How To Reduce Plastic Use

How can you teach your child to be sensitive towards the environment? Here are five fun activities to teach your child how to reduce plastic use and ways to avoid plastic pollution.

By Maya Martens

How To Reduce Plastic Use

There is a lot parents can do to educate their children about the harmful effects of plastic and avoiding plastic use. Also, parents and children can play an active part in protecting the environment by taking some responsible steps to reduce everyday plastic use.

Let us take a look at some simple ways to reduce plastic use. Also read about the harmful effects of plastic pollution, why it is important to prevent plastic waste, and some fun activities to avoid using plastic.

How to reduce plastic use

Here are some simple ways to reduce plastic use:

  • Stop using plastic carry bags and covers. Switch over to reusable cloth bags instead.
  • Never use disposable plastic straws, spoons, knives and forks.
  • Use glass containers instead of plastic ones in your kitchen.
  • Use your own vessels for takeaways at hotels.
  • Pack your children’s lunch, snacks and water in stainless steel containers.
  • Don’t use plastic serving plates and tumblers when you host any event.
  • Avoid buying foods that are packed in plastic.

Importance of reducing plastic use

Plastics are choking the world. Here are some serious facts to ponder over: Almost half of the plastics produced globally are disposable plastics designed for single use. This means they are used once and then thrown away, creating large amounts of waste. For example, disposable plastic bags take less than one second to make, are used for 12-20 minutes, but last thousands of years! Every year, we use a trillion plastic bags worldwide. For each minute you spend reading this article, two million more plastic bags are produced!

Harmful effects of plastic pollution

If you want your child to understand the scale of plastic pollution and the need to reduce plastic use, begin by telling her some facts:

  • Disposable plastics have a huge impact on animals and the environment. Many disposable plastics such as cups, plates, cutlery, straws and takeaway food packaging are used to store, serve and eat food. Most of these are not recycled as they are of poor quality and are often dirty.
  • Plastics end up in open dumps where they pollute the environment and negatively impact animals. Cattle, dogs and birds forage the leftovers in plastic packaging and end up ingesting the plastic by accident. For example, a cow in India was found to have 70 kilos of plastic clogging its rumen (stomach).
  • Many disposable plastic items get washed into waterways and end up in the oceans. An article titled ‘Eight Million Tons of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every Year’, written by Paula Parker and published in the National Geographic Channel website on 13 February 2015, reveals that today’s plastic debris in the ocean is equal to five grocery bags per every foot of coastline around the globe. The article also mentions that there is 245,000 tons of plastic trash floating in each of the world’s oceans. Scientists estimate that 90 per cent of seabirds around the world have eaten plastics.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade or magically go away. In the ocean, plastic is exposed to water, sunlight and the physical movement of the waves, and it breaks down into small pieces called microplastics. Dangerous pollutants such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) attach themselves to microplastics.
  • Microplastics also get covered in algae, which make these toxic small pieces of plastic smell and look like food for marine life. Zooplankton, fish and shrimp often mistake microplastics for food and eat them by mistake absorbing the toxic POPs into their bodies. These toxins then move up the food chain and can end up affecting us. If we do not change our habits, studies estimate that plastics will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.

Five fun activities to avoid using plastic

Here are five fun tips to involve your child in plastic awareness activities:

1. Plastic-free July

We learn best from our experiences. Join a fantastic global challenge to reduce the use of disposable plastics. Sign up for a day or whole month; focus on specific disposable plastics or challenge yourself to say no to all disposable plastics! This experience for your family is guaranteed to change the way you think and use plastics! For more information check http://www.plasticfreejuly.org.

2. The ‘bad plastic’ family hunt

As a family, join forces in a treasure hunt with a difference. Investigate your own home and search for unsafe or disposable plastics. Go through your kitchen cupboards, bathroom, bedroom and pantry. Search for the resin codes and pick up any ‘unsafe’ plastic. Remember that the codes 7, 6 and 3 are not good for you and your family. Collect plastic items which you use just once (disposable plastics) as these contribute massively to plastic pollution.

Make two piles of plastic (unsafe and disposable) on your dining room table, and as a family, brainstorm on how you can replace these items with plastic-free alternatives.

3. Zero plastic waste birthday

Start small but make it a habit to protect the planet from plastic pollution. Celebrate your next birthday with a party that does not pollute the planet for the next 1,000 years, by avoiding plastic use. Choose reusable tableware (ceramic, stainless steel or glass). Challenge yourself to make your birthday all about having fun and not polluting the environment!

4. Water taste challenge

Did you know that bottled water is 1,000 to 2,800 times more expensive than tap water? Or that producing and transporting a 1-litre plastic water bottle release a hundred times more greenhouse gases than 1-litre of tap water?

Take the water taste challenge and see if you can find the difference between bottled water and tap water. Get a family member or friend to blindfold you, eat something sweet or salty, and then take a sip of water from two different sources (bottled water and filtered water). Try to guess which one is bottled water and which is the tap/filtered water source. Did you get it right? If not, then it is not surprising as bottled water is in fact just glorified tap water, and thousands of people who have done the same test could not tell the difference either!

5. Microbeads test

Microbeads are small round pieces of plastic that are added to personal care products and cosmetics including scrubs, face wash, shower gel and shampoos. They are flushed down the drains and eventually end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Check for microbeads that have snuck into your bathroom without you and your family knowing it. Take a scrub or shower gel with microbeads that you find in your bathroom. Mix two tablespoons of this in a glass of water and stir it well. Pour the water through a black T-shirt, filtering the microbeads out. Feel the microbeads, and as a family make a conscious choice to avoid this hidden type of plastic pollution. You can also search for microbead-free products on www.beatthemicrobead.org.

These activities provide both adults and children an opportunity to learn about the impact of plastics on our environment and inspire them to make an eco-friendly choice.

The small step you and your family take today will go a long way in saving the world from the plastic menace. Inspire your children to say ‘NO’ to plastics and be an example to others.  

About the author:

Written by Maya Martens on 4 June 2018; updated on 6 April 2020

The author is a key member of the ‘WasteLess’ team and the lead in content development for the Know Plastics educational programme. ‘WasteLess’ is based in Auroville and focuses on educating the next generation so they have the tools, skills and knowledge to address humanity’s dirtiest problem - waste!

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