Baby whales poisoned by litter, the latte levy, Theresa May taking up birdwatching – if you haven’t yet got the memo that something urgent needs to be done about cleaning up our countryside and oceans, then where have you been?
Allow me to throw in a few simple stats. In the UK, we throw away seven million coffee cups a day and next to none of these can be recycled. We buy 35.8 million water bottles a day, 16 million of these ending up in landfill and, ultimately, the sea.
Let me underline: these are both a day.
Scientists estimate that plastic can take up to 1,000 years to break down, so it is highly likely a bottle of Evian kicked in the sea in the 70s will be sloshing around the tides right now – and will be for another 960 or so years. In fact, if all the plastic bottles collected during the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup were stacked they would have stood 372 times higher than Dubai’s towering Burj Khalifa, which stands at 828 meters high. Every plastic toothbrush that’s ever been made? Still on the planet.
It wouldn’t take much to change things. It’s not about giving up plastic completely, but making a concerted effort to buy less and recycle more is a damn sight better than doing nothing. Here are the seven resolutions I have decided to try:
1 I will invest in a reusable coffee cup (and get into the habit of actually using it)
There’s been an awful lot of hoo-ha about the government’s proposed “latte levy”, announced last week. Personally, I cannot fathom why people think their liberty will be compromised by being asked to pay 25p more if they want their coffee in a cup that can’t be recycled. I think it makes perfect sense. I think we should all be buying reusable cups and making an effort to use them every day.
2 Ditto with water bottles
3 I will CUT DOWN on PLASTICS IN my bathroom
This means cutting down on products with microbeads, stopping buying wet wipes and choosing biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones. My esteemed colleague Frankie Graddon has just written here and here about what to look for and avoid.
4 I will SAY no to DRINKING straws AND PLASTIC bags
I have also invested in a tote that folds away and sits at the bottom of my handbag until I need it. I will also be saying no as much as possible to plastic cutlery and receipts, as some are coated in a thin layer of plastic that makes them unrecyclable. This week, the Evening Standard launched a campaign to eradicate plastic straws in the capital.
5 I will cull my kitchen and bathroom plastic
Inspired by Iceland, which this week became the first supermarket to pledge to remove all plastic from its own-label products, I will make an effort to buy the least-packaged versions of everything. I will also ask myself what I need and don’t need – do I need that dish detergent in a plastic squeezy bottle when I could save money, buy it in bulk on Amazon and decant into a Mason jar? Can I buy refills? Can I dispense with kitchen scrubbers and sponges and get some natural ones instead? In the bathroom, can I cut down by investing in large 5l refills of shampoos and shower gels by using companies like Faith In Nature? Can I invest in a proper razor instead of disposable ones?
6 I will use beeswax wrap instead of clingfilm
Not only is it biodegradable, but beeswax wrap will save you money because it is reusable, plus the beeswax in the paper has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which means no nasties will leach into your food in the fridge.
7 And, finally, I will stop BUYING teabags
Almost 160 million teabags thrown away every day in the UK are made with plastic (polypropylene to be exact), which is added to the paper teabag to help heat seal them during manufacture so they don’t come open in the box or your cup of tea. It means that nearly all of the teabags we buy aren’t 100 per cent biodegradable – the bags you are composting are actually leaving bits of microplastic in the soil. Best rule is to go for loose leaf tea wherever possible. (If you're as shocked as I was when I learnt this, you can also sign this petition here.)