I’ve been quite keen to cut down on single-use plastic for a while now.
You know, things like those flimsy little produce bags they put vegetables in at the supermarket and cooldrink straws, for instance. During my time at Cape Town Partnership, I even interviewed a couple of Zero Waste legends (unfortunately, the article is no longer online) who have actually managed to whittle down their annual non-recyclable trash to fit into tiny Consol jars and the like.
When I recently joined Yacht Boaz on one of their Sunday Sails, I was inspired anew. During these excursions into Table Bay, they aim to raise awareness about the devastating effect plastic pollution has on our oceans and also do important research about the status of Cape Town’s waters. With so many stories about turtles ending up with plastic forks or straws in their nostrils and whales with dozens of kilograms’ trash in their bellies washing up on shore, it’s clear that no matter how adept we are at recycling, the plastic problem is way out of control.
Plus, have you heard that quite a number of the Western Cape’s landfill sites could reach capacity by the end of the year?
It kind of leaves one feeling all sorts of hopeless. Like nothing you do will ever make a difference. After all, everything is wrapped in so many layers of plastic these days, it’s really hard to escape.
Well, you can take that defeatist attitude OR you can take tiny, tiny steps to help make a tiny, tiny difference. And if thousands of other people do the same, that tiny, tiny difference can actually be quite substantial.
So, if – like me – you’ve been wanting to crack down on single-use plastic in your home more seriously, here are a few simple everyday items you can start with:
Keep a reusable straw with you at all times
I mean look, you never know when cocktail hour might creep up on you unexpectedly, so it’s best to be prepared.
If you’ve vowed to say no to straws, then the answer is simple: you need a reusable version on your person at all times.
If you don’t like the idea of using a metal straw, you can also opt for glass or bamboo.
Exchange your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one
I never really thought of my toothbrush in terms of ‘plastic’… and then one day, it suddenly dawned on me. When it’s done with its little 3-month cycle of cleaning my mouth twice a day, has been used to scrub tiles and sneakers for a couple more, it probably ends up in a landfill somewhere. In fact, according to Faithful to Nature, in South Africa, “approximately 212 million conventional plastic toothbrushes are thrown away and sent to landfill each year. These plastic toothbrushes can’t be recycled and do not biodegrade.”
Fortunately, someone came up with the genius idea of a bamboo alternative and they’re pretty cool!
I bought a Simply Bamboo toothbrush with charcoal-infused bristles from Shop Zero and have been super impressed. It’s really gentle on my gums and also a lot more attractive than any plastic one I’ve ever owned.
Purchase/make some fabric fresh produce bags
If you think the plastic bags they pack your shopping in at the tills are bad, the ones they pack your vegetables in are a gazillion times worse. I mean, if you think about it, you can still repurpose shopping bags quite successfully for quite a while (I’ve been using the same ones to pack my shoes in when travelling for a good few years. I hope that’s not gross). However, those silly little veggie bags can be used maybe once more before tearing and having to be thrown in the trash.
Now look, it’s going to take some time to avoid them entirely – supermarket staff seem to have an uncanny fondness for them. But you can start by whipping out your very own fabric fresh produce bags instead.
There are quite a few options on Faithful to Nature, but I went with Tiptoe Totes. I also have grand plans of getting some suitable fabric and sewing a few of my own. It can’t be too hard, right? I’ll keep you posted!
Cost: R66 for a pack of two
Keep fold-up shopping bags in your handbag/pocket
One of the biggest problems with most reusable shopping bags, is the fact that they often end up being forgotten in the car boot or even at home. I think the reason for this is that they are something EXTRA to remember.
However, if you have a durable shopping bag that can fold up really small and be popped into your handbag or pocket before going to the shops, that problem is pretty much solved.
I recently purchased two reusable shopping bags like this for R10 each at the Pringle Bay Festival. They’re made from the same type of nylon used for parachutes (so are super durable) and can fold up into tiny little squares.
I’m not sure where else they’re being stocked currently, but am in the process of finding out. Will keep you posted about that too!
Have a reusable takeaway coffee cup close at hand
This remains the hardest one for me and I haven’t quite managed to implement it just yet. I blame it on my irrational reverence for baristas. I find them super intimidating and feel a bit shy to whip up my own cup. But, I’ll force myself to do it this week, okay?
Fortunately, Imar has helped me halfway there by providing me with the pretty cool reusable mug from Bootlegger Coffee Company pictured above. It’s also plastic (not bamboo or ceramic), but definitely not single-use. Baby steps, people!
Cost: R98 (but we got free coffee inside)
Get yourself a safety razor
This is the next item on my plastic-free shopping list, but here’s a little confession: I’m scared!
As is, I’m really bad at shaving. I don’t think I’ve ever had a blood-free grooming session and always end up with nicks on my ankles and knees. So putting a pretty scary stainless-steel razor to my precious skin is way more intimidating than asking any barista to fill my reusable mug. And that’s saying a lot.
But, apparently it’s not that hard… and there are quite a few YouTube videos with clear instructions on how to do it safely. Plus, those razors last more than a lifetime and can even end up being an heirloom. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Bundubeard is a local company producing affordable and top quality stainless steel razors, which are available at both Shop Zero and Faithful to Nature. You will obviously also need to purchase some razor blades.