How the Refuse Movement is The Best Way to Stop Microplastics Getting Into The Ocean
October 11, 2018

by Talya Honor

Recycling is not a new concept, but it has definitely gained momentum and has also become more mainstream and while of course it’s better to recycle than just throw all your waste into a landfill the problem is recycling is not a cure-all and has problems of its own. Firstly two-thirds of what we think can be recycled, cannot. One example is our shopping receipts which are printed on thermal paper and not regular paper as well as chip packets and sweet wrappers, both of which are fused plastic and foil and therefore not recyclable. And these things we think can be recycled but cannot, will land up on a landfill and be eaten by birds or blow off into storm drains which flow into the ocean and then are eaten by marine life. Secondly, recycling is done for-profit and so if it’s not going to make a company or municipality money they may just dump this recyclable waste in a landfill. For example, this happens with Styrofoam around the country as the only Styrofoam recycling plants are in Cape Town and Johannesburg and if these two are too far away then recycling companies are not going to travel out there to recycle it. And lastly, if we go back to the start, just the production of plastic is a problem due to the oil that needs to be used in production, oil that comes from fracking and drilling which is an environmental problem even if you recycle as much as you can.

So what’s the solution? While recycling can be a great way to stop tons of plastic and other waste from reaching landfills…a better move is just to REFUSE. By refusing plastic you cut out the need for plastic production as well as the need for recycling itself. By refusing you eliminate the need for oil production to make the plastic, the use of recycling bags (which are just more plastic) and collection which uses petrol and trucks that pump CO2 into the air and even more CO2 from the fumes that come from melting down the plastic just pump more CO2 into the air.

What does “refusing” look like?

When you go shopping take a reusable bag rather than getting plastic to carry your purchase, bring a mesh bag for fruits and vegetables so you have no need for the thin, small packets. Buy a reusable water bottle and coffee cup so you avoid buying water bottles and take away coffee cups with lids. Despite looking like a paper cup these cups are lined with plastic so that the heat and liquid do not escape. When you’re at a restaurant refuse a straw, if you’re fine drinking from a cup of coffee or tea then it should be the same for a glass which is washed in a machine all the same. Take your own containers with you to the deli or for take-aways to avoid Styrofoam and polystyrene and so no to plastic take-away cutlery and condiments in mini packets. Buy a bamboo toothbrush that can be buried in the garden after you finish using it as well as a safety razor that just needs to be sharpened rather than constantly replaced. Throw a birthday or event without balloons which cannot be recycled and resemble jellyfish to sea turtles who then eat them. Buy food in bulk and try to buy furniture and clothing second-hand and only when absolutely necessary and not because it’s fashionable. Fast fashion and clothing waste form part of the problem as clothing breaks down into microplastic (which also breaks down in every wash you do). Use bar soap that’s packaged in paper or a box rather than a liquid soap dispenser, even if the dispenser is reusable you still have to buy the refill in a plastic bag each time. Bamboo or cardboard cotton earbuds are a great alternative to the plastic blues ones that land up in the ocean and on beaches.

Microplastic also comes from granules in your face/body wash and toothpaste that you wash down the drain as well as washing polyester clothing, the solution being to wash your clothes less often (we overwash our clothes as it is) and use bathroom products without granules.

Zero-waste means nothing to throw away or recycle and therefore no microbeads land up in landfills, oceans and other waterways. It’s incredibly difficult to eliminate every bit of plastic from our lives but it is possible to minimise as much as we can. In the beginning, these adjustments and activities can be difficult and hard to remember but eventually, they become part of your daily routine and easier to remember just like you remember your car/house keys or an umbrella in the long run we are saving our planet as well as the creatures who live in it.

For more daily information check out these two Facebook pages:

Going Green:

Conscious living South Africa:

Where to find reusable and alternatives to plastic:

Reusable bags (Woolworths/Pick n Pay/Checkers/Spar)

Bamboo/cardboard earbuds (Clicks/Discem)

Bamboo Toothbrush ( /Simply Bamboo)

Glass containers/reusable water bottles and coffee cups (Pick n Pay/Checkers/Mr Price Home/Cape Union Mart/Clicks/ / )

Reusable straws (Crazy Store/

Safety Razors (Faithful-to-Nature)/

Bar soap (Lush/Woolworths/ /Faithful-to-Nature)

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