Our dependence on plastic has to end as we contribute to an estimated 12m tonnes entering our oceans, polluting marine life, every year
Staying hydrated is good for our health. But contributing to the ever growing mound of waste plastic is not only bad for the planet, but for our wellbeing too.
The global demand for plastic bottles, spurred on by the drinks industry, is wreaking havoc on the environment. Every year, about half a trillion new bottles are produced, and many billions end up in landfill, the sea or the environment.
Plastic is now present in every corner of the earth and in the food we eat. As the Guardian considers the extent of this crisis, we look at six simple things you can do to stop contributing to the issue, starting today.
Find the one
The simplest thing you can do to reduce your contribution to the plastic mountain is to find a water bottle that you like enough to use more than once. There are multiple options to suit every taste. From stainless steel, bamboo or glass, to bottles with an option to add fruit to flavour the water, or flasks with filters that promise extra purity. Find the one that works for you.
Earlier this year UK scientists unveiled the Ooho, a fully biodegradable water-filled orb made of two layers of seaweed-based packaging. The biodegradable outside layer can be recycled, while the inside is edible and can be eaten as you drink the water (or discarded, as you wish).
The orbs are made using a culinary process that shapes and holds liquids in to spheres and are able to hold up to a litre of water. Ooho orbs are not on the market yet but the makers claim they could be cheaper to produce than plastic bottles.
Since the early noughties, staying hydrated has become a status symbol. A commodity that is free from the tap is now shipped from Fiji and sold for up to 5 a bottle. The marketing suggests that those clutching a bottle of water both look and feel healthier.
Either way, nowhere does it say that you will be better hydrated if your water is sourced from a tropical rainforest or that constantly hydrating as you travel from A to B is necessary. Perhaps a glass at home and then one when you get to work will suffice?
Get over your embarrassment
Pluck up the courage to ask for the free refill to which you are legally entitled in the UK. In a recent study, 71% of consumers admitted to feeling uncomfortable when asking for free tap water from an establishment if they hadnt purchased anything. And 30% of people said they would still feel awkward asking for a free refill even if they had bought other food or drinks.
This might be daunting, but there is a whole movement dedicated to helping you. The refill campaign has been handing out water drop stickers to businesses to show people they are happy to offer them water for free. There is even an app that tells you which nearby business are participating in the scheme before you leave the house.
Make your own shampoo
According to Beth Terry, who blogs about being a reformed plastic addict, one route to a plastic-free life is to make the toiletries you would usually buy in plastic containers. Baking soda combined with salt can be used to make toothpaste, she says, or added to apple cider vinegar to make shampoo. Other environmental blogs suggest forgoing shampoo altogether: the theory goes that while the first few weeks will be greasy and horrible your hair and scalp gradually adjust to self-cleaning. If that sounds too extreme a shampoo bar could be a good compromise. At the very least you can buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging waste.
Indeed, inventive shopping can have an instant impact on your plastic bottle consumption. Paperboard packaging is a better way to buy soups and juices. Soda drinks come in cans as well as bottles.And fizzy water makers are a good alternative to buying bottles of mineral water.
Recycle, recycle, recycle
Even with the best intentions, there will probably be times when you have no choice but to drink from a plastic bottle. If this happens, the key is to make sure you recycle the bottle correctly so that it can be repurposed.
There are some ingenious examples of bottle reuse around the world. In Brazil plastic bottles have been bound together and transformed into solar heaters. In Algeria they have been filled with sand and used to clad walls in houses for refugees; and in India, a local enterprise recently made a bus shelter out of 1,000 old bottles.