Plastic fasting: How to reduce your consumption of plastic

  • Living
  • Friday, 12 Apr 2024

Just 9% of global plastic is recycled and even in countries where waste is sorted into recycling bins, the vast majority of plastics end up in landfills or incinerators. Photo: Md Rafayat Haque Khan/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

It can sometimes seem that everything you want to buy is either made of plastic, wrapped in plastic or contains some form of plastic – in short, it's everywhere.

Plastics pollute and poison the environment and people with it, prompting many of us to try to reduce our dependence on them. The good news is that small changes in everyday life can make a big difference.

Plastic fasting follows the same concept as normal fasting, but instead of giving up sweets or alcohol, plastic is avoided, even if it's just for a limited period of time.

"Plastic fasting means consciously avoiding the use of plastic products, especially short-lived things that end up in the bin after a short period of use," says Silvia Cabrera-Cayola, an expert in waste and resource protection at a consumer advice centre in Germany.

By avoiding unnecessary plastic and trying to do without single-use plastic as far as possible, you can help to conserve resources, and protect your own health too.

It's worth remembering that we also ingest plastic through our food and water – and not just in small quantities. "A study by the University of Newcastle (Australia) found that people ingest up to five grammes of plastic a week," says Thomas Fischer from the campaign group Environmental Action Germany (DUH). "That's roughly equivalent to a shredded credit card."Awareness is one thing, but how can we do without plastic in practice?Pasta, shampoo, coffee - almost everything we consume on a daily basis comes with some form of plastic. Photo: Felix Kästle/dpaPasta, shampoo, coffee - almost everything we consume on a daily basis comes with some form of plastic. Photo: Felix Kästle/dpa

The general rule is to avoid all unnecessary individual packaging. That will help you gradually save large amounts of disposable waste with every purchase. As an alternative to using shopping bags or thin fruit bags, get in the habit of bringing a cloth net for loose vegetables, a carrier bag, or a basket with you when you go shopping.

This will not only save you plastic, but also extra money. Unpackaged shops, weekly markets and organic food shops often offer sustainable food and make plastic fasting easier.

Water in disposable plastic bottles can easily be replaced with tap water. However, if you don't like the taste of this, it's best to switch to reusable glass bottles – from regional sources if possible.

Clothing that contains synthetic fibres is not good from an environmental point of view, particularly sports and outdoor clothing, which is often plastic. Microscopic plastic particles get into the water during production and when these items are washed at home.

Look carefully at the contents of cosmetics and hygiene products, because they often contain plastics. "In products such as toothpaste, shower gel and cleaning products, solid microplastics are now banned throughout the EU," says Fischer.

"However, semi-solid, gel-like or liquid plastics, which are used in hair gel, for example, are not.

"Microplastics can be found in shampoo, shower gel and scrubs, among other things. Manufacturers use plastic as an abrasive to whiten teeth. Detergents and cleaning agents can contain liquid or semi-solid plastic. The good news is that there are many plastic-free alternatives such as solid shampoo and shower gel, as well as sustainable cleaning products. Look out for labels telling you a product is plastic-free.

If you fancy a quick coffee on the way to work, you're better off taking your own reusable cup because disposable paper cups are coated with plastic, and cannot be reused.

Reusable containers and efforts in some countries to outlaw things like plastic stirrers and straws have helped reduce plastic waste.

Just 9% of global plastic is recycled, according to estimates, and even in countries where waste is sorted into recycling bins, the vast majority of plastics end up in landfills or incinerators.

It helps to remember this when considering a coffee to go. Next time, you might consider sitting in the cafe to drink your coffee, or wait till you get to the office.

Plastic fasting doesn't mean throwing away everything made of plastic straight away.

"You shouldn't forget that it's about reducing plastic and not about replacing it at all costs," says Cabrera-Cayola. Items that are still in good condition can continue to be used until they are worn out or broken.

"The aim should be to produce less waste in general, regardless of the material."Make it a rule to choose reusable instead of disposable, and try to buy durable and easily repairable products. You should also dispose of waste correctly at the recycling centre. – dpa

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