14 tips to prevent plastic pollution

Plastic threatens life on land and in the oceans. How can you make sure that much less or no plastic ends up in the environment? We give you 14 tips.

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Beach full of rubbish


Plastic is ubiquitous. It can be found from the North Pole to the South Pole and even at the deepest point of the ocean. The oceans are gradually turning into a plastic soup. It is estimated that 1230 g of plastic is floating around per square kilometer, not to mention the ropes, fishing nets, crates and bottles. But (micro)plastics also end up in the soil, for example through agricultural plastic that is ploughed into the soil.

Much of the plastic waste occurs in the form of microplastics: pieces of plastic measuring between 5 micrometers and 5 millimeters. Our water purification plants have difficulty filtering out such particles. They end up in the surface water and ultimately in the oceans, where they are picked up by all kinds of marine animals, thereby entering the food chain. According to environmental toxicologist Colin Janssen of UGent, mussels from the North Sea contain so many plastics that the average mussel eater ingests up to 11,000 plastic particles annually. In the soil, worms eat the plastic particles. Although the exact impact on health and nature remains unclear, it is obvious that there is an urgent need for reducing this pollution.

Awareness is growing and various governments are planning measures to reduce  the volume of  plastic waste. For example, the Belgian government has concluded an agreement with Detic, the association for producers and distributors of cosmetics, cleaning and maintenance products, adhesives and sealants. Their objective is to fully replace plastic microbeads in cosmetics and rinse-off products for oral care by 31 December 2019. At a UN conference on  oceans in 2017, the Member States agreed to "reduce the use of plastics and microplastics in the long term". The EU wants to restrict the one-off use of plastic. And on World Environment Day 2018, the UN put plastic waste in the spotlight.

Nevertheless, plastic remains a useful material, but it is crucial that plastic waste is properly recycled and does not to end up in the environment. Not only governments and companies, but also users play an essential role in this respect. We give you 14 tips to avoid plastic waste.

Avoid plastic waste in the environment

1. Never leave any waste on the street, in nature, on the beach ...

Put it in a waste bin. If you cannot find one or if it is full, keep your waste with you until you find the next bin. If you put extra waste in a full waste bin, chances are the wind will blow it away. You can also simply take your waste home.

Biodegradable and compostable plastic does not belong in nature either. This type of plastic is only decomposed neatly in industrial compost plants, with the right proportions of moisture, heat, bacteria and oxygen. This is not possible in the compost bin at home, let alone in the wild.

Cigarette filters consist of cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic. So don't just throw away your cigarette butts! In addition to plastic, the cigarette butts also contain many toxic substances such as nicotine, heavy metals and other chemicals. Smokers worldwide buy 18 billion cigarettes a day. Two thirds of them are casually flung into the street or out a window. This is detrimental to our planet. The same applies to e-cigarettes that are certainly not more environmentally friendly than filter cigarettes.

2. Avoid pre-packed fast food or dispose of the packaging in the waste bin.

3. Only put your waste bags on the street just before the waste truck arrives.

This reduces the risk of the bag being damaged and the waste getting lost.

4. Do not launch balloons at a party.

Balloons are by far the most dangerous plastic a seabird can swallow! One out of five animals that ingests even a single fragment dies. So please don't use balloons.

5. Clean up plastic waste if you find it.

Or maybe you can take part in a beach cleaning action while travelling?

6. Sort your plastic waste as efficiently as possible.

As yet, not all plastic waste can be put in the PMD bag. The industry still has to work out better methods to recycle the various types of plastic. Yet many container parks already have the possibility to collect hard plastic and plastic foil separately. Make use of it. This reduces the amount of plastic that ends up in residual waste.

Overfilled dustbin with litter on the ground next to it

If you put extra waste in a full waste bin, chances are the wind will blow it away. © iStock

Avoid (micro)plastics

7. Use reusable bags and pouches.

Use a shopping bag and do not use the available plastic bags. Bring your own reusable bags to contain fruit and vegetables.

8. Avoid the use of plastic disposable material.

Forks, knives, spoons, stirrers and cotton buds … shouldn’t be made of plastic. Rather use a reusable drinking bottle, for example made of glass. Avoid the use of  disposable cups. Even paper cups are usually covered with a thin layer of plastic. Prefer bringing your own cup. You better shave with a reusable razor and replaceable razor blades. Don’t use any plastic drinking straws. Use a glass at the bar or restaurant and bring your own drinking straw made of glass, steel or bamboo. And did you know there are washable and reusable diapers?

Apples, pears, bananas and oranges in net bag

Use a shopping bag and do not use the available plastic bags. © Shutterstock

9. Avoid plastic packaging.

Instead of buying pre-packaged slices of cheese, you can also have the desired number of slices cut. Today, there are already shops offering products such as nuts, cereals, pasta and beans without packaging. Just bring your reusable bags or jars. Where possible, prefer cardboard or tetra packs to plastic for your fruit juices, washing fluids, detergents... And why not cook your own food more often instead of buying packed prepared meals?

10. Do not buy water in plastic bottles.

The quality of Belgian tap water is excellent. If you still want better quality, install a filter or use a filter jug.

11. Drive less by car and choose a lightweight car.

Surprisingly, the wear of car tires produces a large amount of microplastics. 10-28% of the microplastics in the world's oceans are derived from car tires. In a lightweight car, the tires wear less. Also make sure the tires are inflated to the correct pressure.

Green smoothie with metal straw

Don’t use any plastic drinking straws. Use a glass at the bar or restaurant and bring your own drinking straw made of glass, steel or bamboo. © iStock

12. Avoid plastic micro beads in personal care products.

The industry is making efforts to replace the plastic micro beads, but you can already search for cosmetics, shower gels and toothpaste without such micro beads.

13. Avoid synthetic clothing and/or buy a filter for your washing machine.

Synthetic clothing such as fleece sweaters releases small plastic fibres into the environment when washed. More than a third of all plastic pollution in the oceans would come from laundry. So it is better to avoid synthetic clothing. You can also install a filter in your washing machine or put your synthetic clothes in a special laundry bag. Less plastic fibers are also released in case of shorter and cooler washing (20°C-30°C).

14. Be careful with paint.

Paint residues also release microplastics into the environment. Therefore, do not rinse your paint brush under the tap, as the rinsing water belongs in the container park. Also collect the dust that is released when sanding off painted surfaces.

Main source: Verborgen impact – alles voor een eco-positief leven (Babette Porcelijn)