leave the packaged products behind.
  • Do your shopping at the market and take some jars or containers with you to put the products in. Ideal for nuts, herbs or loose vegetables like green beans. Did you know that the inside of the paper bags from the nut store are covered with a layer of plastic, to keep moisture out?
  • Bring your own coffee mug if you go for a to-go coffee. Did you know that the inside of a paper cup is covered with a layer of plastic?
  • Go for a reusable water bottle instead of disposable ones.
  • Buy your creams in packaging made from recycled plastic, or preferably glass or packaging-free.
  • Put leftovers or your sandwich in a sealable box instead of plastic cling film.
  • Pay attention to microplastics. You will be surprised how many products contain them. Read more on how to recognize microplastics in products.

2. Choose reusable

Both making and breaking down products consume a lot of energy. The more energy something takes, the more emissions are usually released. The more we buy and throw away after one use, the more is produced and ends up on the waste mountain. Examples of products that can be replaced with reusable alternatives:

 

  • Dishcloth instead of kitchen roll
  • Storage trays or beeswax covers instead of aluminium foil
  • A tea egg with dosed loose tea instead of disposable bags
  • Reusable cotton pads instead of disposable ones
  • Reusable cotton buds instead of disposable ones
  • Reusable silicone travel minis instead of buying individual ones for each trip
  • Reusable wrapping paper instead of single-use paper
  • Growing paper as a card or shopping note. This paper contains small seeds that you can plant in the garden or in a container on the balcony.
  • Reusable Teflon baking paper instead of disposable paper
  • Fabric handkerchiefs instead of tissues
  • Reusable or biodegradable coffee cups instead of plastic cups. Or go for a coffee machine that does not use cups or pads, such as a french press, perculator or espresso machine.

3. Go thriftshopping

Apart from products that we only use once, there is also a lot that we throw away when we are fed up with it. Think of that dress that you really liked last summer, but is now out of fashion, or that side table that you no longer like three months later. The more we use, the more is made. Next time, try to find your clothes in a second-hand or vintage shop instead of a fast-fashion chain, and scour thrift shops for your new favourite furniture instead of buying cheap stuff at Ikea or Amazon.

4. Reduce your water use

Cleaning water releases a lot of CO2 and often involves the use of harmful chemicals to remove toxic substances from the water. The more water we all use, the more it has to be cleaned. If we are all more conscious of our water use, we can reduce the amount of water filtering. You can do this by showering for a shorter time, not leaving the tap open when brushing your teeth and washing the dishes in a bowl instead of under a running tap. The washing machine is another culprit. Be aware of the length of your washing programmes, the amount of water used and avoid half-empty washing drums on a full programme.

But you can also choose water-saving alternatives if you have the budget for them. For example, a WC with a button for a small flush, a water-saving dishwasher or washing machine, or even a private filter system or using rainwater instead of filtered water for your WC. Did you know that you can drink the water from the toilet bowl in a lot of countries? That’s actually a waste of environmental impact.

5. Dress warm

We like to be comfortably warm and that’s only natural. But instead of turning up the heat immediately, while you are still sitting in front of the TV in a T-shirt, you can also put on a jumper and curl up on the sofa with a nice blanket. Candles also provide a surprising amount of warmth and make it extra cosy. This way, you reduce your energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and you also save money.

6. Consume less animal products

Unfortunately, animals are responsible for a lot of CO2 emissions. A cow the most, a chicken the least. If we all ate a little less meat and drank less cow’s milk, fewer animals would be needed to meet that need. Moreover, the production of beef costs more than any other foodstuff. Pork and chicken are also in the top 10.

7. Reduce foodwaste

The production of food also requires energy and water. On average, we throw away about 1/3 of the food we buy! Try to avoid this by freezing your leftovers and introducing leftover days. This way, you don’t have to eat the same thing for three days, but you also don’t have to throw it away. Also check the supermarket for products that are close to their expiry date and take them with you for dinner. They often have a reduced price and many products can easily be kept in the freezer for another month.

Another idea is to pick up meals and products from local participants of “To good to go”, an app that works against food waste. The baker around the corner, the hotel in the city or the local shops, pizzeria or supermarket can join in and offer their products at a considerable discount on the app. Order your package and collect it at the indicated time. It is always a surprise what is in your package. It’s available in many European countries, the UK, big cities in the US and Canada. So you can save food while travelling as well!

8. More sustainable travel options

The bicycle is better than the car, the bus is better than the car, the train is better than everything and the plane is the worst. How do you travel the most? Are you the type that gets in the car for 2km or do you easily cycle half an hour to work? And next time will you take the plane to Berlin or Paris, or will you go by train? Be aware of the emissions per mode of transport and make a good assessment. The excuse is often that a flight is faster. But if you add the time spent at the airport and the time to get there, is that really the case? And is that time really so valuable that you would choose the most polluting option? Moreover, you can see much more in the train than from the plane, unless it is completely clear.

Do you still want to travel by plane or is it too far to travel by public transport? Book your flight via FlyGreen. A programme that automatically calculates your CO2 emissions and adds a compensation amount to your ticket. This extra amount is used to subsidise a large solar panel project in India.

And then choose a sustainable accommodation. On this site, you will find a lot of suggestions for websites where you can book more sustainable accommodation.

What does sustainability mean?

What does sustainability mean?

What does sustainability mean?

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Nowadays, we hear it all around us: we must live more sustainably, live greener, live more consciously. But what is sustainability really and what can we, as consumers, do to make our world more sustainable?

The definition of sustainability

In short, sustainability means that people, the environment and our economy are in balance. In this way, we use the raw materials that the earth provides, but we don’t use more than can be restored. If we use more than can be restored, we’ll run out of resources. Tree logging is a good example of this. It takes years for a tree to grow big enough to produce a substantial amount of wood. For example, it takes a 15-year-old tree to make 700 grocery bags. One supermarket in the US goes through 60,500,000 bags a year! That’s 86.428 trees a year for only one supermarket!

The idea of logging a tree and planting a new one is therefore unbalanced. After all, it takes years before the new tree is as big as the cut one. Therefore, we are increasingly searching for sustainable alternatives, alternatives that can be restored more quickly. For example, there is a type of bamboo that can grow up to almost a meter a day. If you cut a piece of that every week, it will still keep on growing, and the supply is enormous.

How does sustainability relate to the economy?

The economy in this situation means how much we as consumers use. The more we use, the greater the risk of depleting resources. This is quite broad and there are many factors that increase the economic burden. Think, for example, of production processes that use a lot of water and gas. So apart from the fact that you use the basic product, such as a wooden table, you also use water and gas for production. If wood from the Amazon is used, which is shipped here, you also have all the products needed to build and operate such a boat. So, the production chain, as we call it, has a big impact on sustainability. This is why it is so often recommended to use local products because you will cut out all those extra steps, gas usage and side products. Therefore, buying local doesn’t only support your local economy, it will also lower your footprint.

How does CO2 fit in the sustainability picture?

When we talk about sustainability, we quickly change to CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions are fairly easy to calculate and are therefore often used as a basis, but that is not the whole story. Increased CO2 emissions cause the world to warm up faster, which in turn can lead to the melting of the polar caps and rising water levels. So yes, it’s a problem. These CO2 emissions are mainly caused by production, the burning of gases and oils for production or the use of chemicals. But also, the droppings of a cow or pig contain a considerable amount of CO2.

These are all measurable effects and therefore the most commonly used measure of sustainability. Yet on the other hand, trees, for example, purify the air and thus reduce CO2 as well. So in addition to the CO2 emissions from the production of your new table, the trees that are cut down are also no longer able to filter the air. And that’s not often included in the calculations. However, planting trees is seen as CO2 compensation. When you hear people say “this product is CO2 neutral”, it usually means that actions were taken to compensate for the CO2 emissions of the production, not that no emissions were released.

How do we live more sustainably?

Although you cutting a tree in your yard doesn’t have the same effect as a company cutting hundreds at once, and your car doesn’t release as much CO2 as a production factory, there’s still plenty we as consumers can do. An economy drives on supply and demand. If we are more conscious about or stuff, buy less and buy items that will last longer, it will ultimately mean less production, fewer emissions and less depletion of our planet. Moreover, it takes a lot of energy and CO2 emissions to break down all our waste or process it into something else. Sustainable plastic is very nice, but that also takes a lot of energy.

Packaging free is a more sustainable option

For example refilling your storage jars in a packaging-free shop instead of buying a plastic bag with nuts, rice or pasta and then storing it in a plastic box you just got from take-out and doesn’t last more than 4 uses. But also eating less meat and more local products, which are not shipped in heavily polluting cargo flights, help to reduce pollution. Ultimately, we as consumers are the ones who buy products. If we all decide to eat less meat, travel more by train and stop buying a new phone with multiple plastic covers every two years, these products will eventually be made in smaller productions.

A good example of this is that a large milk producer in the US went bankrupt after masses of people opted for plant-based alternatives. It is simply a question of supply and demand. And if we all make more conscious choices, we can ensure that we are moving toward a more sustainable economy. Does this mean that you cannot buy anything anymore? No. But if we all make a few more conscious choices, we can achieve a great deal together.

Check out this article for some ideas on what sustainable alternatives to buy for a trip, that could definitely also be used in daily life.