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5 ways to reduce your use of plastics

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'Plastic' has become a dirty word in society. From the images on Blue Planet II to Theresa May's 25-year plan to eliminate all avoidable plastics, we know it's a pressing issue we have to tackle if we want to save our planet.

The 5p bag tax in supermarkets has resulted in 9 billion fewer bags being used, and will soon be extended to smaller shops too. Meanwhile, Iceland is making a commitment to reduce plastic in their own-branded produce this year.

So what can we do to help? There are lots of small, everyday changes you can make to reduce your use of one-use plastics, which will prevent so much waste ending up in a landfill or the oceans. As an added bonus, many of them will cost you little or even save you money, and might just improve your health too. 

Here are our top tips to reduce your use of plastics and thus, in a small way, help to save the planet.

1. Buy a reusable water bottle

Bottled water is one of the most ridiculous expenses into which we, a country with some of the cleanest water in Europe, have bought. In the UK in 2014, we drank over 2 billion litres of bottled water, meanwhile, there is no evidence to suggest that it is any better for us than the water out of the tap.

Indeed, if you’re somebody who reuses their empty water bottles, you may even be putting your health at risk. Some evidence suggests that reusing single-use bottles opens the door to ingesting bacteria which hides in the microscopic tears and cracks in the plastic. They were just not designed for such use.

Far better to buy a specifically designed reusable water bottle, made from either BPA-free plastic or steel. You can buy cheap ones almost anywhere, or pick up a brand-name bottle for as little as £7 from shops such as TK Maxx. There are dozens of styles and designs to choose from, all of which will be longer-lasting and better-looking than your cracked Evian bottle.

2. Make your own lunch in reusable boxes

It is very convenient to pop into a high-street sandwich shop and pick up your lunch, but have you ever considered how much waste is generated by your meal-deal, both physical and financial? Whilst I wouldn’t say that stopping your sandwich habit will get you onto the property market any quicker, it is true that the average person could save over £2,000 a year by going old-school and packing their own lunch.

Buying a reusable lunch-box also means that you can have more than just a sandwich and crisps for lunch each day. If your box is microwavable, that gives you even more options and will help you use up the leftovers from last night’s dinner as well. 

Check out Instagram to see how inventive and creative people are using #bentobox. A solution which can save you money, looks great on social media and make you feel virtuous. What’s not to like?

Head to your local Co-op to pick up ingredients for your #mealprep and get 10% off with NUS extra. 

3. Swap to loose-leaf or plastic-free tea bags

I know, it’s awful! Even our tea bags have plastic in them. Apparently, the majority of the 55 billion bags used in the UK each year are made using acrylic polymer emulsions and polypropylene, meaning they simply won’t decompose.

So you’ve got two options if you really want to help. Loose-leaf or plastic-free bags. My preference is always for loose-leaf tea: it gives a better flavour and there’s something very calming about brewing tea the old-fashioned way. You can, of course, use a teapot, but if there’s only you, try a tea-infuser. It’s basically a cage that you fill with your tea and dangle into your cup as you would a tea bag. It is a little messier and more time-consuming than bags, but it is worth it.

If you feel you simply can’t make the switch, there are teabags available which don’t use plastic. Pukka Teas are made from organic products and have no plastic in the teabag itself, although it does come in a plastic sachet. Teapigs are also made from fully natural ingredients. These are, however, a little on the pricey side. 

Pro tip: try buying in bulk from Amazon. It’s amazing how much cheaper this can make your cup of tea!

4. Buy a reusable, non-plastic bag

The 5p bag tax may have reduced the number of single-use bags we are acquiring, but what happens to the minimally more expensive bags-for-life? We may only be paying out once, but they must go somewhere when we ditch them.

Try buying a genuinely reusable tote bag made from cotton or similar materials instead. There are so many available now in a variety of colours, sizes and styles, with a slogan or image to match your character. They also seem to be given away on a regular basis in shopping centres to promote businesses, so you might be able to help without it costing you a penny! 

Keep one or two shoved in your bag for any spontaneous shopping trips. You may even want to invest in a cool bag for your shop to help keep any chilled or frozen produce from thawing. Give it the odd spray with some disinfectant and it will be good to go for years. Co-op sells a large bag that can also be used to drag your laundry to the washing machine for £1, so that'd be a good place to start. 

5. Stop using drinking straws

Two billion plastic drinking straws are used in the UK every year, all of which end up in a landfill as they are incredibly difficult to recycle. Following the success of the 5p bag tax, campaigns to ditch the straws have been growing in number, including the Evening Standard’s ‘Last Straw’ campaign, which has had some success with leading restaurateurs in the capital.

Straws are likely the most wasteful use of plastic of all if you really consider it. The majority of us have no need for them (of course, we know that some people do really need them). For lots of us though, plastic drinking straws are a habit we simply need to break. So, next time you’re in a pub, bar or club, skip the plastic drinking straw if you're able and feel a bit better about yourself.

Students get 10% off at Co-op with an NUS extra card

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