Clutching at straws?

Published

Credit: Niki Radman

Jamie Quinn
Science & Tech Editor

A few simple choices you can make to try to avoid the (potentially inevitable) Hothouse Earth

So you’ve said no to the straws in your Starbucks iced latte, but maybe you picked up one of their fancy new lids that, according to The Guardian, happen to contain more plastic than the straws themselves. You’ve convinced your local pub to bin all their plastic straws and buy a whole bunch of paper straws that might just produce more carbon dioxide in the long run. Perhaps you’ve even gone further and bought yourself a cotton tote bag, described in a study by the UK government way back in 2011 as possibly the least environmentally friendly carrier bag.

Isn’t that just depressing? Can the discerning, green-thinking student do anything right?

It seems that the only truly ethical thing to do is to think deeply and well about the ramifications of our choices, as advocated in a beautiful piece by Ephrat Livni, It’s impossible to lead a totally ethical life—but it’s fun to try. So let’s consider, deeply and well, some of the choices you or I can make to at least try to avoid the (recently reported potentially inevitable) Hothouse Earth.

Firstly, why not skip the paper vs. plastics debate altogether and refuse to buy fruit and vegetables that come needlessly wrapped in anything. Need I remind anyone about that time back in 2016 when Whole Foods removed the natural, protective wrapping of an orange only to put each individual fruit in its own little plastic container. Avoid spending your ironically plastic fivers on madness like this, maybe even tweet-shame your local supermarket, and perhaps they’ll at least try moving towards an environment-focused future. A future which has started with Iceland (unexpectedly the supermarket, not the hyper-environmentally friendly country) leading the charge by vowing to eliminate plastics in all their own brands.

Completely avoiding packaging altogether might lead you to grab a regular fruit & veg box from Roots & Fruits. While you’re there you could reuse that fairy liquid bottle and have it filled up with the much greener Ecover washing up liquid (for only 80p with their student discount!).

If you’re in town, you could peruse the unpackaged delicious goodness of Lush’s solid shampoo, conditioner and body wash. It might be a bit pricey upfront but it truly lasts for ages – I must have spent only about £15 on soap this entire year.

Maybe you’re sick of throwing away your milk cartons, even if you thought you were recycling them (turns out when much of our recycling is sent overseas, it’s simply dumped in landfills). So why not pop south of the river to Locavore where you can fill up your own container with fresh milk, or even fill up your heavily stained takeaway containers on loose grains, spices, herbs and flour.

Let’s talk reusable water bottles. They’ve been all the rage since the Tories finally brought out their own versions so I won’t get too much into it. Reuse a non-toxic, BPA-free plastic bottle, don’t buy a single-use one. Get a reusable coffee cup and nab 50p off at Pret and other coffee stores. For political balance, I’d like to point out that the Labour Party do also sell reusable cups. Please don’t buy one; mine leaked all over my nice Jeremy Corbyn tote bag that I’ll apparently have to use over 7000 times to offset the ecological cost (accordingly to a 2018 Danish study).

Okay, so you’ve managed to avoid some packaging altogether and reused everything you possibly can, but you’re still left with tins after beans and punnets after berries and the bag that those delicious tide pods came in. What else is there to do but recycle them by chucking it all in the blue bin? Well, that’s probably worse than not recycling at all. Check out the guidelines on the council’s website for what can and can’t go in the blue bin, and if in doubt just google it! Think you can go further? Collect even the plastic that can’t do in the blue bin (looking at you, soy milk tetra paks) and take it to your local household waste recycling centre.

Using waste-free (or biodegradable) products like solid shampoo and loose bananas can avoid waste altogether. Failing that, reusing what you’ve already got helps to avoid picking up future waste. Recycling goes a little further towards ensuring waste doesn’t end up in the oceans or landfill sites. All in all, although it seems depressing at first (I’ve been in a terrible mood since writing that first paragraph), there are a number of simple choices that we, as consumers, can make to help avoid environmental disaster.

If you’ve got any interesting ideas or suggestions on how you avoid waste, let us know at [email protected]!