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9 ways to turn the tide on plastic

They say nothing lasts forever… but have you met plastic? Plastics will outlive you and take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade! So when they are ‘’thrown away’’ they actually just accumulate in landfill sites or on land – and eventually end up in our rivers and oceans.

Here are nine problem plastics and easy swaps for you to join the global movement to #UseLessPlastic live a #PostPlastic life.

1. Prevent plastic jellyfish

Plastic shopping bags can often be mistaken for jellyfish floating in the sea, causing turtles to see them as food and thus eat entire plastic bags which threatens their internal organs and affects their chance of survival. Buy and use reusable bags which are strong and environmentally friendly and pledge to #rethinkthebag!

© naturepl.com / Sue Daly / WWF
Over 8 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year and the impacts of plastic pollution can be seen across our oceans - from the Arctic to Antarctica.
2. Wake up and smell the coffee

Globally more than 100 billion single-use cups are discarded each year. Combined with the vast volume of disposable coffee cups, the plastic coffee cup lid is not recyclable. Coffee cups also have an inner plastic lining which makes them non-recyclable. The South African Coffee Club (SACC) says coffee consumption and business have grown dramatically in South Africa with less than 20 roasteries ten years ago versus the just over 100 today! Carry your own reusable coffee mug – it’s becoming a trend and, with many cool eco cups to choose from, you can also make it a fashion statement!

3. The last straw

Plastic straws are one of the most popular litter items on South African beaches, and have been found to kill seabirds when they are swallowed. They have also been found to get stuck in the nasal cavity of turtles, a painful sight for us and a terribly painful experience for them. There are so many options of trendy reusable straws from glass to steel and even bamboo! Or we can skip the straw entirely as we don’t really even need them. Most people wouldn’t use one at home – so why do we take them when out and about?

© Natasha Prince
When last did you use a straw when drinking something refreshing? Bamboo straws are one alternative to plastic straws, one of the top nine problem plastics.
4. “Water we talking about”?

Plastic water bottles are a major waste, and water, offender. It can take up to a 26 litres of water to produce a 1 litre plastic bottle and another 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of bottled water! Bottled water is not only expensive to buy, but the plastic manufacturing process is resource and energy intensive. Purchase a WWF glass bottle instead.

5. Listen up!

Earbuds, until the 1980s, were made from rolled wax paper – yet today they are predominantly made of plastic! Paper earbud sticks do exist, so push your retailer to stock these and choose them instead.

© Justin Hoffman
This photograph by Justin Hoffman went viral on the Internet when he snapped it off the coast of Indonesia while snorkelling in 2016. In 2017, the photograph was a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and has been dubbed "the poster child for today’s marine trash crisis."
6. Not so sweet

Discarded plastic sucker sticks pose a similar problem to earbuds, often swallowed by sea birds and other marine creatures. Avoid them.

7. Be a sport

Sports drinks with push-pull ‘spigots’ (drinking spouts) actually take more plastic to produce than conventional screw-on lids, and the clear plastic covers over the spigots are particularly prone to littering as they are pulled off and discarded. If you use a screw-on bottle, be sure to keep the lid and bottle together when recycling. Also, we love clean beaches and we don’t want litter nor the breakdown of these lids into microplastics.

8. Don't be a sucker

Individual sweet wrappers are another super abundant litter item. Not so sweet when these lightweight wrappers are whipped up by the wind and dumped into rivers, lakes and wetlands and eventually make their way to the sea. Why not buy unwrapped sweets and store them in your own fancy glass jar?

Polystyrene food packaging is most widely used in the fast food industry. We should care about what we feed ourselves, and we should care about what we feed our planet.
9. What are we feeding our planet?

Fragments of cups, packaging containers and trays made from polystyrene are one of the most ubiquitous forms of litter on our beaches. There is an average density of three pieces of polystyrene per metre of sandy beach in South Africa, and peak values on urban beaches of up to 30 pieces per metre. And scarily, each and every second there are 140 000 items of polystyrene food packaging that are disposed of.

Bring your own container for takeaways, as well as saying no to plastic cutlery and sauce packets that you probably won’t even use. 

So the next time you’re doing a morning coffee run, sipping on a smoothie, meeting your daily water goals or grabbing a takeaway meal, think about what you’ll be putting out into the environment. Say no to single-use plastics where ever you can!
And how about a little bit of purposeful enviro-friendly retail therapy to get yourself some trendy reusables you can flaunt at work and in your social circles (not why we do it but nonetheless, a cherry on top). After all, very small action adds up to big change. 

Pavitray Pillay Photo
Pavitray Pillay, WWF-SASSI Consumer Awareness & Outreach Manager

Crazy yogic, marine biologist and science communicator, trying to make a difference for our planet.

Kirtanya Lutchminarayan Photo
Kirtanya Lutchminarayan, WWF-SASSI Project Officer

Marine conservationist. Biophile. Fascinated by the fibonacci.

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