Every now and again I get a bit overwhelmed with becoming sustainable. My head becomes a blur of non-plastic, organic, and ethical product alternatives. Before I know it, my brain is swimming in different brand names and I begin to forget why I started in the first place. Taking the time to evaluate can really help me regain my focus. How am I making changes to help the environment? What can I change in the near future? What changes can I aim for in the long-term? Writing a list can really help with this process. It’s also important to remember the three key concepts; reduce, re-use, recycle. You know, like they used to say in primary school. It may sound childish, but it’s an important message that can be applied to the present day.
Being sustainable doesn’t mean you have to immediately throw single-use items away. The average single use item is used for just 30 seconds before it’s thrown away. Let’s be real, who doesn’t have a plastic bag cupboard in their kitchen? While I’ve invested in reusable shopping bags, I’m not perfect. I’ll happily hold my hands up and say I’ve purchased the odd plastic bag here or there recently. It’s something I’m working on improving – sometimes life just gets in the way and there’s no other option. But there’s a few ways I like to reuse the plastic bags that accumulate in my life…
In our flat the plastic bag cupboard has got a little out of control. There’s 8 of us in total and with my flatmates bringing home new plastic bags every week, they’re beginning to overflow. I recently began selling my unwanted clothing on Depop and every time someone purchases an item, I package it using plastic bags. I also include a note with each order stating why I’ve packaged their order that way, and how they can further extend the life-span of the bags.
This method is also handy when trying to keep the weight of a parcel on the lighter side. It’s saved me quite a few pennies in postage fees!
While there are non-plastic alternatives to bin liners available, it’s ultimately better for the environment to reuse old plastic bags rather than purchase alternative products. I find that plastic bags fit perfectly into the bin in my university bedroom. Ultimately, this doesn’t extend the life of the plastic bag for too long and it will still end up in landfill, but it’s still better than simply throwing it away to begin with.
This might seem a little simple, but there’s nothing stopping you from reusing the plastic bags you already own to do your shopping! They can easily be folded up and shoved in your pocket just in case you pop into a shop unexpectedly. It’s an easy way to avoid purchasing single-use plastic bags day-to-day.
You may have seen the trend of people using ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn) for various craft projects. One lady has even knit herself an entire suit out of plarn! I’m not exactly sure how to go about doing this, but it’s nothing you couldn’t find through a quick google search. Since plastic takes hundreds of years to eventually break down, it makes sense to make clothing out of it. You’re not just limited to clothing though – you can even craft woven baskets using plarn. Why not use single-use waste items like plastic bags to make something beautiful for you and your home?
Did you know that you can melt plastic bags down into beads? This is a simple yet effective way of reusing plastic bags to creative something beautiful and unique. This is an especially good idea if you have young children as it teaches them about recycling. If you’re an avid crafter, this also means you’ll save a bit of money on plastic beads while helping the planet.
This might not be the glamorous idea of reusing that you had in mind, but it’s effective all the same. Look out for the little recycling symbol on most bags and familiarise yourself with the coding system. It’s also useful to check with your local recycling centres to see what they do and don’t accept. Certain types of plastics can only be recycled by specific recycling plants. Often items end up being sent to landfill because they can’t be recycled at most recycling plants.
While there are better storage alternatives to plastic bags, it’s more sustainable to re-use a plastic bag than it is to purchase all-new storage options. I find plastic bags useful for items such as loose tea leaves. When we went to Egypt I brought some hibiscus tea leaves back with me, and they’re stored in a shopping bag in our kitchen cupboard!
Similar to the point made with shopping, keeping a plastic bag in your pocket or bag can be useful for most types of waste. Particularly if you have a dog. How many of us have been caught without dog waste bags before? I know I have. Once again, having the plastic bag already saves you from having to buy even more in the future.
While I believe that plastic bags should be banned altogether, these are some small changes that can reduce the overall amount of plastic we buy day-to-day. The road to sustainability is a long one, and nobody’s perfect. So why not reuse the items we have before jumping straight on the alternative-product hype?
I'm Elen Mai, the brains behind Welsh Wanderer and 20-something human biology student from (you guessed it) Wales! Welsh Wanderer is designed with the eco-conscious adventurer in mind. So stick around for tips & tricks on living sustainably.