How do I reduce my plastic use?

Published 12/05/2022

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.