Tips for going plastic-free in 2021

Catherine Winn has opened a completely plastic free shop in Bury St Edmunds Picture: SARAH LUCY BRO

Suffolk resident Catherine Winn hopes to encourage people to become more eco-friendly in 2021 - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

As society gets to grips with the ever-growing perils of climate change, people are constantly looking for ways to be more eco-friendly in their day-to-day lives. But no matter where you look, plastic is everywhere, and it can sometimes feel like a never-ending battle.  

The most recent government statistics, published earlier this year, show that the total amount of plastic waste generated in the UK in 2014 was a whopping 4.9 million tonnes - and is on track to potentially increase to around 6.3 million tonnes by 2030. But it’s not too late.  

Waging war on our throwaway culture and reliance on single-use materials is Catherine Winn, a Suffolk resident who back in February 2019 opened Clear to Sea – a totally-plastic free shop right here in Suffolk. A keen environmentalist, she has a number of tips to help you reduce your plastic footprint for 2021 and beyond.  

“David Attenborough has always been inspirational, and more so now with his witness statement. I opened my shop with the emphasis on the need to protect our oceans from the horrendous dumping of plastic waste. I wanted to show people that food could be purchased without all of the unnecessary packaging and everyday items we use that could be sustainable, as opposed to single-use. Our plastic waste ends up being recycled, incinerated or sent to another country - and think about the millions of tonnes of plastic which are discarded into the ocean every hour.”  

single use plastic packaging issue. fruits and vegetables in plastic bags

Avoiding single-use plastic bags is one of the many changes we can make to help tackle plastic pollution - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Plastic is all around us, but which ones are our biggest culprits?  

“Most definitely single-use plastics. We use them on a daily basis - plastic bags are handed out in every retail outlet and street market, but why? There are so many reusable fabric bags that we could use instead.” 

Research shows that plastic carrier bags take around 500 years to decompose, and even then, they don’t totally degrade. Instead, they photodegrade, becoming microplastics that continue to pollute the environment.  

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So where you can, avoid plastic carrier bags and do your shopping with fabric tote bags.  

Following plastic bags and single-use plastics, the second-worst offender is plastic bottles. The average UK person gets through an estimated 150 plastic water bottles a year – equating to more than three a week, with many ending up in rivers and seas. And that doesn’t account for the huge number of plastic bottles that can be found throughout our homes. 

“During my last two years researching plastic-free options, the choice and range has increased, and the easiest place to reduce plastic usage is in our kitchens and bathrooms. For instance, one of the best solutions to help counterbalance all of the cleaning products that fill our supermarket shelves with rows of large plastic containers is to save those containers and refill them with alternative, plant-based, bio-degradable household liquids. These are becoming more and more popular as people choose to make a change.” 

Catherine also suggests swapping regular sponges for loofahs, which can be used for both household cleaning and personal washing.  

Coconut fibre scrubbers are a great alternative to plastic fibres ones, and clingfilm can be swapped for reusable beeswax wraps. 

“Similarly, in the bathroom, you can also swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one - they even make toothpaste in a glass jar now. There are just so many changes we can make to reduce plastic in our lives.” 

Bamboo toothbrushes in a glass, zero waste lifestyle concept background, copy space for a text

Switching to a bamboo toothbrush will help reduce the amount of plastic you get through every year - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Where you can, try to eliminate plastic in the bathroom by switching out bottles of body wash and shampoo for soap and shampoo bars.  

“In the kitchen, I always encourage my customers to bring in their own containers to fill with rice, pasta, nuts, cereals, grains, flour, sugar, dried fruit, herbs, spices, tea and coffee.”  

But with the ongoing pandemic forcing tens of thousands to self-isolate, many people have found themselves unavoidably slipping back into bad plastic habits over the course of the year. 

“I think Covid has influenced a big step backwards in reducing plastic waste. Many people have been forced to shop online with the supermarkets, who appear to have increased their plastic packaging even more so for deliveries.” 

If you’re shopping in your local supermarket or at an outdoor market, research from the World Health Organisation shows there is no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted through food – so opting for fresh fruit that isn’t pre-packaged is still encouraged where possible, thus eliminating more unnecessary plastic bags and containers. Simply wash your produce as you would normally before consuming. 

Sustainable shopping at small local businesses. Close-up image of woman pours red lentils in glass j

Instead of buying food in plastic containers, try shopping somewhere that sells food in refillable dispensers - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“The pandemic has also created an enormous amount of PPE, with single-use masks now being the new plastic bag, filling our ditches, rivers and oceans.”  

To remedy this, Catherine recommends the general public swaps their single-use face masks for reusable fabric ones which can easily be washed in the washing machine – and in the long run, will save you money.  

“We will never be totally zero-waste or plastic-free, but we can all make a change to help reduce plastic waste and carbon emissions. As Robert Swan said, ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’.” 

Here's a handful of additional tips to help you become more plastic-free this year

- Avoid plastic cutlery when out and about or ordering delivery. Instead, invest in a reusable plastic set that you can easily carry around with you.

- Say no to plastic straws, and swap them out for reusable metal ones.

- Buy a reusable travel cup for hot drinks. That way, you're not having to buy a new paper cup with a plastic lid every time you order a coffee to-go.

- Cut out fizzy drinks. Not only is it healthier for you, but you're reducing your plastic footprint by not drinking from single-use bottles. However, if you do fancy a fizzy drink, opt for brands that come in glass bottles. 

- Use your milkman. Nothing beats a pint of freshly delivered milk in a glass bottle. 

- Buy bread that comes in a paper bag rather than a plastic bag.