As a result of hundreds of food shops in second year there is a cupboard full of plastic bags under my stairs – the only saving grace is that they are all the Bag for Life option – but students do not have to be so complacent about their use of plastics. Uni students can take lead of the plastic free movement by making choices for themselves. With a new semester looming its time to begin prepping and yes that does include learning how to reduce your use of plastics and possibly eliminating it altogether.

Last year on BBC Blue Planet II David Attenborough’s ocean documentary series, the final episode looked at the harm humans can cause to marine wildlife. The footage of a helpless turtle struggling in a plastic sack tugged on our heartstrings. The issue of single use plastic had found its way to the screens in our living rooms and more importantly into our hearts. The government quickly launched a ban on plastic microbeads and some restaurant chains followed suit by ditching plastic straws. Although these are positive changes there are still lots of other ways that we can help to reduce plastic use.

Every student loves a coffee or they will soon learn how amazing they are after a sleepless night of study, but this love of coffee comes at a price. Opting for a reusable coffee cup instead of relying on brand’s plastic lined cups is an easy and cheap change. Some chains even offer discounts for those who take in their own reusable cups!

Then there are straws. Easy, convenient, and given out in most fast food restaurants for that on-the-go refreshment. But they are not as great as they may seem at first glance. They are among the most difficult plastics to recycle, being the compound polypropylene. Aside from their material properties posing such a danger, they are also too small and lightweight to be separated from large mounds of waste successfully, meaning that they end up in our oceans with no difficulties. A choice of stainless steel, paper or bamboo options are available instead, so always say no to plastic straws!

Living on your own for the first time or the first time after a long summer with your parents running around after you can leave you feeling a little lost. Making your own decisions when it comes to household responsibilities like ‘What shall I line my bin with?’ are obviously not going to be the first thing on your mind so, we are here to remind you of all the things you can do and maybe even introduce you to some options that you weren’t even aware of! Although this can be a slightly messy option you can choose to not line your bin and instead clean it out after every use. But after a night out, takeaway or messy housemates, this can seem like a far less attractive option. Line your bin with repurposed bin liners like newspapers or use compostable bio-based bags rather than relying on plastic bin liners. The newspaper option could even double up as an ice-breaker activity with those new housemates of yours!

More people are making drastic changes to their shopping and eating habits every day. No longer content with the use of canvas bags and refusing plastic cutlery, individuals are cutting the use of single plastics out of their lives entirely. Younger people are using their social media platforms to promote “minimal waste” and “low plastic”. If you search #plasticfree on Instagram you will find a wealth of images showcasing all things eco-friendly. Yet, Instagrammers are not alone in their quest, plastic-free “influencers” are helping enforce the movement. Plastic free could be the next trend to storm our social media accounts which has a clear link to the wellness movement, so be one step ahead of the trend. The trend-setter in your social circle.

Unfortunately, we are still faced with the problem of plastic-fanatic supermarkets. Plastic-wrapped broccoli. Plastic-wrapped bananas. Plastic, plastic, plastic. Movements in London have seen the rise of shops such as Harmless, Hetu and Bulk Market, which are all low-waste shops in London. More and more supermarkets are making pledges to reduce their plastic use; Iceland has recently launched their plastic free biodegradable chewing gum- the first eco-friendly chewing gum in the UK. I was very surprised to learn that chewing gum contains tiny amounts of plastic which comes as a shock to most people as it is the least likely place we’d expect to find plastic. But there is also plastic in your tea bags! Yes – unfortunately there is around 20% – 30% plastic in your tea bag. The bags themselves are made from paper but they are heat sealed using polyethylene, a plastic compound. Purchasing loose leaf tea and a diffuser is the best way to avoid this frightening addition plastic. However, excessive plastic use does not stop there. Condiments such as ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard that come in plastic containers can instantly be replaced with glass jars.

And yes, sadly it might be time to give up your love of glitter. With festival season coming to an end it is the perfect time to reduce your plastic use. Glitter is a type of micro plastic that cannot be recycled but luckily glitter manufacturers are working on producing more environmentally friendly glitter that can biodegrade. A quick search on the internet will give you plenty of alternative to help you sparkle all through fresher’s week, though, without having such the catastrophic impact on our oceans.

In the same way as you couldn’t complete a degree overnight, it would be almost impossible to go plastic free overnight! Finding alternatives and creating new habits takes time. Allow yourself that time… to look, to learn and to make some mistakes. Make your plastic pledge for the academic year whether you are a student, lecturer, lab technician or barista – whoever you are, we all have one thing in common and that is a responsibility to protect our world from the harms of plastic.

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