Reducing your Plastic Footprint – Getting Started


Plastic damages our environment, health, and society. This week Jan from Ireland (but currently living in the Netherlands) shares how she helps #StopThePlasticWasteStream. Plastic creates huge problems, all around the world. Thankfully, we all can do something about it by not buying any plastic and not throwing any plastic away. Start with one day a week. It will be an eye-opener. Do you want to share your plastic story too? Please get in touch with us through social media or by leaving a message below. Thanks!

There are many ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste we produce. At first, I wanted to reduce my plastic footprint because I glimpsed the devastating impact that plastic can cause to the natural world. I became determined to reduce my plastic footprint when I realised how unnecessary most of the plastic we use is.

“But I recycle”

You may think, “It’s ok to use plastic because we can recycle it.” And there are often labels on plastic packaging that indicate it can be recycled. This, however, doesn’t mean that it is going to be. The European Commission confirmed last year that half of Europe’s plastic waste goes into landfill (read the rest of the Press Release here). The other half is shared between the recycling centre, the ocean and waterways.

Plastic can’t be turned back into its original form, like glass or metal. It’d be more accurate to call it plastic down-cycling, as the quality of the plastic degrades significantly in the process. Your plastic wrapper is unlikely to become a plastic wrapper again. Regardless of whether the plastic we use is recycled or not, it will continue existing on our planet for hundreds of years after we ourselves have biodegraded.

In order to lessen plastic pollution, we need to make careful decisions when we act as consumers. In the twisted interpretation of capitalism that prevails today, big private companies run the show. Without fully realising our role in it, we allow the companies to decide on the fate of the natural world. It is the companies that drive the production of all this plastic. They distract us from their bad behaviour by dangling shiny new possible possessions in front of our eyes. If we take the shiny new bait, we are filling the last gap in the ever-rotating circle of this destructive system.

YOU can stop the plastic waste stream! #RefusePlastic

When we buy products made from or packaged in plastic, we encourage continued plastic production. If we refuse plastic products, we discourage future plastic production. Giving up plastic may seem daunting at first so I have compiled some practical tips and ideas to help get you started.

Groceries: #BringYourOwnBag

Always bring a reusable bag with you when you shop for food. If you forget a bag, carry your purchased items in your hands, your pockets, your hood, wedged under your arms or anywhere except in a new plastic bag!

It is very hard to avoid packaging altogether in supermarkets, but you can usually find essential foods packaged in glass, paper, card or tin. You may need to visit a few supermarkets to find your favourite foods sold plastic-free.

Bulk stores are great for those who want to avoid creating waste. Bring your own jars and cloth bags to fill. Same goes for farmer’s markets, bring your own packaging – cloth bags, lunch boxes, old egg boxes, jars, and you can buy local fresh produce with zero waste. Asian supermarkets often sell unpackaged products like fruit, vegetables, tofu and bulk rice.

Grocery bag     Farmers market

Household cleaning: Baking soda and #Refill

Sodium bicarbonate is useful for multiple household cleaning purposes. It is often far more effective at removing dirt than regular cleaning products, due to its abrasive nature.

If you have a refill station near you, the refillable bottles of cleaning products are excellent. I use Ecover because there is a refill station in my local eco-shop (for those of you living in Leiden, the Netherlands: the shop is called “Zaailing Natuurvoeding”, located at Hooigracht 41). If your supermarket sells these products but does not have a refill station, ask them why! Ecover uses non-toxic ingredients, and the refillable bottles are made from recycled plastic.

You can buy a ‘multi-use’ cleaning product to avoid having to buy a separate bottle for every separate purpose. Dishwashing brushes are available in wood and metal.

Household cleaning

Cosmetics: Beat the Microbead

Most cosmetics that are made convenient to us by shops are packaged in plastic. Squeezing shampoo out of plastic bottles and brushing our teeth with plastic toothbrushes is, ‘how it’s done around here.’ There are plenty of alternatives but finding them can require a little imagination and detective work.

While looking for alternatives for my plastic cosmetics, I learned that there are many strange ingredients in regular cosmetics that we are encouraged to use. Many people opt for natural products, not only to save on plastic waste, but to protect their bodies from harmful chemicals.

A plastic problem that is important to include here is plastic micro-beads. Plastic micro-beads are often put into exfoliating skin products and toothpastes. These products usually end up being washed down the sink. The plastic micro-beads escape every filter due to their tiny size, and end up in vast numbers in lakes and oceans. Due to increasing external pressure, many cosmetics companies have decided to replace their plastic beads with biodegradable alternatives. This positive change shows how important it is for us to pressurise companies into stopping any further harmful practice.


Clothes: Check the labels for synthetic material

Check the labels on any future clothes you buy. Many clothes are made with synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic. Every time these clothes are washed, thousands of tiny plastic fibres detach from the clothes and wash down the drain. Like plastic micro-beads, these fibres are too small to be filtered out of the water. They collect in lakes, rivers and oceans.

Ecologist, Mark Browne examined sediment on shorelines around the world and noticed these plastic fibres in every location. “He was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us. In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibres, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.” (Read the rest of the article here.)

Many of us already own synthetic clothes, and if we wear them we will inevitably need to wash them. I’m still deciding on what to do with mine. We can avoid purchasing any new synthetic clothes, instead opting for natural materials like hemp and cotton.


Household items: ‘Buy less, choose well, make it last’

Natural resources are poured into the production of low quality mass-produced items. It is relatively normal now (in countries that consider themselves to be developed) for people to buy cheap new things and then throw them away when they stop working. Shops like IKEA dispense disposable furniture like a vending machine. Choose to spend more on good quality products that will serve you for a long time, and repair them when they stop working. I like Vivienne Westwood’s motto: ‘buy less, choose well, make it last.’

Buy or acquire things second-hand, and no cogs of further production will be turned by your decision. If you want to get rid of old possessions, offer them to friends, family, neighbours, second-hand shops or for free online. There are many options before recycling or landfill.

Present giving: Presents don’t have to be bought in shopping centres!

Christmas is near, and it is a time when families gather, feast and enjoy each others presence. Capitalism would also like to remind you (and keep reminding you) that it is a time to buy presents. Remember, presents don’t have to be bought in shopping centres. Presents can exist in many forms, and definitely don’t need to involve the exploitation of natural resources in their making.

George Monbiot puts it well: “A vague desire to amuse friends and colleagues (especially through the Secret Santa nonsense) commissions the consumption of thousands of tonnes of metal and plastic, often confected into complex electronic novelties: toys for adults. They might provoke a snigger or two, then they are dumped in a cupboard. After a few weeks, scarcely used, they find their way into landfill.” Read the rest of the eye-opening article here.

When giving a present that has a physical form, you don’t need to wrap it in wrapping paper and tape. Use whatever you have around you to hide the present – old newspapers, a scarf, a pillowcase.

Present giving

What is your step in the right direction?

Whether you decide to go plastic-free or to give up some plastic habits, it is all good and a step in the right direction. The gap between the consumer and the source of the consumable item is ever widening, and it is becoming easier for us to make choices without realising their consequences. Make informed decisions when you act as a consumer. Choose products that did not exploit or cause suffering in their creation, and will not in their disposal. When you are aware that your actions are not causing harm, happiness emanates.

Have a lovely Plastic-free Tuesday!

Read my previous post about how I woke up to plastic, here.


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