Using Less Plastic

Using less plastic is part of the initiative to Use 10 Percent Less. In today’s society, it’s difficult to stop using plastic altogether, but a good start is to find ways to use less.

using less plastic - plastic bag and sun

What’s Wrong with Plastic?

In general, plastics are unnatural substances that don’t degrade. Once we’ve made plastics they become part of our ecosystem on Earth for a very long time. Sure, we can recycle them, but the plastics are still in our ecosystem and we keep adding more.

To get a clear idea of the sort of damage plastics are making to the world today, take a look at this short documentary – “Waste Deep“.  The facts that plastic float and blow around, sea birds eat it mistaking it for food, and huge piles of it wash ashore in Hawaii is enough for me.

But it’s very easy to get misled in this world because companies that want to sell plastics spread misleading information like this;

Everywhere you look you will find plastics. We use plastic products to help make our lives cleaner, easier, safer and more enjoyable. You will find plastics in the clothes we wear, the houses we live in, and the cars we travel in. The toys we play with, the televisions we watch, the computers we use and the CDs we listen to contain plastics. Even the toothbrush you use every day contains plastics!

Plastics are organic, the same as wood, paper or wool. The raw materials for plastics production are natural products such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. Plastics are today’s and tomorrow’s materials of choice because they make it possible to balance modern day needs with environmental concerns.

This is horrifying! They try to make plastics sound similar to natural product like wood!

Consider the world without humans. Would there be any plastic? Of course not. Plastics are substances 100% fabricated by humans. They do not occur naturally. Generally they start with oil or gas that humans have extracted from the ground and then use a processing plant and lots of knowledge of chemistry to create the desired substance. This might sound like great human ingenuity, but we are now putting unnatural substances into the ecosystem without considering what that will do to our environment.

Fortunately, organizations like “Clean Up” in Australia provide sensible information and advice (the following has been extracted from their page – Plastic Bag Facts).

Plastics are made from non-renewable natural resources such as crude oil, gas and coal. According to the 2002 Nolan ITU Report for Environment Australia on Plastic Shopping Bags – Analysis of Levies and Environmental Impacts; just 8.7 plastic checkout bags contain enough embodied petroleum energy to drive a car 1 kilometre.

Plastic bags are recyclable. If plastic is not recycled, this embodied energy is lost from the resource chain.

Plastic bags have been around for 30 years now. It is estimated world wide that 1 trillion bags are used and discarded every year.

Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year, that’s over 10 million new bags being used every day. An estimated 3.76 billion bags or 20,700 tonnes of plastic are disposed of in landfill sites throughout Australia every year. Australians dump 7,150 recyclable plastic bags into landfills every minute or 429,000 bags every hour.

It is estimated that around 50 million bags enter the Australian litter stream every year. Unless they are collected, they remain in the environment and accumulate at a staggering rate.

Using Less Plastic is a good idea!

It’s really hard to avoid using plastics these days. It would be almost impossible to live a life with no plastics at all. But it is really obvious that using less plastic would be a good thing. Even it this only reduces some of the pressure on sea birds and general pollution, it would be worth doing. Following the Use 10 Percent Less initiative, I’m trying to use 10% less plastic in my life this year, and then I’ll try to reduce that by another 10% next year. If everyone did this, it would be great step forward for the world.

Some things I’m trying

Garbage bags made from potato starch – the organic supermarket I frequent sells garbage bags made from potato starch. They feel like plastic, they work well and they are 100% biodegradable. It should be illegal to manufacture and sell garbage bags that aren’t biodegradable.

Produce bags that are oxo-degradable – the same organic supermarket provides plastic bags to use when buying their fruit and veg, but these bags are oxo-degradable. I’d never heard of this before, but it means that the bags will degrade just in air (no need for biologic action from bugs and stuff) after a certain period of time. That’s amazing!

using less plastic - bio and oxo degradable

100% biodegradable bags made from potato starch and oxo-degradable plastic bags (purchased in France)

Cotton shower curtain – I recently had to replace my shower curtain. It was made of plastic and I didn’t want to buy another plastic one, so I bought a fabric one made mostly of cotton. It works fine and I like it lot more than the plastic one.

Toothbrush with replaceable head – I found a toothbrush where you only throw away the head when the bristles are worn (you can buy replacement heads) which means we’re not throwing away so much plastic each time. This might sound like a minuscule amount of plastic, but it all adds up and, in the spirit of Use 10 Percent Less, every little bit helps.

using less plastic - Toothbrush with replaceable head

A toothbrush where only the head is thrown away and replaced.

Deodorant with refills – similar to the toothbrush idea, I’ve found a deodorant that uses refills (or recharges) that don’t use as much plastic. Yes, it’s only small, but it all helps.

using less plastic - Deodorant with refill

The refill for this deodorant uses less than half of the plastic of the original unit (purchased in France).

Razors with disposable heads – I’m now using a plastic, disposable razor where only the head is disposable. Another small step.

using less plastic - Razor with replaceable head

Only the blades are disposed of with this plastic disposable razor.

Choose glass over plastic – Whenever possible choose glass packaging rather than plastic. For example, with deodorants, there are plenty of options that use glass bottles. That’s using less plastic.

Avoid plastic packaging – Plastic packaging is everywhere. It’s almost impossible to avoid, but it’s great to try. One example I found was with tea bags. Often they come with plastic packaging around a box and then each bag is individually wrapped in plastic. I found some lovely teas that are sold in loose leaf style in paper bags. I’m using these as much as possible and avoid plastic packaging wherever I can.

using less plastic - Tea in paper bags

These teas (Mint and Camomile) use no plastic packaging at all (purchased in France).

Reusable shopping bags – I always keep reusable shopping bags in my car now and try to never have to use a plastic bag provided by a store. Doesn’t mean I’m always successful, but I’m using less plastic, that’s for sure.

Don’t buy plastic bottled water – I used to drink water from plastic bottles but I’ve stopped that now. I have a reusable plastic bottle with a filter in it and top it up with tap water. Not sure if this is the best solution yet, but I’m not introducing numerous empty plastic bottles into the system each week any more.

What’s your best tip for using less plastic? 

8 Responses to “Using Less Plastic”

  1. Lydia

    Hi Peter good article, I have found that there’s so much hidden plastic in clothes etc it’s unbelievable and a good initiative to try to reduce.

    I want to ask however do you knowhether using glass bottles creates a bigger carbon footprint in transportation? I don’t.

    • Pete

      Thanks Lyd.

      I was at a conference once and a lady from the petrochemicals industry was giving a talk about how plastics were good for the environment because they were lighter than glass and used less energy to ship around. It’s true that plastics are lighter than glass, but the result was that she was almost booed off stage. In general, nobody could believe that this fact would be used to essentially paint plastics as environmentally friendly.

      My guess is that making plastics from petroleum products is cheap and easy (using byproducts that would otherwise go to waste) and that’s why they are pushed on us so much. It’s cleat that real environmentally friendly options exist but they are probably more expensive to produce. The real question is “how much is our environment worth?”.

  2. Liane Di Marco

    Hi Peter, great article. Can you tell me where you purchased or the brand of the toothbrush with the disposable head?
    I’m not sure if you have heard of plastic free july? this was started by a woman in Fremantle and has now gone world wide although it is still not widely known. In July everyone is encouraged to have no single use plastic bags, water/drink bottles, takewaway coffe cups, straws or plastic cutlery. Really difficult! I cut down by about 90% in July & am have cut down to about 80-85% since. All helps. Keep up with the great articles.

  3. Pete

    Thanks Liane.

    The toothbrush is made in Germany and is called “Monte-Bianco Clip System”. I found this website as an example. Not sure if you get it in Australia. Send me an email if you can’t get one and I can send you one.

    Another interesting thing about these is they have a “natural bristle” option where the bristles come from pork. Not sure how, but they are just fine and work well. So no petrochemicals needed for the bristles – another small step.

    I hadn’t heard of plastic free July. Thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out. It’s amazing how plastic has crept into modern life. Great to hear you’ve cut down on plastic. Cutting it out completely will be just so hard, and that’s why I like the idea of Use 10 Percent Less because that feels so easy in comparison and if the whole world suddenly used 10% less plastic it would be amazing.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the tip about plastic free July.

      • Pete

        Sounds even better than what I’m using. Completely biodegradable. Let me know how they go.

        By the way, bamboo seems to be very versatile. I’m using a bamboo towel now and I have a beach shirt that’s made from bamboo and it’s great. Both the towel and the shirt are so soft.

  4. Liane Di marco

    Hi Peter you have inspired me to rethink some of my plastic options! Not sure if you are familiar with the Lush chain, they have solid deodorants & shampoos etc will let you know the verdict! Also have some toothpaste tabs wil be interesting to see how they go

    • Pete

      Great! Keep us updated. It’s amazing how many better products can be found after just a little bit of looking. It’s also amazing how much plastic is used when it didn’t really need to be at all.

      I have no idea what a toothpaste tab is, but I’m sure you’ll update us later.


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