My top 5 plastic-free discoveries

By Bex Atkinson

You don’t need to be an “eco-warrior” to make positive change for our environment. This was one of the first things Plastic Free Chesterfield taught me. I walked into my first meeting expecting to be a bit out of place, but was greeted by a friendly bunch of local residents of all ages united by a desire to make Chesterfield a town free from single use plastic.

Over the past few months, the group has taught me much more about a whole range of things. Here’s my top 5!

Can be fantastic

Plastic has been revolutionary in a lot of ways and there’s no denying that it has its uses. It’s used in helmets, airbags, child car seats, insulation, hearing aids, heart valves, life jackets and first-aid blankets. In these cases, plastic can be fantastic. What isn’t always fantastic is how we use it.

Plastic Free Chesterfield’s name is a bit misleading; it’s not against plastic in all forms. Avoidable single use plastics are the focus for Plastic Free Chesterfield but let’s be honest “Avoidable Single Use Plastic Reduction and Removal Chesterfield” isn’t at all memorable and doesn’t have the same ring to it!

Lasting Change is a Marathon not a Sprint

We’re habitual creatures and habits aren’t something we change overnight. That’s not just my opinion, it’s been proven by research (if you want to know more about the psychology behind it, try here as a starting point).

Our plastic habits are no different. Starting with one positive (but realistic) change and being consistent means you’re more likely to succeed in establishing long lasting new habits than if trying to go cold turkey and change everything at one. It’s also easier to build on your progress adding more small changes on as you go. That’s where the individual action plans come in handy with suggestions of changes to make. You can request one from this link or pick one up at a Plastic Free Chesterfield meeting or from one of our next events.

It’s OK not to be Perfect

We’re all at different stages on our journeys to becoming less reliant on single use plastics and that’s ok (see above). Lots of people making some positive changes has more of an impact than one person making all the changes. That’s not to invalidate the efforts of those who have gone totally single use plastic free, that’s an awesome achievement! Every action towards plastic reduction helps so we shouldn’t let the fear of not successfully changing everything all at once stop us trying to do something (again, see above!)

Five is the New Three

You’ve probably heard that we should “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, it was the slogan for the 2010-2015 government’s policy to move towards a “zero waste economy” (if you want to find out more about this policy, click here.

That doesn’t go far enough to achieve a zero waste economy. We need to learn our 5 R’s, in order because we start with the biggest impact first. (Note: there are a few variations of the exact terms but they all have a similar message)

  • Refuse – do you really need that plastic bag/straw/cup lid/stirrer/extra pair of 3D glasses?! It’s ok to say no or to ask for your purchase without it.
  • Reduce – do you really need to buy this thing right now? Take a few days to think about it and ask yourself will you use it over 30 times?
  • Reuse – Be prepared to avoid disposable items. Think travel mugs, water bottles, cutlery. But also refilling things like cleaning supplies – you can use the same container each time! You could also add Repair into the R’s here. Visit Transition Chesterfield’s Repair Café to learn how to repair your items or just let their knowledgeable volunteers try to fix it for you.
  • Repurpose – Give a new lease of life to an item by upcycling it. It could be as simple as using a plastic bottle to water your tomato plants to creating furniture and lampshades. Try LifeHack’s list for plastic bottle upcycling or Pinterest for inspiration.
  • Recycle – the last resort and a step up from landfill if it’s processed correctly and there’s a market for the material to be reused by industry.

Greenwashing is Confusing

“Compostable”, “biodegradable”, “eco-friendly”… we see these labels on a lot of products but what do they actually mean? These terms can lead us to think that these materials will break down and won’t contribute to landfill. Sounds good, right? They don’t tell us about the timescales, they don’t tell us about the specific conditions required, and they don’t tell us that there’s no infrastructure in the UK to provide those specific conditions. Not so good.

Greenwashing is a bigger topic and I’ve included just a few examples that I’ve learnt about through joining Plastic Free Chesterfield. These terms also mask other ethical and environmental concerns including carbon footprint, fair wages, excessive water consumption to name just a few. We need to consider the wider picture of climate change as best we can in our options, but acknowledge that we must make the best choices we can and endeavour to adapt our choices as we learn more.

Coming together with a common purpose lets us learn from each other, share our tips, tricks and ideas, and take encouragement from not being alone. Wherever you are on your journey, you’re welcome at Plastic Free Chesterfield. Come along to a meeting, join our Facebook group , comment on the blog, attend an event, or get involved however you feel most comfortable.

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