Plastics: driving real action beyond the headlines

What a week - everyone, it seems, has been talking plastics. Or rather, ending our dependence on them. Following on from the Environmental Audit Committee recommendation to ban microbeads, we've had Theresa May vowing to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the country by 2042. There have been plenty of social media likes and #plasticpollution has been trending.

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But what next? What happens when the politicians have moved on to the next big thing?

Clearly, we all need to hold their feet to the fire over the promises that have been made. There's no doubt that regulation is needed but we, as consumers, need to play our part in driving business to embrace opportunities to innovate, and fast. Government is pledging funding to support this.

Given the momentum created by a wide community of environmental groups and social enterprises, the time to act is now. People have been awakened to the damaging environmental impact of our throwaway plastics culture. They're looking for ways to be part of the change that's needed. Embracing new, plastic free lifestyles has become a thing.

So, how can we each use our buying power to nudge business behaviour in the direction that's needed?

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Let's be honest, purchasing without plastic is harder than ever. Although the media and, to an extent, the public have begun to understand, big business has largely ignored the problem. But not anymore. It's time for someone in the business community to be bold, to make a move in the direction of plastic free and be ahead of the game - creating the waves - and enjoy the longer term benefits.

Over to us, then. Starting with single-use plastic water bottles, we're seeing plenty of initiatives to phase them out. The City to Sea #RefillAndReuse scheme is spreading across the country, with the aim of shifting consumers towards reuse and replacement with more sustainable alternatives. We're doing our bit to progress a scheme in our city, but why wait - buy a reusable stainless steel bottle. There are plenty out there!

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Plastic straws, served up whether you want them or not, are another bugbear of ours. Having the confidence to speak up and #RefuseTheStraw can send a clear message to pubs, restaurants, coffee shops. Why not go a step further and provide them with the case against plastic, offering the compelling argument for compostable alternatives? It's remarkably liberating, too.

Around the home, we're phasing them out immediately. Any offending straws are now being reused for arts and crafts activities. Maybe we'll invest in some reusable stainless steel straws, or simply do without.

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Keeping food fresh is a household challenge that, in the past, has always led us to the ubiquitous cling film. It's the convenience, you know. Wasteful and damaging, too. Although biodegradable film is a thing, why not ditch it altogether? Beeswax wraps are growing in popularity, can be bought from a number of suppliers or you can easily make your own.

But the much bigger challenge is driving the big supermarkets to cut out the plastic that is being used to wrap the now infamous 'cauliflower steak' and even individual bananas! So, the Prime Minister says she wants a plastic-free aisle. Clearly,  supermarkets and brands need to change how they package our food, but we need to change how we shop - use consumer power. Not so long ago, plastic didn’t even exist and somehow we all coped. Let's start making choices, let's start demanding #PlasticFreeAisles.

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Finally, resolving to take some specific, achievable household actions, we've gone for the 3-Ts: teabags, takeaways and toothbrushes. As a nation, we consume millions of teabags every day, with perhaps 80% of these not fully biodegradable. What's more, the heat-resistant polypropylene goes unnoticed. So, we're making a return to loose tea and the rewards of making a real cuppa! Fed up with the amount of single-use plastic cutlery dished out with takeaway street-food, we've been lobbying local businesses to look at switching to sustainable wooden items that can be reused by customers. Just pop a set in your bag for the day and you can now say 'no thanks' to plastic. Retailers need to brush up on sustainable toothbrushes, given that alternatives with bamboo handles and BPA-free biodegradable nylon exist. At present, conventional toothbrushes just get lost in the recycling process, millions of them ending up in landfill. So, ditch the plastic and extend the life of your old brush, using it to clean jewellery, bathroom tiles and toilets, shoes, or even your computer keyboards!

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Although it can seem a daunting challenge to ditch the plastic as you look around the home and the shops you visit, we can all take small steps that, together, add up to a powerful consumer movement. There are innovative alternatives out there, coupled with simple lifestyle changes, as well as finding our voices to bring about change.

Together with regulation, consumer power can drive business towards a plastic-free future. We can do it before 2042 if we all make the effort.

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