No Plastic Waste Week

A beach littered with plastic

For a week produce no plastic waste.

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More About The Challenge

This one is all about cutting out single use plastic and it's a tough one.

Doing this challenge you'll quickly see how engrained plastic is into daily life. Most of us rely on plastics quite a bit because honestly, it's an amazing material! But in many cases it's poorly used and disposed of. It ends up in landfills, whales, beaches, mountains and... well, everywhere.

The challenge is not to give up plastics altogether. Instead make sure we use it responsibly. Single use plastic is not allowed but plastic you can reuse or recycle is fine.

Simply throwing all your plastic in the recycling bin without a second thought will not cut it. Why? Because much of the plastic we use day to day can't (or isn't) actually recycled even when sent to recycling plants.

Your Guide To Plastic

Why Plastic Is Great

Plastic is a durable, versatile and cheap material.

Plastic is used for:
  • Hygienically packaging and preserving our foods
  • Create Long lasting appliances, electronics in out home (TVs, microwaves & mobile phones).
  • Lightweight safety innovations In our cars (airbags & crumple zones).
  • Versatile building materials (light switches, wiring, PVC windows)
  • Hard wearing clothing and sports protective gear
There's no getting away from the fact we need plastic in one form or another.

Why Plastic Is Bad

The things that make it so great also play a big part into why it can be problematic.

Because it's so durable it can take a very long time for plastic to degrade. It's estimated a plastic bottle can take around 450 years to fully degrade [source].

It's versatility means it can come in many forms. From rigid hard plastics to malleable films it's used in almost everything, even when a more sustainable material is available.

Plastics cheap price means it's often made for single use only and disposed of irresponsibly. The great pacific garbage patch is an area the size of 1.6million square kilometres [source]. And that's just one patch! Beaches, parks, mountains and everything in-between are likely to have at least some plastic waste.

Apart from making the place look a mess it can also adversely affect our environment. Animals such as sea turtles can easily mistake plastic bags as jellyfish and eat them, causing harm or even death [source].

Recycling & Plastic Types

All plastic is technically recyclable. But sometimes it's just not worth the effort, some will simply be sent straight to the landfill anyway. That's because when compared to creating these from their raw materials, it doesn't make economical sense. We have to remember a recycling plant runs like a business. If it can't make a profit recycling a material it won't.

It used to be the case that many of these unprofitable plastics were shipped all the way to China where labour was cheap enough to result in a very slight profit. However with recent import rule changes this is no longer the case and off to the landfill it goes instead.

Many are stamped with little labels that tell us exactly which type it is. The thing is you need to know what those mean before they're any use. So here's the 7 types of plastic and the label each is associated with.
PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: soda & water bottles, soap bottles, trays
£ per Tonne: Clear bottles £280-330, Coloured bottles £90-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

HDPE (High-density polyethylene) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: milk jugs, cleaning product bottles, shampoos, grocery bags
£ per Tonne: Clear bottles £420-630, Coloured bottles £350-430, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: cleaning supply jugs, automotive product bottles, pipes
£ per Tonne: Mixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: bread bags, paper towel & tissue wrap, squeeze bottles
£ per Tonne: Mixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PP (Polypropylene) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: yogurt pots, cups, juice bottles, straws
£ per Tonne: Mixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

PS (Polystyrene) plastic recycling symbol
Examples: takeaway containers, CD cases, insulation boards
£ per Tonne: Mixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

Other plastic recycling symbol
Examples: nylon, acrylic
£ per Tonne: Mixed polymer bottles £95-130, Mixed rigids £-60-140

So our top value plastics are 1 & 2, especially in clear bottle form. The other plastics as they go down in value tend to be the ones not processed by recycling plants.

However not everything is marked, and much of the time this symbol is tiny, tucked away and hard to find. To simplify things try to stick to rigid clear plastics (bottles are especially "valuable") over flimsy or foil like packaging.

Plastic Substitutions Tips

This challenge is all about reducing your single use plastic so a substituting is much better than recycling. In fact recycling should really be your last option.

Kitchen Plastic Substitutions

Replenish your food stocks at refill shops where you can use your own containers. Some supermarkets are even trialling this method so be sure to support it when they do.

Jarred and canned goods for the produce you buy are also usually available. These can be recycled indefinitely unlike plastic that degrade each time it is recycled.

Bees wax wrap is a great substitute for cling film to wrap your sandwiches or reseal open containers. Just wash them under cold water after each use and use them again.

Bathroom Plastic Substitutions

Just like for your kitchen refill shops often stock bathroom essentials like soaps and shampoos.

Soap bars are a great alternative to shower gels and can be found wrapped in paper or card.

Switch to bamboo toothbrushes, they're just as durable but degrade better than their plastic counterparts.

Toilet paper will most often be wrapped in plastic but there are alternatives such as

Other General Ideas For Substituting Plastic

You'll find plastic crops up in much of your day to day. Some other good substitutions are:
  • Cotton tote bags
  • Home made cleaning products
  • Buy loose fruit and veg (farmers markets are a good source)
  • Carefully choose where you buy your clothes from
  • Refillable coffee cups
  • Grow your own food to reduce packaging

Tips On Avoiding Plastic

The best way to reduce plastic waste is to reduce how much plastic you use. Seems obvious but a few ways to help you do that could be to:
  • Be extra mindful about how products are packaged when in the shops
  • Buy in bulk as overall it will be packaged with less as buying the same item in smaller amounts
  • Search around for items you can swap for less plastic more eco-friendly alternative
When you do have to use plastic reuse to avoid single use.
  • Refill bottles
  • Upcycle and make it useful for something new
This challenge is tricky to jump straight into so to build some good habits in preparation why not try:
  • Having a plastic swear jar
  • Make a record of all the plastic you use for a week
A plastic swear jar or keeping a record can be a simple way to open your eyes to exactly how much plastic you use and where.

Once you know where you're biggest changes need to be made you can tackle these one at a time gradually reducing how much single use plastic you use.
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Now you've seen this challenge why not see the other challenges we have available.