My three resolutions to reduce plastic pollution

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On World Earth Day 2018 I wrote about how bad plastic pollution actually is and what we can do to actively lower our personal plastic footprint. I decided on three things in my life that I wanted to change as soon as possible. This way I hoped to significantly reduce my plastic footprint over the long-term.

You might have wondered – What became of them?

Here is a report about my experiences so far. The three resolutions were the following:

#1 Buy more bulk food
#2 Catch microplastics in my laundry
#3 Give plastic-free dental care a try

 

#1 Buy more bulk food

Why?

The concept of bulk food is simple. Instead of small, usually in plastic prepackaged portions the store buys a big bag of the goods and then offers them through a pay per piece or weight system.

Advantages:

  • This way the consumer can decide on how much of each supply he/she wants. Thus avoiding food wastage by buying too much.
  • This also reduces the amount of packaging needed. The general rule is: The smaller the item and weight, the more packaging is needed.
  • In general bulk food is considered to be cheaper  (but I’m not quite sure if that is true for every store).
  • Ideally, the bulk food should be purchased and transported in a non-plastic container. This helps reduce plastic packaging waste.

Disadvantages:

  • Unfortunately, there are still many stores selling bulk food, that have not caught on the idea of reducing plastic. Meaning, they offer plastic bags in all kinds of sizes to put the food in. (Which spoils the opportunity to reduce garbage.)
  • Many unaware consumers happily (and aware consumers, grudgingly) then have to use them. I really wish, they would improve this system. It would be great if the bags could be exchanged with other more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. Or a system implemented that allows you to bring your own containers (get them weigthed before filling them). So far I’ve seen this more environmentally friendly way of buying bulk food mainly in small stores. So if you have the choice – go for small stores and bring your own containers. (And if you don’t have enough containers, start collecting margarine or take away containers that are suitable and reuse them – there really is no need to buy new ones, unless you want to go all plastic-free and need glass containers.

My conclusion:

I visited the bulk food store in my hometown. Apparently it was the very same store that had plastic free tooth brushes in their window display (I wrote about that earlier). It was a true aha! moment, when I walked in and realized this. It’s great though to have it all in one place and I found everything I wanted (and more) but for a laundry wash bag that stops microplastic fibres from getting into the water. I talked to the shop owner about these bags, but though she was interested and heard of them, she didn’t plan on getting any soon, as they are pricely. So I ended up ordering one online.

#2 Stop microplastics in my laundry

Why?

Because microplastics are already polluting our oceans and water systems. Big time!

  • How does it affect us humans? Well, the truth is that these particles are so small that many of them end up in the food chain. Meaning they evenually end up on our plate. The rest either continues to float on the water surface or collects at the bottom of our oceans.
  • But we humans are high up and at the end of the usual food chain. If we, who are at the end will be affected by the consequences, how much worse must it be then for those who are ‘below us‘ in the food chain?

“Reports about fish, birds and other animals found with stomaches full of plastic are not unusual nowadays.”

  • Likely, they only represent a tiny amount of the true numbers of animals that are suffering from the consequences of any sort of plastic out there. Who knows how many animals are out there that die every day because of plastic? Who can count them? They eithe get caught in big  plastic garbage floating in the water. Or worse, are consuming tiny bits and pieces of plastic here and there and then die a slow death in form of starvation. How would you feel if it was you?

“If the garbage that is floating on the surface of the ocean represents roughly  30% of the real amount of garbage that is out there. Then maybe the consequences that we can see are also representing only about 30% of what is really happening… Or less.”

  • In the end, no one really knows, how many innocent creatures fall vicitm to plastic every day and all around the world. Most of the consequences of plastic pollution will likely remain forever unknown to us.

What can we do?

Besides stopping to use and produce plastic, we have to stop more microplastic getting into our water systems. At this moment there are only two options that I know of that can catch microplastics while doing our laundry.

The ‘Stop Microplastic washing bag’ from guppyfriend

After reading both product descriptions I decided to go for the wash bag. It arrived around June. The first thing that I noticed was that it came in plastic-free box. Way to go!

I quickly learned that is very important to read the user instructions that come with the guppyfriend washing bag. The first time I clearly overfilled the washing bag and thus the result was not quite perfect. The clothes mainly being sports clothes (i.e. t-shirts and leggins) it didn’t matter much to me. But you probably don’t want to repeat my mistake.

The washing bag also can give your washing machine a hard time spinning. Especially if the wash bag is all you put into the machine. It’s an unbalanced load and I would recommend you to wash other things at the same time. Preferably cotton clothing, or things that have a very low percentage of synthetic/plastic fibres!

The bag itself also makes a great dirty laundry bag for travelling. I took it with me to Canada and used it all the time.

Does it work?

I can assure you that the bag works and keep big particles well in the bag. I got this proof of effectiveness when I used the washing bag to wash some pretty muddy clothing. It figures that dirt too stays in the bag! So don’t use it for very dirty clothing.

Instead you could first soak very muddy clothing. The greatest amount of microplastic fibres comes off through the mechanical rubbing of clothing in the machine. You can avoid this effect by doing very little scrubbing or handling while soaking it. Just soak it in a bucket, rinse it and then wash it normally in the washing machine using the washing bag 🙂

Cora Balls

While in Canada I decied to order some of these. Part of the reason for it was my muddy clothing incident. But I was also conscious of the fact that many of my outdoor or sports clothing are made out of synthetic materials. The bag being limited in space, I wanted to have something that would catch plastic fibres inside the washing machine but outside of the washing bag.

I ordered three – one to keep, two to give away to friends. This way I could save on packaging and postage, but also hoped to raise the awareness of my friends about this issue. If you are really serious about stopping microplastics you might even want to order three for yourself. Because one cora ball is estimated to catch about one third of the microplastics.

Does it work?

I can’t tell yet! So far it has been very successful at catching things like loose threads and my scarf’s fringes. The latter will now always go into my washing bag – as recommended by the cora ball instructions. That means you should never wash things with spaghetti straps or delicates and fringed clothing together with the cora ball, or it will get tangled up.

But as a matter of fact, it takes weeks or months (depending on several factors) until you might be able to see results. So far I’ve seen very little, but I also use very little detergent, try to wash it at low temperatures (it kind of works, or otherwise Australians wouldn’t cold wash their laundry all the time), and been washing summer clothing. According to their list all factors that will cause less microplastic fibres to be rubbed off.

#3 Give plastic-free dental care a try

Why?

How many toothbrushes do you go through in a year? How much floss? It might not seem much, but most people change toothbrushes every quarter year or more often. That’s four or more a year. How many people are there in the world that brush their teeth? Any plastic item can live anywhere from 400years to forever. so what will happen to all these billions of toothbrushes we produce every year?

The alternatives:

  • Miswak, the natural toothbrush
    • It’s a sort of stick that you chew on to create the bristles with which you can then brush your teeth. Read more about it on wikipedia.
  • Bamboo toothbrush
    • Bamboo is a fast regrowing resource and it is bio-degradable! Only the bristles are not bio-degradable, so they need to be disposed off seperately. You can read more about bamboo toothbrushes here.

How did it go?

I decided to go for Miswak. I was a bit disappointed though, that it comes in a plastic package (to keep it dry). Why it is important to keep it dry, I figured out after having not used it for a while. During this time I left the Miswak stick in my wash bag, where it could not breath and started to get mouldy. (This was clearly my fault. I fixed it by cutting of the mouldy parts and storing it in a dry environment ever after, so it never happened again!)

What I did not like was the handling of the Miswak. It was a bit difficult. Miswak might have many great properties, but if I can’t reach the backside of my teeth, they won’t help me at all. Because of that I ended up using a conventional toothbrush again. But only cuz I was already travelling and didn’t know where to get a bamboo toothbrush from without having to order it.

My next toothbrush will be a bamboo one. But one day I will definitely give that Miswak stick another try! 

Plastic-free dental floss

Normal dental floss is made of nylon. This apparently decomposes a lot faster than other plastics, but 50-80 years are still a long time!

The alternative seems to be silk-floss which can be bought in a little glass container with a metall cap. It’s a nice little thing, though a bit more pricy when you buy it with the glass container. But once you have it, you can buy refill dental floss. This means you could go for the rest of your life without ever having to buy another container or another nylon floss, which is great. The dental floss itself works like any other for me, I can tell no difference here, but I read that it might rip faster if teh gap between your teeth is still very small. I will definitely continue to use it.

If you would like to know more about your options, here are two great blog posts that researched plastic-free alternatives for dental floss:

Last but not least: Toothpaste

Another reason that speaks for the Miswak is the fact that you can skip the toothpaste. But if you go for a bamboo toothbrush, you probably still want something to go with it. As most toothpastes come in plastic tubes, the conventional ones are out of question.

Alternatives are:
  • Tooth powder – Can be home made or bought (find out how to make some here)
  • Toothpaste tablets (basically dried toothpaste pastilles – they are also great for lightweight backpacking!)
  • Brush without toothpaste – I once in a while do that when I run out of toothpaste. It’s not bad and makes you wonder, if toothpaste is really needed or just a fancy thing because it ‘tastes good’ and makes us feel more clean. Of course there are toothpastes with special ingredients, like for sensitive teeth that rebuild your tooth enamel. I am using one of these, because I have bad teeth, so for now I still buy toothpaste. What I have changed here is the apporach of ‘Much helps much’. Instead I only use a very small amount, this way toothpaste seems to last twice as long!

 

My three resolutions – summary:

I kind of failed my third resolution to reduce my plastic footprint and stop contributing to plastic pollution, when I bought another plastic toothbrush. But I swore it shall be the last, and from now on I will either use a bamboo one or a miswak stick.

I’m also satisfied with my tools to remove microplastic fibres from my laundry even if I can not see big results yet. At least I know they are in place to catch whatever they can.  In the end microplastics are called micro for a for a good reason, so I will probably see more results over the long-term. Just need to be patient.

I will also continue to buy bulk when it is available and  if I can afford it. And when not I will actively look for plastic-free packaging.

So by keeping up these habits, I already can see my goal and dream of creating zero plastic waste come closer! If you have read this far, I can only say one more thing: You too must be devoted to reducing plastic pollution! So don’t hold back. Going plastic-free is not as difficult as it seems 😉 

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