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5R's to Preventing Plastic Pollution: #3 REUSE

Today, our society is best known for its instant delivery. From food to clothes and everything in between we can order a new item and it can be on our front doorstep the next day, sometimes even within 24 hours. Offers such as ‘Black Friday’ perpetuates the linear behaviour of of buy – use – throw away. But these outlooks are causing planet-changing effects when it comes to pollution. When discussing how to maintain a low waste lifestyle, one of the most heavily used phrases is “use what you have.”

Reusing what is already in your possession is arguably one of the easiest of the ‘5 R’s’ and the most effective in reducing your waste impact.

A great example of this is the rise in refill shops. This shopping experience encourages consumers to reuse their existing containers to top up their household goods and food. By reusing and refilling the already created plastic bottle, it means that no more energy or resources are going into making a new one or recycling the empty one. Many of the refill bulk suppliers also work on a closed loop system, taking containers of household liquids back to be industrially cleaned, refilled, and sent back to the shop to start the cycle again. By closing the loop, innovative companies are helping to reduce waste on a nationwide scale.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of these current initiatives, it is estimated that ‘75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic is currently found in our oceans’[1]. With most of the plastic designed to be ‘single-use’, we know that the current ‘throwaway culture’ is causing a lot of issues when it comes to the environment, especially rivers and oceans.

Over 20% of items recorded in our community clean-up actions relate to food and drink, mostly packaging and containers. Partners like Brest Métropole are tackling this directly with food outlets in the city and have recently launched a scheme to support restaurants (especially take away outlets) to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use.

Extending the life of any plastic object is always more favourable than disposing of it. A recent pilot scheme to recycle tree guards in Dorset, led by Queen Mary University and FWAG Southwest enabled the reuse of over 500 tree guards.  With more demand for reuse than anticipated, future opportunities may lie in finding a way to link those wishing to dispose of tree guards with those wishing to reuse.

Tips for Reuse

There are a handful of basic reusables which can help you stop plastic entering landfill or worse into our waterways and into our eco-systems. Here are our top three reusables to help reduce your single-use footprint:

  1. ‘On the go’ items like lunchboxes, water bottles and coffee cups – “The use of disposable cups that are difficult to recycle and the lack of specialist reprocessing facilities in the UK results in fewer than 1 in 400 being recycled.”[2] So by using your barista friendly cup, you can save one of the millions of coffee cups being bought around the country every day. Add water bottles and plastic food packaging into the mix and that’s a lot of waste to be saved from landfill.
  2. Try out your local refill shop or make use of a mobile refill station. With hundreds across the UK to choose from, it’s a great opportunity to switch away from single-use plastic gradually. Find your local refill option here https://zerowaste.directory/
  3. It’s not just containers you can use over and again! A staggering ‘100 billion items of clothing are produced each year’[3] – and these aren’t always made ethically or with responsible materials or supply chains. The most sustainable wardrobe is the one you already own. When you need a refresh, why not try and repurpose an item or do a clothes swap with a friend or family member.

[1] https://www.unep.org/interactives/beat-plastic-pollution/

[2] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmenvaud/657/657.pdf

[3] https://cleanclothes.org/fashions-problems/waste-and-pollution