The average UK household creates over a tonne of waste each year (about the weight of a small car). Recycling rates are increasing, and to keep the UK on its way to meeting targets set by the EU, we all need to recycle as much as we can and reduce our use of single-use plastic.
Here are some startling facts you may not realise.
Recycling: The Facts
- 1 recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
- 1 recycled glass bottle will save enough energy to power a computer for 25 minutes.
- 70% less energy is needed to recycle paper, as opposed to creating from scratch.
- 80% of the household waste we throw away could be easily recycled or composted.
- If all tin cans in the UK were recycled we’d need 14 million fewer dustbins.
- Every Christmas we throw away enough unrecyclable wrapping paper to cover over 11,000 football pitches.
While the sheer scale of it all might make us feel a little overwhelmed, there are many things you can do to help.
With these simple tips, you can ramp up your recycling and reduce your use of single-use plastic around the home.
Top 10 Tips to Reduce Your Plastic Waste
1. Stop buying bottled water
7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles are consumed in the UK every year. If you think that bottled water tastes better, that’s probably because of the chlorine that you can taste in normal tap water. You could get a filter jug or a filter that attaches to the tap itself, but here’s a free and easy way to strip your water of that chlorine taste.
Simply keep a covered jug of water in the fridge. Make sure to replace every 24 hours, as the chlorine is needed to stop bacteria from forming and beyond this point, it’s probably completely gone.
2. Invest in a travel mug
Whether it’s a cool iced tea on a hot day or a cup of Joe to get your morning started, it’s easy to be caught out when the urge for a shop-bought beverage strikes. Investing in a reusable travel mug will not only be better for the environment, but it will also keep your cool drinks cool and your hot drinks hot for longer.
Look out for collapse cups that won’t take up as much storage in your bag.
3. Stop using plastic wrap
Plastic wrap or cling film is extremely wasteful and sadly can’t be recycled. An alternative is beeswax and soy wraps, which can be moulded around containers and food, washed, dried and reused.
They last for around a year and can be composted once completely spent.
4. Reuse single-use plastic where you can
Yogurt pots, fruit cartons, microwave meal containers - all are single-use and usually go to the landfill, but you can reuse them in other ways. Small pots are great for growing herbs and starting off your fruit and vegetable plants. They’re also great as storage pots for cosmetics or bits n pieces and can be placed like dividers in drawers.
5. Ditch the liquid soap and go back to bars
This saving is two-fold. Liquid soaps have a 25% larger carbon footprint than bar soaps, and they use plastic bottles. The pump section can’t be recycled, so ridding your bathroom of this item will reduce your plastic waste and your carbon footprint.
6. Get milk delivered
Not many people still get milk delivered by the milkman in glass bottles (in fact it’s only 4% of the population), but it’s so much better for the environment. Glass is easily and widely recycled.
7. Dispose of disposable nappies
Using cloth nappies is not only good for the environment but has real benefits for both mother and child too. Using a good quality, cloth nappy is more cost-effective in the long run, softer on your baby's skin and more comfortable for them to wear.
8. Carry reusable shopping bags
Whether it’s a tote bag, a backpack or a bag for life, there are options for every style and budget. You never need to buy a plastic bag again. Since the plastic bag fee was introduced in 2015, the demand for single-use plastic bags has dropped by 86%, so it’s clearly working.
9. Shop local
Most supermarkets still have a lot of produce wrapped in unnecessary plastic, especially in the fresh fruit and vegetable section. Bring your own bags, glass jars or reusable plastic tubs and buy local. You’ll help a business survive, boost the local economy and help save the world, all at the same time. There is also an increasing number of zero-waste stores where no plastic packaging is allowed.
10. Start composting
You can add vegetable food scraps, coffee grounds, newspaper, cardboard, and wood shavings to your own compost bin. Spread the compost over your garden to return valuable nutrients to the ground and it will help your plants bloom. Win-win!
You Eat the Equivalent of a Plastic Coat Hanger Every Month
While some attempts at recycling or swapping single-use plastics for reusable versions might seem pretty straight forward, there are inconspicuous plastics lurking in everyday items. Wildlife charity WWF has released information showing that we ingest around 5 grams of plastic every week. That’s the equivalent of a teaspoon, a plastic pen lid, a credit card a week or a coat hanger a month.
Here are some of those less obvious culprits and easy swaps to a healthier and more environmentally friendly substitute.
The UK Produces 20 Times More Waste Per Person Than India
The graphic below shows the countries producing the most and least plastic waste per person across the world.
Out of 186 countries, the UK appears 124th. This doesn’t take into account any differences in waste management, recycling or incineration, but it shows that while we’re not the worst, we still have some way to go in reducing our consumption of single-use plastics.
47% of Brits Argue Over What Plastic They Can Recycle
According to a BBC poll, 47% of people report having arguments about what types of plastic can be recycled. The reason for the confusion? There are seven different types of plastic packaging and some are recycled more often than others. Also, due to funding and resources available, each local authority collects and processes recycling waste in different ways.
- There are around 40 different sets of rules for recycling across the UK
- Some collect only a few types of plastics (1-4)
- Others recycle 13-15 (most types) of plastics
- Some collect everything in one bin
- Others require you to separate certain items
Having so many variations across the country makes labelling items difficult and adds to the confusion.
We’re all used to seeing the 3 arrows in a circular icon. This is called the mobius loop, and while you might think that this is an indication that the item can be popped in your recycling bin, you’d be wrong. It only means that it could be recycled, but whether that can happen depends on the services your council supplies.
It’s also worth noting that this symbol is unregulated throughout the industry, meaning that anyone can use it. Which begs the question, can you even trust it at all?
Below is a handy chart of recycling symbols that you can refer back to time and again. Checking the labels for these symbols should be the first step in recycling.
Sarah Greenwood is a researcher at the University of Sheffield, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures on the project Plastics: Redefining Single Use. She has 20 years’ experience working in the Packaging Industry and also runs her own consultancy business – Sarah Greenwood Packaging.
She says, “Carrying around a reusable coffee cup, water bottle and reusable carrier bags are a useful way to reduce packaging waste – as long as you remember to use them! It takes around 80 - 100 uses of a coffee-cup or a cloth reusable bag to make it better for the environment in terms of the emissions of climate-change causing carbon dioxide.”
She goes on to say “We use reusable bags for grocery shopping, so why not for clothes shopping too? Making reusable bags from old clothes or scraps of fabric are a creative way to reduce your environmental impact even further.”
With positive steps like the ones we’ve talked about here, we can all contribute to making the world a better place. There are lots of great initiatives happening and they’re inviting people on a massive scale to help tackle plastic pollution.
- We now pay for plastic carrier bags and the usage has dropped by 90%.
- Many bars, cafes and restaurants have switched to paper straws and only give them out if asked for.
- Supermarkets are starting to make changes in the packaging they use, making it easier to recycle or even going plastic-free in some areas.
- An industry-wide project is looking to develop recycling machinery that can easily identify different types of plastic and sort accordingly, leading to less going to landfill.
- Manufacturers are moving towards only using plastics that are made from at least 30% recycled material.
- The government is promising to cut all avoidable plastic waste over the next 25 years.
For more information on recycling, including what items your local authority recycle, check the recyclenow website.
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