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Plastic Free July: Single-use plastics

Author: Jodie Yates (Socitm Advisory Consultant)

Socitm Advisory are dedicated to reducing their use of single-use plastic within our organisation and within our staff's personal lives. As part of showing our support for Plastic Free July, we have put together a series of blogs throughout the month giving tips and information on how to reduce your use of single-use plastic that we are following too.

Did you know... plastic bottles could outweigh fish in our oceans by 2050?

In early 2020, China joined the growing movement of more than 120 countries pledging to ban single-use plastics.

By now, everyone had probably heard about 'single-use plastic'; like the plastic itself, the term is everywhere warning us to change our habits before the plastic outlives us all.

But what are single-use plastics?

True to its name, single-use plastic is disposable plastic that is designed to be used once, then thrown away or recycled. This includes everything from plastic water drink bottles and produce bags to disposable plastic razors and plastic ribbon - really, any plastic item you use them immediately discard. While these items can be recyclable, in fact this is rarely the norm. Indeed, a huge 91% of all plastic is not recycled at all! Instead, it ends up in landfills or the environment where, rather than braking down, they just break up into microplastics, seeping into our water systems, eaten by wildlife and ending up in our own bodies.

Perhaps the most common single-use plastics found around in our oceans and on our beaches around the world are plastic water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and plastic straws. But what exactly is the problem with these convenient plastic items and how can be stop the curse?

Plastic Bottles

Around the world, over a million bottles of water are bought every minute. In London alone, the average adult still buys more than three plastic bottle every week, or 175 bottles every year per person. This unnecessary habit can be stopped as easily as carrying your own reusable alternative with you. Since you, the average human, need to drink four plastic bottles of water per day, you would be saving 1,460 plastic bottles per year by using a reusable bottle. Be sure to choose a socially-responsible and environmentally-friendly alternative, such as a reusable bottle made from stainless steel, glass, or safe aluminium.

Coffee Cups

How do you take your coffee? Flat white, espresso, with a side of global waste and climate change?

Over 500 billion disposable coffee cups are used around the world every year, yet less than 1% are recycled. Contrary to popular belief, takeaway coffee cups cannot be recycled as they are actually coated in plastic - that's why they are both heat and leak proof!

You can easily avoid takeaway coffee cups by bringing along your own reusable alternatives. There are many reusable coffee cups available on the market - again, be sure to go for an environmentally-friendly alternative such as those made from stainless steel or glass. If 2 million people chose to reuse their cup just once a week, it would save 104 million cups a year from landfill.


20 minutes is the average use time of a plastic straw, but they will be around for nearly 600 years. As they are lightweight, they are easily blown down drains and into waterways, rivers and oceans. Then they can become stuck in the airways of animals and if mistaken for food and ingested, they can be fatal.

If you're able to, request your cold drink is made without a single-use plastic straw. It's important that you state this before your drink is made; if the straw is already in there when it's bought to you, it'll likely become plastic waste anyway. For those with accessibility needs or who prefer straws, you can also bring your own sustainable alternatives. There are stainless steel, bamboo, and glass options available on the market, and even foldable straws that you can easily keep in your bag or pocket.

The solution: buying less

With the looming climate catastrophe, it's natural to want to play your part in saving the planet. For many of us, this 'part' equated to running out to buy 'green' alternatives to anything we already own.

It shouldn't come as too large a shock that simply consuming less is better for the planet than consuming a product that's marked as 'green'. After all, every new item a factory pumps out requires some resources to produce, even if per item that level is lower than a less 'sustainable' alternative.

But, in the confusing whirlwind of environmental news an expert recommendations, this simple truth can get lost. Take the plastic bag tax, for example. As supermarkets and high-street shops remove single-use plastic bags from their stores, it may be tempting to opt for their 'greener' alternative: bags for life. However, despite being advertised as more environmentally-friendly, bags for life actually contain far more plastic by weight and are therefore making the problem worse.

Your best best for carrying your groceries if you care about sustainability? Any bag you already own!

People making smarter decisions when shopping show that it can have a huge impact and is not too difficult. Before making a purchase, smart shoppers stop and think: Is there a better alternative? Do I need this? Or, do I need this much?

Considering the packaging of the item is a good place to start to 'buy less'. Thinking about potential alternatives can include: choosing the item with the least amount of packaging, switching from plastic to paper packaging, or even choosing loose products with no packing at the supermarket or bulk food store. For reusable products, it's better to purchase something that's designed to last forever than it is to purchase something that will need replacing regularly.

The key is to reduce consumption and not just buy green stuff. Buying second-hand, sharing, or not buying at all is better for our environment and can save you lots of money in the long run!

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