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Plastic waste pollutes the oceans and kills maritime life. Image © One Green Planet

How to break free from plastic waste

in Food/Lifestyle/Society by

By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. The EU will now step in to reduce plastic waste by banning all throwaway plastics by 2021 – but there is so much more everyone of us can (and should) do. Find out how you can spend a life less plastically without spending a fortune.


Plastic waste weighs all of us down. (Photo: public domain)
Plastic waste weighs us down. (Photo: public domain)

Single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks, and cotton buds will be banned in the EU. That’s right: These products, which make up over 70% of marine litter, will be banned from the EU market – under draft plans approved by Parliament – from 2021.

What’s more, single-use burger boxes, sandwich boxes or food containers for fruits, vegetables, desserts, or ice creams will also be banished to history’s recycling bin.

EU MP Frédérique Ries said last Wednesday: “We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to set the course in the upcoming negotiations with the Council, due to start as early as November. Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion euros by 2030.”

How culpable am I of producing plastic waste?

If you buy products wrapped in plastic, you are to blame. It’s high time you consider the plastic consumption you are responsible for to reduce plastic waste.

Plastic consumed per citizen in EU countries. (Image © statista.com)
Plastic consumed per citizen in EU countries. (Image © statista.com)

Despite efforts in some European countries, such as Germany, to introduce a plastic bottle deposit scheme or paid-for plastic bags in supermarkets, the average EU citizen creates 31 kg of plastic waste per year. Germany and the UK lie above this average, with 35 kg of waste per citizen. Every Irish person, unfortunately, wastes a total of 61 kg of plastic per year, which means that a mere 4 million people produce more waste than the entire population of Greece (11 m people). Your average Bulgarian produces a more moderate 14 kg plastic waste over the year.

These 2015 statistics get even worse when you consider that there has been a 15% increase of consumer plastic waste in the past 3 years. Absolutely shocking, that is.

Why is plastic bad news for the oceans?

More than 80% of marine litter is plastics. The products covered by the EU restrictions constitute 70% of all marine litter items. Due to its slow rate of decomposition, plastic accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide.

Plastic residue is not only found in marine species such as sea turtles, seals, whales, and birds, but also species contributing to the human food chain like fish and shellfish.

I was simply petrified when I saw this image shared on Facebook. “Listen to the dead whale’s wake-up call,” the share read, and “look closer and see what plastic pollution does to the ocean.”

Our plastic waste pollutes the oceans and kills fish and sea mammals. (Image © OneGreenPlanet.org)
A terrible beauty is born: This plastic installation is a memorial of ocean pollution. (Image © OneGreenPlanet.org)

Watch this trailer of the documentary A Plastic Ocean for a more graphic picture of the devastation you and I are causing.

What can I do to make a difference?

When faced with the whale picture, the realisation hit me that the very items depicted in the image bear a striking resemblance to my daily grocery purchases. I knew I had to change my unreflecting (and therefore ignorant and reckless) consumer behaviour to cut down on all the waste madness.

The first question I asked myself was, “can I afford it?”, or rather, “how much am I prepared to sacrifice for the planet?”

The surprising answer was a resounding “not a lot!”

So here’s an easy guide to going 98% off plastic:

Vegetables

At the street market or any vegetable shop in town, you can simply bring your own Reusable Mesh Produce Sacks to take away your vedge. Contrary to popular belief, veggie shops aren’t more expensive than supermarkets. And you’ll be supporting local business, too.

Meat & cheese

Butchers tend to sell you meat, cold-cuts and cheese in plastic wrapping. Bring your own containers (you surely have some Tupperware at home), and ask them nicely to put it in there once they’ve weighed it. They usually do. If they should deny your request – well, there’s many a butcher in town.

Bread

Either bring your own mesh bag or reuse an old plastic bag. It’s amazing how many times (if not months and years) a single-use plastic bag can be put to good use.

Other groceries

Next to online providers (see the link in “Cosmetics” below), there’s a shop called Einfach Unverpackt on Kochstraße in Südvorstadt that sells most things for your daily needs. Just bring your own containers and jars, weigh them on their scale, and use their pen to mark them with the container’s weight. Then fill them with whatever you want to buy. What may sound like an incredibly über-complicated and obsolete way of conducting your shopping actually is a whole lot of fun. Their butter and muesli are incredibly yummy. They have num-num chocolate for €1,50 per 100 g. And you have to try the lemonade from the fridge. <3

Cleaning products

I placed a substantial order of €40 to get free delivery at the Green Soap Company, basically buying everything I needed twice. They sent me their eco-friendly chems in recycled plastic containers. Their stuff is very efficient and it also smells lovely. These days, I buy my bio-Persil at the Einfach Unverpackt shop as well. Admittedly, it’s twice the price, but I’ve not had a rash or any clothes inflicted unwanted itching since.

Cosmetics

There’s a plethora of online stores, as for example the Einfach-Ohne-Plastik online shop. Or have a look at any organic shop near you.

Nutella (uh-oh)

I can see you jump up from your couch and spill your vegan soy milkshake in the process. “But those palm trees!”, I hear you scream. As an outspoken addict, I’ve long made my research to appease my conscience. Greenpeace says “It’s okay to eat Nutella”. And we all know, there’s no such thing as a surrogate drug for a spread as delightfully toothsome as this one. It does, however, come with a plastic lid. Guilty as charged, I still cause plastic waste. But I can explain everything. I buy it in a 750 g glass. I only use it on Sundays. Thinly spread and all. I promise…!

Plastic containers brimming with waste in Neu-Lindenau. (Image © Kapuczino)
Plastic containers brimming with needless waste in Neu-Lindenau. (Image © Kapuczino)

When I go do my shopping these days, it’s hard not to get angry at “all those plastic consumers” who seemingly don’t give a $%°! when doing theirs. It doesn’t help to know that their blissful ignorance saves them about half the shopping budget.

So I’ve developed a little strategy. Every time I see somebody at the checkout stuffing huge plastic bags with a cash-register full of plastic wrappers, I tell myself “God shall punish you with cancer for your crimes.” Indeed, I neither believe in the man-god, nor in divine dispensation of malevolence. But it surely takes the edge off the pain.

A plastic dystopia. (Photo: public domain)
A plastic dystopia. (Photo: public domain)

These personal tips do by no means represent an extensive list of things you can do to save the planet for the next generation. Please contribute in the comments on social media to help make a plastic-free life easier!

A cosmopolitan butterfly that feels at home where people are friendly and coffee is strong. As a person with a wide range of interests and a low attention span, he succumbs to the charm of novelty all too readily. Literature, film, photography and politics on Mondays, playing dead and g(r)ooming dogs on Tuesdays. Hand him a beer and he’ll talk about football, tell him a lie and he’ll tell you two.

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