Words by Jolie Schiffer
In todays society you can barely think of daily life without plastic.
Besides the fact that plastic, invented in 1839, became one of the most important materials in our economy, the mass production after the first world war lead to extreme health and environmental problems.
Back in 1950, initially 1 million tons were produced worldwide. Nowadays we are speaking of 370 million tons yearly.
Chances are, you already heard about the amount of plastic litter that made its way into our oceans. Especially in this community of thinkers and doers we are all connected to the ocean. We are connected to mother earth and should think about this material which harms all of us.
But what exactly is plastic? And why is it so bad for us?
Chemically, plastic is a material that consists of macromolecules. Structural units composed of many atoms. These organic compounds can be molded into solid objects because of their malleability.
There would be nothing wrong with that.
Many plastics are made from petroleum. Even petroleum is a purely natural product that is a result from the death of marine life. In the course of millions of years, under the pressure of the deposits, their remains were chemically converted. But the extraction of petroleum isn’t natural at all.
Plastic does not naturally occur on our planet. It’s advantage of durability disturbs the global material cycle. It’s not biodegradable.
And with that, it’s production entails the emission of toxic gases.
Plastic is also a danger in our daily life. Harmful chemicals can leak out and get into our body via skin contact, inhalation or through the mouth.
The most commonly produced industry chemical worldwide is Bisphenol A, known as BPA. It is used as a softener and hardener inside plastic. With permanent body contact or when heating, BPA can escape from the plastic and get into our food or our body.
But we do not exactly know what kind of impacts BPA has on our bodies. We know that BPA has a similar effect as the hormone estrogen. Therefore it could lead to sexual disorders, diabetes or heart diseases. Experiments also led to the assumption that BPA negatively affects the development of the reproductive organs and the brain.
An also very harmful chemical is phthalate. It’s mostly found in plastics like PVC where it functions as a softener.
There is no chemical bound between phthalate and plastic which makes it easy to come out of it. Even through evaporation they reach our body and the environment. Traces of phthalate can be found in almost every human being. They are also credited with carcinogenic, hormone-like and reproductive harmful properties. However, the danger potential has not yet been adequately researched. Nevertheless, it will continue to be used and funded. Everyday items such as food packaging and plastic wrap are made from PVC.
Furthermore plastic represents the largest present environmental problem. With its non-degradable property it makes its way into our oceans and won’t disappear. For example a plastic bottle will survive 450 years until it disintegrates into micro plastic.
Every year, 32 million tons of plastic are released into the environment. 9 million tons reach the sea.
Seabirds die painfully with mobile phone parts in their stomach, turtles take plastic bags for jellyfish and fish confuse micro plastic with plankton.
Plastic is an ever-growing problem, costing tens of thousands of animals every year, and can also endanger us humans.
Beaches of inhabited and uninhabited islands sink in plastic waste. Micro plastics and pollutants that are contained in or enriched in plastic can also enter the human food chain via the fish.
How does all this plastic get into our seas?
One big problem is the micro plastic, which is found in many cosmetics. It passes through the sewage directly into the sea. The same problem we have with our laundry. Fibers made of synthetic fibers lose hundreds of these fibers each wash, which also get directly into the sea. Even over land, a lot of plastic waste is disposed of directly in the water. This seems to become the norm, especially in developing and emerging countries. However, it is also happening more frequently in industrialized countries. Despite the fact that plastic disposal at sea is prohibited worldwide, ships repeatedly dispose of their garbage in the sea. The fishing industry gets a lot of waste into the sea as well. Nets and other things are deliberately disposed of in the sea or simply get lost. Many animals are caught in these nets.
And with all this plastic now in our oceans, it is estimated that every year 100000 sea animals and birds die. They starve to death with a full stomach as the plastic clogs their digestive apparatus. The animals get caught in plastic parts and die a painful death, because a liberation is not possible.
Gigantic waste carpets were created in recent years. So-called hydrographic vortexes collected the garbage. The best known is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in the North Pacific. It has now reached the size of Central Europe.
Every year millions of tons of plastic are thrown away after a single use. But disposable plastic is the kind of plastic that is the easiest to replace. The European Commission issued a list of the 10 most commonly found plastic garbage items. Among other things, the list includes plastic bags, cotton buds, drink containers, etc. In the following, I’ll show you which things you can easily replace and thus reduce your plastic waste enormously. Here are my 10 tips to reduce your plastic waste.
1. Plastic cutlery
Plastic cutlery is the simplest way to eat your food on the way. It is also often used at events, parties or barbecues. But often the cutlery is used only once and then thrown away. Have you ever thought about bringing your own cutlery? I am aware that cutlery is usually relatively heavy and makes annoying noises in your pocket. BUT there is a simple solution. On the Internet, as well as in zero-waste shops and some organic shops, you can find beautiful cutlery sets in small bags. The cutlery is usually made of wood, bamboo or stainless steel and is perfect for traveling. There are many different designs. No pollutants get into your body, no plastic waste in the environment and you enjoy your food in a stylish way. And for those who want to organize a party: use either washable cutlery or get an environmentally friendly alternative (for example made of wood).
2. Plastic bags
The most unnecessary use of plastic is plastic bags. Nevertheless, due to their simplicity, they are used millions of times a day and immediately thrown away again. Every time we shop, we cast a vote. The plastic bag we buy ends up in garbage. It would not have been necessary to buy it at all. In the long term, it is much more money-saving and better for the environment to use a reusable bag. And that’s one of the easiest things to do to reduce your plastic waste. There are shopping bags in all sizes, materials, patterns and colours. If necessary, you can also sew one yourself. So why not always have a folded shopping bag with you?
3. Plastic straws
Plastic straws are probably something that one overlooks so quickly in everyday life. No matter where you are, at a festival, in a café or at home, plastic straws accompany you. And hardly anyone thinks about it. The one small plastic thing that is inconspicuous and carries great danger. Recently, I came across an alternative that is becoming more and more established. Reusable straws. Made of bamboo or stainless steel, they are available in bags for home or on the go. The next time you order a drink, remember to say “no straw please“. By the way, you can find reusable straws in Vivida’s online shop.
4. Plastic bottles
Also an efficient switch I made a long time ago. Reusable water bottles. You can find them in all sizes, designs and materials. There are even some with attached filters. You do not have to pay unnecessary money for drinks. You take less harmful substances to you. You tend to drink more healthy drinks. And best of all: no avoidable plastic waste arises. Such a win-win situation.
Find a beautiful reusable glass water bottle in vivida’s online shop, so you can always drink with style:
5. Tampons and pads
If you’re a lady, that’s especially interesting for you. Tampons and pads produce an incredible amount of waste during your menstrual period. And unfortunately, in addition to plastic, they also contain many other substances that can be harmful to the body in the long term. In addition to alternatives such as reusable pads, the menstrual cup has recently established itself. It is made of silicone and is inserted, similar to a tampon, to collect the blood. They are usually available in three different sizes and are easy to clean.
I’ve been using it myself for quite a long time and was very skeptical at first. I have thought a lot about the purchase and must say that it is practical and hygienic and that you can also wear it overnight or on the beach. The feeling is similar to a tampon and you do not have to pay tons of money for tampons and pads! This was definitely one of the smartest switches I’ve ever made and I do not regret it at all.
6. Food containers
Disposable food containers are mostly made of plastic, which can make the food dangerous for our body. In addition, they are usually used only once and then disposed of again. The solution: food containers made of resistant materials such as stainless steel or bamboo. You can take the food container to the restaurant to fill in your leftovers. Or you can bring your lunch with you, so you do not have to order it at the delivery or takeaway. Such food containers can be found almost everywhere in the retail or online. What I like to do is take my food, for example soup, in a jar. This also works great with cereal. So nothing is leaking and there are no harmful substances in the food.
7. Shampoo / Soap Bars
Have you ever thought about how much unnecessary plastic is actually created by care products? You constantly buy new shampoo, shower gel or soap.
Last year I discovered shampoo bars for the first time. In a personal care store, I was interested in a foaming, good-smelling thing that had a different texture than soap and looked different. A firm shampoo? In fact, shampoos, conditioners and shower gel are available in solid form and without plastic packaging from a wide variety of brands. They work just as well as the actual product in liquid form and usually last longer. I would definitely recommend trying this alternative!
8. Plastic cups for beverages
Plastic cups and their lids are simply shit for the environment. Every day I see at least 10 people walking around with a plastic cup or a cup with a plastic lid. Be it from Starbucks or a cheap cafe.
It’s quick to order a coffee to go, wakes you up and is tasty. However, again a useless disposable product.
Most large cafes now offer discount if you bring your own cup. Why not save money and do something good for the environment?
Nice reusable cups for beverages are available online or in the retail.
9. Food packaging
You can find it in almost every supermarket: plastic packaging. Sometimes I find it scary when I find a cucumber wrapped in a thin piece of plastic. And I almost want to vomit when my pepper is wrapped in plastic bags. Biggest crap ever. And also for those who do not want to buy their tomatoes or peppers without plastic bags. There is also a great alternative here. Small vegetable bags made of hemp, linen or other materials provide a remedy when shopping. Just grab the unpacked vegetables and fill up your vegetable bags. You can take them with you to every purchase throughout your life. Imagine how many plastic packages you can save!
And generally I recommend you to buy food in glasses. There are already alternatives with yogurt, milk and canned food. Find your vegetable bags in organic shops, online or at a zero-waste store.
10. Cotton buds and toothbrushes
Cotton buds and toothbrushes are of daily use and contribute to a good hygiene. One should by no means abandon them. Therefore, there are also environmentally friendly alternatives without plastic. These are among my favourite alternatives. The cotton buds usually have a plastic stick with two cotton balls at the end. In the environmentally friendly alternative, the stick is usually made of bamboo or paper. They are usually no more expensive than conventional cotton swabs and now found in many drugstores.
The first time I saw a bamboo toothbrush, I was blown away. The design is super simple, but very chic. Now I have been using bamboo toothbrushes for over a year now and I’m super delighted. They cost as much as conventional toothbrushes and do a great job. They are mostly produced, sustainable and support many aid projects all over the world. The bristles need to be recycled, but the rest of the toothbrush can be thrown onto the compost. Never again will I even buy a plastic toothbrush after finding such a great alternative. Usually you will find a good selection in the drugstore. However, you can also buy a bamboo toothbrush online or at the zero-waste store.
I hope the article inspired you to rethink and rethink your choices. We all live on a wonderful planet that gives us so much. We should give something back.
Jolie Schiffer is a proud Vivida Lifestyle Ambassador with keen interest and insights into eating a plant-based diet.
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