Make Smthng Challenge: Week 2

Another week and another great challenge - plastic! The Make Smthng Challenge is a four-week social media campaign with weekly topics to rethink our consumption and make more responsible choices.

(All of the recommendations below, including products, are my own. No one approached me, no one is paying me - I just like them!)

Check out my post about last week’s challenge (fashion) here!

Plastic is a great topic to focus on. Around 13 million metric tons of our plastic waste enter the oceans each year. And as our small contribution towards reversing that, the challenge has 4 steps:

1. Take a good look at your trash - what are you throwing out, and could there be other ways to dispose of waste in a more sustainable way?

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Tip 1: Switch out your plastic bin bags with sustainable alternatives - like these compostable bags available in Spain, made from 100% cellulose! They’re completely biodegradable, so if everything you throw out can be composted, the whole bag can go straight into the heap and you’ve created no extra waste!

Barcelona has a lot of great options for composting and getting rid of natural waste, so my compost goes straight towards a local garden. I highly recommend getting these cute bin bags - though they’re a lot thinner than their plastic counterparts, and aren’t as sturdy - so you may find yourself going through these faster. But the impact of eliminating one source of single-use plastic is great, and a reward in itself. And it’s also a great way to marvel at human ingenuity in doing our part for the planet!

Tip 2: Separate out your compostable and non-compostable trash, along with of course anything that can be recycled. This way, meat, bones, pet waste and anything treated with chemicals can be thrown out the conventional way, and the rest of your waste - everything from egg shells to coffee grounds - can be composted! Check out this handy, comprehensive - and funny! - guide for more.

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2. Replace worn-out plastic items with more sustainable alternatives.

I’m still struggling with this one - on the one hand, plastic toothbrushes are a huge polluter. But is it better that I replace the heads of my electric toothbrush as they need to rather than throwing out the whole thing? I don’t know what to do with my electric one.

But the others are definitely being replaced by bamboo when the bristles wear out in another month. And I’ll have to plant about a dozen trees to cover my part in contributing three toothbrushes to the polluted seas…

Another tip is to look at your cupboards and see where most of your plastic packaging comes from. I started a low-waste experiment a few years ago and noticed that my spices and pulses were the hugest problem. I still can’t completely solve the issue with my spices, since many of the suppliers who source the most interesting spices from different countries package them in plastic - it is after all, the best way to keep them fresh. I have yet to find sumac in bulk shops around town…

Pulses and other pantry staples are a lot easier though, which is great! In Spain, there are a wealth of shops ‘a granel’, selling food in bulk - just take your own containers, fill them up with dried chickpeas, rice and practically anything else, and you pay for just what you buy! This is how people used to shop in the days before mass consumption and it’s a fun way to time-travel while also doing your part for the planet.

3. Rethink single-use plastic

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I’ve had some fun digging out companies that make degradable and properly disposable alternatives to cleaning products. That’s one sticking point where replacing plastic is the most difficult challenge to mentally overcome, I find.

We can all take cloth bags to the grocery shop. All it really involves is a bit of planning and knowing where to buy them (or making your own!)

It’s easy enough to use just one bottle - even reusing a plastic bottle is better than buying a new one every time. I have a flask I take everywhere, which is also great for keeping coffee warm - a noble use :)

But switching out plastic sponges and cleaning tools, making your own cleaning products instead of buying potentially toxic chemicals in plastic packaging is a tough hurdle. How can anything I make at home clean my house as well as Mr. Proper? I’m still getting over this, I won’t lie!

But I found a really cool French brand that makes alternative cleaning products, and I love them! I bought these washing-up sponges recently and I love the thinking they’ve gone into for the entire thing. Even the (non-plastic) packaging is vegetable-based and totally biodegradable! The abrasive side of the sponge is made from 60% sisal grass and 40% cocoa fibre. The sponge was made from 100% vegetable extract. It feels and works exactly as a normal sponge would, and it feels great to throw it away knowing it will go back into the earth and I haven’t caused any more harm! So I highly recommend checking your local health food store or doing a Google search for similar companies near you :)

4. Plastic straws - booo!

And last but not least: Plastic straws! This didn’t even register on my radar as an issue until I watched a few harrowing videos (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and now I can’t believe I went for so long without ditching them! If I ever felt a straw was unnecessary, like with a Coke, I just removed it. But this is trash too, and it goes to landfill and our oceans whether or not I use it, so that’s just as bad. I’ve taken to becoming ‘that’ person who expressly asks for drinks without straws, and so far so good. I guess a whole horde of us making a point of saying no to straws is what leads to bans like certain bars in Barcelona, and for more awareness, so I don’t mind being ‘that’ person :)

How about you? Share your plastic-reducing/reusing/refusing tips with me! There are so many, I can’t wait to hear and learn from you!