Plastics: You can help save the planet with these 7 can-do attitudes

When it comes to taking action to save our planet from the ravages of plastic, age is no barrier. Indeed, it was 93-year-old David Attenborough, who exposed the appalling effect of plastics on oceans so widely with his Blue Planet II episode.

This became the UK’s fourth most watched TV programme of all time. It was sold on to 30 other countries. And sent shock waves across the world.

One outcome was that Her Majesty the Queen – also 93 – banned plastic straws and bottles throughout the royal estate.

That has to be a compelling example to those of us who’ve lived long enough to have probably witnessed and contributed to much of the most damage inflicted by plastic pollution. How can we help save the planet before we finally leave it?

Younger people, for all their laudable green aspirations, have pressures on their wallets and their time, so they may lack the capacity to embrace this vital crusade. But the after-work generation can help to lead the way and encourage others to do the same.

What can we do as those who are stewards of God’s creation? As I’ve researched this I’ve discovered it’s a really complicated subject. Sometimes we might wonder what possible difference our reusable water bottle or humble hessian shopping bag can make to the fate of the world’s oceans.

But please don’t underestimate the importance of those five environmentally friendly strategies of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, biodegrade, compost.’ And there’s more we can consider doing.

Here’s my top 7 ideas as far as plastic is concerned.

 1. Recognise not all plastic is bad!

I inherited my mother’s red plastic laundry basket in 1980 – which means it’s been in constant use for 50 years. I’m very attached to it even now it’s only held together with gaffer tape and cable ties.

Plastic has revolutionised our lives in so many life-enhancing ways and is a wondrous substance. But, when it comes to disposal and recycling, especially indestructible substances that cause such harm, we urgently need to handle this problem that’s polluting our planet.

2. Find out more

For a start we need to understand more to disentangle the confusion.

There are over 50 different types of plastics but the six most common often have numbers stamped on them to identify for recycling.

It works like this –

1 and 2 are on widely recycled items like clear drinks bottles, food packaging like fruit punnets, shampoo and cleaning product bottles.

4 and 5 are on items not yet able to be recycled everywhere but that should be within five years. Such as carrier bags, some bottles and containers, cling film, magazine wraps, lined or laminated cardboard containers.

6 is on stuff that’s not ever going to be recyclable and should be avoided. Like polystyrene cups, plastic straws and cutlery, and Styrofoam packaging

Another website to help you make sense of all this is: Which?

3. Be encouraged that inventors and entrepreneurs are finding solutions

A great example is the £15 million Ocean Cleanup floating boom – designed by 18-year-old Dutchman Boyan Slat. It’s now clearing the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the massive Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Meanwhile people are hard at work designing robots to sort materials, picking up 80 items a minute for 24 hours a day. And the dream is to create a ‘circular plastic economy’ where products are 100% recyclable – and there are rays of hope that this will happen.

4. Join other consumers to influence supermarkets about their plastic use

The amount of packaging in an average supermarket shop is ridiculous. True, some action is being taken but we can help speed it up.

Someone I know removed the plastic packaging from every purchase that was shrouded in it and politely handed the unwanted pile to a rather startled check-out staff member before stashing it in his environmentally friendly bags.

What if more of us did the same?

We can also make our money talk by choosing to shop at environmentally-aware stores and-fruit-and-veg market stalls. And carefully thinking through what we buy – selecting loose potatoes instead of bagged ones for instance.

5. Find about what happens where you live

It’s a depressing thought that, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only a fraction of plastic packaging that’s collected is properly recycled. This means, in some areas of the UK, carefully recycled household items end up in landfill along with everything else.

That’s because –

  • Plastic bags – leaving aside the green biodegradable or compostable bags – can be recycled. But so far less than 1 in 5 households have councils that accept them, according to waste charity Wrap.
  • Only 1 in 10 households are able to successfully recycle cling film and plant pots.
  • Only 1 in 100 households have a way to recycle expanded polystyrene packaging – commonly used for takeaway boxes.

To find out how your local council deals with recycling, see the website Recycle Now.  Perhaps you could start speaking out about it where you live.

6. Be part of ‘the starfish effect’

Maybe you’re familiar with the story of a child throwing stranded starfish one by one back into the sea despite there being so many he could not rescue them all. His attitude was, ‘I know, but I’m making a difference to this one.’

In the same way, we may not be able to change everything but we can at least do something.

7. Encourage your grandchildren

The great news is plastics and recycling is now high on the agenda in schools. So let’s add our own enthusiasm, interest and example to what they are learning.

As older people, our enthusiasm can speak volumes. As can our practical action.

And what better way to do so that joining with our grandchildren in local litter picking or beach-cleaning schemes.

Come to that, here’s a wonderful way for those of us for whom faith matters to show our concern for God’s great gift of creation.

What experience of helping save the planet do you have? Please share it here or with the AfterWorkNet Facebook Group. Thank you.

Celia Bowring
Celia isn’t retired yet – although she’s recently changed from being office-based to working from home, so working out her own use of time. Celia writes the CARE Prayer Diary along with many other resources. She also chairs Pray for Schools. And loves being a hands-on grandmother!


  1. Glad to see more balance to the article than some panic and guilt inducing papers.
    I have a minor niggle as a consumer that the blame and responsibility is placed upon me, when this is tackling the issue from the wrong end. It needs addressing at the producer end: The supermarkets, the packaging companies, and most of all the companies producing plastics. Why are we not seeing more supermarkets following the example of Waitrose who supply compostable plastic bags? Why are we not seeing the replacement of harmful plastics with biodegradable and compostable materials. Materials science is very advanced, but why is it not being employed to invent technologies to substitute the wider use of plastics?
    Consumers can do their little bit, but the producers bare a heavy responsibility.

    1. Thanks for your comments Brian. There does seem to be momentum growing in the area of retailers doing more, let’s hope pressure is put on them by us all to make sensible changes. And for the government to find ways to standardise recycling education and processes.

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