Worried about plastic affecting wildlife and the environment? Check out these ten simple ways you can reduce single-use plastic and help the planet.

If you’ve ever watched heart-breaking footage of wild animals caught up in callously disregarded plastic, you are likely to have wondered what you can do to help stem the impact of this kind of human behaviour on wildlife. It is deeply distressing to witness such scenes, yet the terrible truth is that they’re just the tip of the iceberg: our voracious consumption of non-biodegradable materials continues to wreak untold detriment on the planet, its far-reaching effects disastrous for the natural world.

So, how to reduce plastic use? Here we outline ten ways in which we can all have an impact in the fight against this harmful throwaway culture. By making some simple choices as collective consumers, we have the power to incrementally but powerfully change the world for the better and help to ensure that we leave it in better shape for the generations to come – and, of course, for the wildlife that we share the planet with. Here is how to use less plastic.

How Plastic Affects Wildlife, The Oceans And Pollutes The Water We Drink

Not only does plastic take hundreds of years to decompose, it also releases toxic substances; these then seep into the soil we grow in; the air that we breathe; and the water we drink – and, indeed, the water that is home to adversely affected marine life. Plastic’s ubiquity has led to literal mountains of waste piling up in the oceans; so pervasive is it, that it is even found in some of the most remote locations in the world. How? That’s thanks to the common human practice of discarding our plastic waste in rivers and lakes, which then, of course, drifts out to sea. So, how does this all affect our wildlife, eco-systems and biodiversity?

- Tragically, millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from fish to birds to wider marine life.

- Starvation and entanglement account for most deaths.

- Microplastics in the ocean are consumed by sea creatures. In some cases, the plastic fills their stomachs thus reducing their appetites, in turn causing death by starvation.

- This affects humans too in a variety of ways, not least in the fact that we consume the microplastics found in fish and other seafood second-hand.

- Land animals similarly get caught in plastic food containers, which can then cause starvation, dehydration and death.

- Since all animals exists within ecosystems, once plastic is discovered within the system of one animal, so it is passed on to its predators and so on. The effect is far-reaching and goes on and on.

- All species need water to live on, including, of course, humans. Mircoplastics which release toxic compounds, have been shown to be present in drinking water all around the world, with billions of people consuming contaminated water daily.

So, what can we do at an individual level?

Replace Plastic Bags For Reusable Bags When Shopping For Groceries

Single-use plastic gets a bad rep and rightly so. With just a little forethought, many of the items most commonly used only to be immediately discarded can be completely avoided. Amongst the worst offenders are the casually binned plastic bags that many of us use to carry groceries home from the shops. The good news is that supermarkets all now charge for plastic bag use, thereby encouraging shoppers to come prepared with reusable shoppers; the even better news is that we are collectively paying attention. Last year, plastic bag consumption was down by 59 per cent in the UK. If you do find yourself caught out at the supermarket, do buy a reusable bag, which all shops stock, to transport your purchases home. And then, it goes without saying, use your new purchase thereafter on future shops. Want to invest in some seriously good reusable shopppers? Options abound, from classic string numbers to Baggu’s snazzy nylon styles to cotton shoppers to lightweight foldaway styles, which are excellent for stuffing in your handpack so you’re never caught short.

Say No To The Plastic Straws. Use Reusable Bamboo Or Metal Straws

In 2019, in England alone, it was estimated that we used some 4.7 billion plastic straws. For a largely unnecessary drinking accoutrement, that number is unacceptable. Happily, the government agrees; as of May of the same year, it announced its ban on plastic straws, drinks stirrers, and plastic stemmed cotton buds in England – a ban that came into force in April 2020. This was a highly positive change, especially since plastic straws are so often mistaken for food by wildlife and, because of their cylindrical shape, can cause suffocation and death to the animal. In addition, like all plastic goods, straws contribute to global warming since almost all plastics are made from chemicals that come from the production of planet-warming fuels (gas, oil and even coal). However, for those who do need to use straws – young children, for example, as well as some people with illnesses or conditions that make drinking difficult without – there are options. Bamboo and metal reusable straws make a great eco choice, as well as often being good-looking too. We love these colourful steel numbers from Eco Straws.

Replace Your Plastic Toothbrush With A Bamboo Eco Option

Did you know that plastic toothbrushes create around 50 million pounds worth of waste every year? It’s a shocking thought, isn’t it? The first plastic toothbrush was created in the 1930s. And because plastic does not degrade, every single one we’ve ever used over the past 90-odd years is still out there somewhere in the world, existing as a piece of rubbish. The answer? Opt for bamboo. We love Generation Zero’s vegan and zero-waste products, not least its lovely toothbrushes. Don’t they look better than your average plastic brush too? There’s really is no reason not to go for bamboo.

Say No To Bottled Water. Invest In A Water Filter System For Your Home

Another prime adversary in the war against single-use plastics is bottled water. There are so many reasons to ditch H20 that comes in plastic containers. First, it takes 2.5 decilitres of oil to make a single one-litre plastic bottle, which we then throw away as soon as we’re done. Worth it? We think not. Especially not when you consider that you don’t even know where the bottled water comes from or whether it’s actually better for you than what you could get, free of charge, from the tap. Additionally, it is expensive – vastly more so than tap water – and, crucially, even when you recycle plastic bottles, some of it ends up in our water ways, where it pollutes and harms animals. If you prefer not to drink straight from the tap, consider investing in a whole house water filter system. They are convenient and effective, removing hundreds of contaminants like chlorine, VOCs, bacteria, heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, and many more. They can also have descaling effects; they allow you to bathe in cleaning water; and can even result in cleaner clothes and less need for detergent. It is, of course, an investment, but one that pays long term dividends, both for your bank balance and for the environment.

Use A Metallic Bottle For Your Water And Other Cold Beverages

On the subject of plastic water bottles, did you know that they can be harmful for us, as well as the environment? Why? Because plastic bottles emit harmful chemicals – some cancer-causing – over time, and especially when exposed to sunlight and heat. This, then, rules out re-using plastic bottles for a period of time as a justification for their use, since these chemicals can leach into the water that you drink. On the flipside, we all need to carry portable water at one time or another, so what’s the best option? Simply, metallic bottles. They are corrosion-resistant and, although they cost more than plastic, they will last and last. Additionally, stylish examples abound. We particularly love Chilly’s Bottles – and none more so than this pastel version.Got a penchant for Emma Bridgewater designs? Chilly’s has partnered with Emma: check them out here.

Get A Reusable Mug For Your Coffee And Other Hot Beverages

Do you love an on-the-go coffee to perk you up first thing in the morning? You’re not alone. But a word of warning: do not get lulled into a false sense of environmental security by noting that many to-go coffee cups appear to be constructed of cardboard. Alas, most and many contain an interior layer of non-biodegradable plastic. The answer? Simple – bring your own cup. We are yet to come across a coffee shop unwilling to serve us in our own mugs, and many even offer incentives to do so. Plus, there are so many lovely and often customisable options to choose from in great designs and bright colours. Once again, Chilly’s delivers the goods. What’s not to adore about this super stylish, understated blush number?

Avoid Using Plastic Cutlery When Eating Outside. Get Your Own Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Kit

Did you know that 276 million pieces of plastic cutlery waste are produced in the UK alone each year? Not exactly an appetising thought while tucking into your M&S salad, is it? It’s also completely avoidable. If you don’t want to bring your own cutlery from home, you could always carry your own eco cutlery kit in your bag at all times, so you’re never caught short. And quite aside from the environmental benefit, how much more stylish is this reusable travel set from Wearth London than the plastic alternative?

Bring Your Own Container For Take-Out Or Your Restaurant Doggy-Bag

Are you the kind of person who likes to over-order in restaurants for the pure joy of the doggy bag, and thus having leftovers for breakfast? We heartily approve; it eliminates food waste for one thing and, let’s face it, it’s a tasty way of getting out of cooking for two meals rather than just one. However, if you know this about yourself, do ensure you come prepared. Rather than relying on the restaurant to pack your food into plastic bags or disposable plastic Tupperware, do bring your own. This is especially imperative since many eateries rely on Styrofoam packaging, which is even worse than plastic; each piece can take more than 500 years to decompose, polluting the water and the environment in the process. There are lots of great options for reusable food containers; we especially like this stainless steel example from Peace With The Wild. Or why not opt for the cheerful colours of a bobbleBox, which comes with a bobble shaped ice pack, silicone band fastening loop and seal? If you run a café or restaurant, there are alternatives to plastic or Styrofoam; opt for compostable containers to limit your impact on the environment.

Replace Your Plastic Razor With A Metallic Option

Billions of disposable razors get sent to landfill each year. And while the blades themselves are technically recyclable, realistically very few people will actually brake one down to send the relevant parts to the recycling, since the plastic element cannot be recycled. Opt instead for a metal razor; they will last you longer and are far more eco-friendly. We love this rose gold example from Shoreline Shaving. They say, ‘This sophisticated rose gold reusable safety razor is part of our Coral Collection - a bright and colourful range of eco-friendly metal safety razors for men and women.’ Looks infinitely prettier than a BIC too, no?

Replace Your Plastic Tupperwares With Glass Options

Many of us have, in some poor unfortunate forgotten kitchen cupboard, a pile of mismatched weirdly multiplying plastic containers and lids, not one of which fits another. Like socks, Tupperware has a magic (and not in a good way) facility for multiplying in an extraordinary and wholly useless manner. But far more worrying than that is the fact that, if we do decide to store food in a set that does fit together by some miracle, is that certain plastic containers can contaminate the food stored by releasing a toxic substance known as bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. Tupperware declared itself BPA-free in 2010, but if any of your containers are older than that, you may wish to replace them. And in the process, why not then consider buying glass containers instead? They are so much kinder to the environment while looking the part too. This example from IKEA comes in at just £4.50, and features a lovely, eco-friendly bamboo lid. There really is no arguing with that, is there?

By Nancy Alsop
Updated August 2021

How To Change Your Fashion Habit
How To Make A Cloth Face Mask
14 Brands Doing Their Bit To Support The NHS

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.