If you haven’t noticed yet, we have a very serious plastic problem. Just pop into any supermarket and you’ll see ridiculous things, like bananas neatly packed in plastic bags. Sorry, but last time I checked, bananas came in pre-approved packaging of their own, known as peels.
It’s almost as though, since the invention of plastic, we’ve just gone mad for the convenience. And now we’re bearing the consequences – our oceans are choking, and our landfills are quickly reaching capacity.
While recycling does help somewhat, the only way we can make a real difference is to cut down on single-use plastic items we’ve been using daily without a thought. Apart from helping the planet, living a more waste-free life can also actually save and make you some money.
- What is single-use plastic?
- Plastic levies to be aware of
- How to save money by cutting down on plastic
- Make some extra cash by helping other people cut down too
Now, look – we’ve all got plastic in our homes and it will still be there for a long time to come. I mean, who can live without Tupperware dishes and lunch boxes? And that’s okay!
However, the real evil comes in with single-use plastic. As the name suggests, these are all items that you’d only use once before tossing them away:
- Takeaway coffee cup lids
- Plastic shopping bags
- Fresh produce bags
- Food product packaging
- Cooldrink/water bottles
Of the roughly 300 tons of plastic we produce on an annual basis, almost half of it is single-use. While some of these items do get recycled, most end up in landfills or even worse, the ocean.
As the world’s plastic problem is gaining more publicity, governments, corporates and organisations are launching major drives to encourage consumers to cut down.
Here in the UK, we have a number of plastic levies that you may not even be aware of. Let’s take a look:
5p plastic bag levy
In 2015, England introduced its first plastic tax: the 5p levy on shopping bags. It was also one of the last countries in the UK and Europe to introduce something of this sort. Up until recently, the levy only applied to retailers with 250 employees or more. However, it will soon be rolled out to smaller stores too.
While the plastic bag levy was greeted with mixed emotions, there is no doubt that it has had an impact on waste levels. A recent study showed a drop of approximately 30% in plastic bags on the seabed in a large area from close to Norway and Germany to northern France, and west to Ireland.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Audit Committee called for a 25p levy on disposal coffee cups, working toward a total ban by 2023. This came as a way to minimise the almost 2.5 billion coffee cups that are thrown away per year in the UK alone. The suggestion was, however, rejected by Government who argued that it was better for shops to offer voluntary discounts to customers bringing their own cups.
While we’ll get into more detail about those discounts in a bit, it’s worth mentioning that Starbucks has rolled out a 5p levy on disposable cups at all 950 of their UK stores. While 5p doesn’t sound like much, it adds up. If you buy one cup of Starbucks coffee a day for a year, the sum total of the levy could have bought you another 5 cups!
22p drinks charge
While it hasn’t been implemented yet, it seems likely that consumers could soon pay up to 22p more for drinks in glass and plastic bottles, as well as cans.
It’s safe to say that plastic levies and taxes are here to stay. So, if you’re particularly pennywise, it definitely makes sense to seriously reconsider your daily use of disposable plastic items. In fact, it could help you save more than just 5p every time you say no to a plastic shopping bag!
Buy in bulk
While it may not make sense to buy perishable items in bulk when you run a small household, it’s certainly recommended for cleaning products, certain personal care items, office supplies and pantry stock.
In most cases, buying the larger container of laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid works out cheaper per unit. Also, it saves on plastic packaging and probably a trip or two to the shops to stock up.
Similarly, you can opt to buy one package of six tooth brushes to last you two years, instead of buying a single toothbrush in its own packaging every three months.
Finally, pantry items such as coffee, nuts, oatmeal and cereals have relatively long shelf lives (if stored properly). So, there’s really no reason to buy several small every few weeks, when a large container can last you longer than a month.
Fruit and veg is often cheaper without plastic
This depends on which supermarkets you frequent, but generally loose fruit and veg are cheaper than those that have been pre-packaged.
Just be sure to take reusable produce bags along for easy transport!
Refill your water bottle for FREE instead of buying
One of the biggest plastic transgressions most of us commit, is buying bottled water. According to Recoup Recycling, UK consumers use about 13 billion plastic water bottles per year.
Apart from the fact that this is horribly wasteful, it’s also a lot of money you’re spending on a commodity you could be getting for free.
So, here’s a tip – get yourself a stainless steel or glass water bottle and refill it at the office water cooler throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Not at the office or at home? No problem! There are a wealth of places that will refill your water bottle for free. Get the nifty Refill app to help you find them, or search for refilling stations in your area on Tapwater.org.
Don’t pay for plastic bags at all by bringing your own fabric one
As mentioned earlier, 5p doesn’t sound like too big a price to pay for convenience’s sake. However, it does add up, especially when you’re filling three or four plastic grocery bags at a time.
Save yourself that 15 – 20p by stocking up on fabric shopping bags and REMEMBERING to take them with you whenever you go to the shops.
Save on your daily coffee with a reusable mug
Even though the Government may have rejected the Latte levy, coffee shops seem to be encouraging customers to cut down on single-use cups by offering discounts to anyone bringing a reusable cup/tumbler.
Here’s a list of retailers and the discounts they offer when you bring your own mug:
While each of these outlets stock their own reusable mugs, they won’t turn you away if you arrive with a reusable mug from a rival outlet.
Use wax wraps instead of sandwich bags/cling film
If you use sandwich bags/cling film for your and your family’s packed lunches every day, you might want to consider investing in reusable wax wraps instead.
With prices ranging between £10 and £60, the initial cost may leave your pockets feeling a bit flat, but think of it as an investment! You’ll be able to use them for years to come and cutting down drastically on your plastic waste.
If you’re more interested in making some extra cash than merely saving, this drive to cut down on plastic could also prove to be rather lucrative.
Here are two ways you can make money by helping other people live more waste-free lives
Make and sell reusable products
If you’re the crafty kind and enjoy sewing, you could try your hand at making the following and selling them online or at markets:
Create your own unique line of tote bags that people can use when they go shopping. Depending on the type of fabric you use and the time you put into it, you could charge anywhere between £1 and £5 per bag.
Fresh produce bags
These polyester drawstring bags are pretty simple to make and will become an increasingly popular item over the next few years. Get your foot in the door now already by starting your own range and selling them in packs of 3 – 5 for anything between £10 and £15.
Once again, wax wraps can still be considered a novelty item in many households. However, as the clampdown on plastic waste increases, they will become essential over time. They’re pretty easy to make in your kitchen at home and could fetch you an average of £30 for a pack of four.
Establish yourself as a go-to person for these wraps among friends and family and soon your business will grow.
Buy reusable products in bulk and sell them online
If you’re not much of a maker but do want to be part of the green economy, you could always start your own zero-waste online shop.
Start with a few simple items like:
Obviously, you’ll want to push your price up a bit to make a profit.
Along with your mugs, you can stock a wide range of reusable straws, including bamboo, glass and stainless steel.
You can buy bulk packs of 50 from EcoStrawz for between £34.99 and £61.99 per pack.
Round off your initial zero waste offering by including bamboo toothbrushes. You can buy them from A Fine Choice for a wholesale price of £ 2.39 per item.
Once you’ve tested the water with these products, you could start expanding your offering. The best way to do this would be asking customers what they’d like to buy from you and then make an effort to get hold of these products.