Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Keep using the plastic you already have

Plastic is everywhere. It is in our homes and offices, in our clothes, our cars, surrounding our food and almost anything that we buy etc and it's not really surprising: plastic is a bit of a wonder material - it is lightweight and strong, it can be made into a variety of forms and it is cheap to produce.  But as we now know this all comes at a price: plastic is made from fossil fuels and it's manufacture contributes to increased levels of atmospheric CO2 and by default global warming. Now people have become aware of how bad plastic is and there are calls across the globe to see its end. As a result you will see many people saying they are getting rid of plastic in their lives and replacing items with other materials. I saw a video originally uploaded to Instagram by one of the Kardashians where she proudly announced that in her pantry she had got rid of all of her plastics and replaced all her containers with glass jars .... STOP.  Just stop right there.  STOP. We need to keep using the plastic you already own and NOT throwing away perfectly usable plastic.

Re-use plastic

Single use v reusable plastic

On the face of it getting rid of all plastic might seem the right this to do but not so but that is far too simplistic. First off we need to separate plastic into 2 major usages - single use and non-single use.  The really bad guy is the single use plastic, the items that are used once and thrown away - plastic bottles, packaging, take-away cups, straws, sanitary towels/tampons, razors, coffee pods, wet wipes etc. We absolutely need to stop buying this form of plastic. So ditch plastic bottles, buy packaging free goods and food, have a reusable cup etc.  Non-single use plastic is the plastic we use time and time again - it may be used in our cars or household goods, our tech, our furniture (the list goes on) ... oh and refillable plastic food containers.  We should aim to keep the plastic that is in our lives for as long as possible, reusing it time and time again and re-purposing it where we can.

What happens when plastic decomposes?

If we get rid of plastic, what happens to it? Whilst some forms of plastic can be recycled (which itself is energy heavy and polluting) many forms cannot and very little is actually recycled anyway - almost all thrown away plastic ends up either in either landfill or our oceans. Plastic will eventually decompose but this can take anything up to 500 years, possibly even 1000 years and the process comes with its own set of problems.  As plastic decomposes it breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces which often get eaten by animals.  As the process continues it releases pollutants known to be cancer forming and which also disrupt the reproductive systems of animals.

In contrast plastic in daily use is stable. So when Ms Kardashian said she dumped all her plastic containers for glass, she made a poor environmental choice. It gets even worse when you remember that all the new glass containers used new materials and energy to be produced.  Furthermore if you watch more of the video you will see she has 4 energy draining fridges including a massive walk in fridge and more plastic packaging and plastic bottles in her home than the average small shop.

But the purpose of this blog post is not to have a dig at celebrity extravagance (I'll save that for another post) but to highlight the fact that we all have plastic in our lives and we really need to be using that for as long as possible.  Use the plastic you already have for as long as possible.  By all means look for plastic free alternatives but only when your current plastic is too damaged to be of use.

How to keep your existing plastic out of the bin.

  • Keep reusing all those plastic items you already have - plastic food containers, plastic kid's crockery etc.
  • Reuse plastic bags, washing them if necessary. 
  • Use refill stations for washing liquid etc even if the bottles you use are plastic.
  • Pass on plastic you no longer use - sell it or give it away to someone who can use it.
  • When the plastic you have is no longer fit for use can you find a new use for it - old food containers in our house get down graded to storing DIY bits and pieces, old plastic bags become a bin liner, plates go under plant pots, plastic bottles can become a DIY plant watering system. Get imaginative with your plastic and do what-ever you can to keep it out of the bin.
  • When you do need something new can you buy it second hand? If it is plastic that's one more plastic item kept out of the bin.
  • Buy items made from recycled plastic.
It may seem counter intuitive to keep using plastic but it is so important we do this, whilst at the same time we totally reject single use plastic.  How are you managing the plastic in your life - have you any innovative ideas on how to keep your plastic out of the bin?

Plastic containers - reuse.


  1. Old play-dough tubs + refillery snacks/homemade popcorn = Happy kids at break time.

    I like to use the hard-to-recycle black plastic trays from meat to start plants off in on my window ledge. I sometimes add a transparent fruit-punnet over the top to keep things cosy, too.

    The large plastic buckets of yogurt from Lidl are great for freezing things in, and for making sand-castles on the beach ;)

  2. Cutting up lengths of soft stretchy plastic makes good garden plant ties.

  3. Very valid point - something we should really all think about it more, there are so many ways we can repurpose containers and the like


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