Sarah Rodrigues looks at the many ways you can give plastic a second life around your home
No matter how fervently we try to eliminate plastic, it often seems like it’s always there. Which is understandable, really – after all, plastic has been such a huge part of our lives for so many years that reduction – any reduction – is a win.
Baby steps are still steps.
Even so, I vividly remember placing an online grocery order a few years ago, ticking the box that specified delivery without bags and then being flabbergasted by the amount of plastic that my groceries arrived in anyway. Cucumbers sheathed in plastic like awkward Sex-Ed demonstrations; a cluster of tinned tomatoes bound in the stuff (yet, bizarrely, cheaper-per-tin than a single tin … I was essentially paying less to have more plastic … go figure).
Re-framing our habits to accommodate decreased plastic use takes effort and time.
Zero-waste stores are not as ubiquitous as supermarket chains. And it stands to reason that there will be times when even the most well-intentioned plastic-avoider will find themselves on their way home and in need of a bottle of orange juice, or a box (containing a plastic bag) of cereal. Online clothes shopping, however infrequently you do it, brings finery to your door in protective plastic. Toothbrushes can be found in bamboo incarnations – but are far more readily available in plastic.
So let’s accept that, for the time being, some plastic is inevitable. Single-use plastic waste though? This can, for the most part at least, be avoided. It’s just a matter of pausing before we throw a piece of plastic into the bin and thinking ‘might this have another purpose?’
The most cursory of Google searches will unearth a wealth of artistic upcycling projects.
A soda drinking habit can be greened with the creation of a vertical garden, plastic bags can be snipped down into yarn (‘plarn’) and knitted into sturdy shoppers; even plastic spoons can find new purpose as a lightshade.
For the average person, who’s simply trying to minimise waste, reduce consumption and live more mindfully, such projects – fabulous as they are – may be more overwhelming than inspiring. They come with a side order of danger: if reusing plastic looks so gorgeous as to be unachievable, will people simply opt out without trying?
So it’s worth looking at ways that those inevitable household plastics can have at least a couple of different – even if prosaic and not very glamorous – runs. Less time fretting over your so-called ‘failure’ to build a greenhouse out of bottles – amazing though this is – and more time just feeling good about not putting plastic in the trash after its first use.
If you don’t have a reusable shopper, then a supermarket plastic bag can be
- reused as a bin liner
- packed into holiday luggage as a ‘dirty clothes’ bag
- carried with a toddler to contain wet clothes after accidents
- taken back to the supermarket next time you shop
- taken on dog walks to clear up after your hound
- used in gym / swim bags to keep sweaty / wet clothes separate from everything else
If you don’t take a garment bag to collect your dry-cleaning, or if your fashion delivery arrives in plastic packaging, then the protective film can
- separate shoes from clothes in luggage
- form a protective floor covering for painting projects
- create packaging for posting and packing
If you order a takeaway, the lidded plastic tubs
- can be used for storing and freezing leftovers
- make great paint trays for kids’ art projects
- can be kept in the car as a water bowl for the dog
- can store fiddly things like game pieces, screws, nails and spare change
Rubber gloves can be
- cut down into elastic bands to secure garbage
- kept under the sink to make opening jars easier
- used as non-slip pads – for example, under a mixing bowl
- can be used to pack sandwiches in, thus avoiding cling film
- are another boon for dog walkers
String bags (from onions, citrus fruit and so on)
- can be made into skin-smoothing body scrubbers (use with coffee ground for extra eco points!)
- can be used, instead of scourers, for pots and pans
Bubble wrap can be
- posted on Freecycle or a community website, in case someone is moving and needs packing materials
- kept for posting fragile items
- secured under windscreen wipers to stop your windscreen from frosting up (and saving valuable scraping time in the morning)
Toothbrushes can be used for
- cleaning kitchen and bathroom grout
- scrubbing small fabric stains
- sprucing up jewellery
- removing mud from shoes
Plastics can also form the basis for forays into zero-waste shopping: wash out your chain-bought empties and fill them up with minimally-packaged products. Anything goes: bottles that have housed shampoo, cleaning products, jam and olive oil can all be used over and over again.
After all, if plastic takes up to 100 years to decompose in landfill, it can certainly manage a few more uses above ground.