Plastic pollution: five easy tips to reduce how much plastic you use

Plastic is ubiquitous. It’s in our clothing, our shoes, our phone, our furniture. We store food in it, we eat and drink from it, we sit on it, we brush our teeth with it. It comes in all colours, shapes and sizes. The reason plastic is ever-present? It’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it lastsBut plastic comes at a cost: plastic pollution.

On average, a plastic bag is used for 12 minutes before it’s thrown away, but it takes anywhere between 400 to 1,000 years to degrade. That’s plenty of time to wreak havoc on our marine life – 30% of the world’s turtles and 90% of seabird species have now ingested plastic debris.

Defending Our Oceans Tour - Hawaii Trash (Hawaii: 2006)

Plastic-free July highlights problems associated with single-use plastic, and challenges us to avoid plastic for a day, a week, or even a whole month. Unsurprisingly, going without plastic even for just a day can be a struggle. Many things we buy are wrapped in or made of plastic, and it’s difficult (and expensive) to source an alternative.

To combat this, here are five tips on how to reduce our plastic waste.

1. Sign a petition to stop plastic pollution

Pull up the problem by its roots and help bring about legislative change. Banning free single-use plastic bags from grocery stores is crucial for ending plastic pollution. The good news is: we have successful plastic bag bans in parts of Australia already. Let’s get our four biggest states – New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia – onboard as well. Sign our Ban the Bag petition!

As an alternative (or supplement), why not write directly to your local MP, or start campaigning against plastic pollution yourself? Check out this blogpost to help you get started in your local area.

World Plastic Bag Free Day in Manila2. Bring your own shopping bags

Single-use plastic bags are free of charge, but they do come at a high cost to our environment. Bringing your own bags when shopping is a simple but effective way to reduce your plastic bag consumption. Muslin bags are a great alternative for bread, loose salads, fruits and vegetables, etc. – they are light, reusable and perfect for storing food in the fridge or the pantry.

Greenpeace volunteers head from Sydney's Botany Bay up the Cooks River to pick up rubbish. The initiative is driven by the Sydney Greenpeace Local Group and takes place on the first Sunday of each month at various locations around Sydney. Most of the rubbish collected consisted of plastic bags, plastic beverage containers and other plastics.3. Use a non-plastic drink bottle

Invest in a reusable drink bottle and never buy expensive, single-use water bottles again. There are options to suit everyone – from stainless steel to wood to ceramic.

Another good tip is to bring your own cup when buying a takeaway coffee. It’s often cheaper and will taste better. If you’re in need of a coffee fix but don’t have a cup with you, consider ‘drinking in’ (and take a well-deserved 10-minute break), or ask for ‘no lid’ and save some plastic that way.

Defending Our Oceans Tour - Hawaii Trash (Hawaii: 2006)4. Replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo toothbrush

Banish plastic in your bathroom. Buy a bamboo toothbrush. They are inexpensive and some places offer bulk buys and free shipping to make them even more attractive.

5. Buy loose fruit and vegetables

Whenever you get the option to buy loose fruit and vegetables, do it. There’s no need to buy apples or carrots in plastic bags or packets – pick and choose instead!

Some shops offer loose nuts, beans, rice, dried fruit, etc. as well – a great alternative to buying them packed in plastic. Take your muslin bags along and shovel in exactly as much as you need.

Vegetables and Fruit in GermanyMarktstand mit Vielfalt an Obst und Gemuese


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  • Jane

    Hey Greenpeace,
    I work in a grocery store in SA and the amount of people who still buy the plastic bags anyway each time is unbelievable. I wondered if it might be worth researching this and maybe petiotioning to scrap plastic altogether for some other material maybe recycled paper or something? Just a thought! Not sure if it would help or not 🙂

  • Thiago

    I never really understood why people give so much credit to the plastic bag when you go to the supermakert to buy some food or any other thing. The plastic bag is not good we all know but “it is nothing” compared to how much plastic and paper we take home when we buy our food at the supermarket. We say bad things about the plastic bag but “we don’t care” about each fruit being packed in plastic or a pack of biscuits coming with many other plastic packs inside to make our life easier and give us little portions of that biscuit when we eat. Pretty much all the food we buy on a supermarket comes with a lot of plastic on it, we should fight to reduce that much of plastic together with the plastic bag. Same with the things we buy on the internet or physical stores. “We give” to much value to the pack and in the end it’s all trash.

    thanks for the article.

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  • Kathleen Patry

    In Québec, plastic bags are charged in groceries; It’s a way of promoting reusable bags. Would be nice if all you publish on facebook be in french too by the way.

  • maggieb

    I lived in the USA for 30 years and have been quite shocked by the difference in the way supermarkets sell fresh produce here in the UK. In the US most supermarkets (all the big chains) sell fresh produce, piled high and loose. There is always some sort of cooling and misting process which must use energy and for that I do not know the cost. In the UK there is usually some loose produce but most of it is sold pre-weighed in plastic bags. I’m staggered by the amount of plastic that people put out for recycling by their
    public authorities! (and what can be recycled seems to vary considerably) Incidentally, I buy a lot of carrots (for juicing) and find that the loose carrots are often more expensive than the bagged ones! 45p/500g bagged. 95p/Kg loose. WHY?