5 lifestyle changes that can help reduce your plastic waste

We already know that keeping yourself fit and healthy has a multitude of benefits. You feel better, you’ll live longer, and according to the good folks at Sustainable Coastlines, it even has long-term benefits for the environment. 

At Sustainable Coastlines, we pick up a lot of rubbish, mostly from the beautiful New Zealand beaches. And we count it — almost all of it — so we’ve got a good idea about the kind of rubbish that ends up in the water. Almost 80% of what we find on the beach is single-use plastics.

The top 5 things we find at the beach, in order, are:

  1. Plastics of unknown origin 
  2. Food wrappers 
  3. Bottle caps and lids 
  4. Plastic Bags
  5. Polystyrene Foam

Looking at this list, it’s tempting to give advice you might already know: adopt reusable coffee cups, say no to takeaway containers, bring a canvas bag to the shops…Reuse! Reduce! Recycle! 

And while these are all good ideas, part of our litter problem can be attributed to our lifestyles. By taking steps to improve your health, you can also reduce our packaging consumption.

Image of a gloved hand holding a plastic soy sauce container in the shape of a fish.Image of a gloved hand holding a plastic soy sauce container in the shape of a fish.
Food packaging is a serial offender.

With that, here are my five tips to feel better and reduce our beach litter:

1. Plant a garden.

Opting for fresh fruit and veggies is a great way to improve your diet and cut back on supermarket packaging. If you don’t have a yard or want to start small, try your hand at planting seasonal herbs in pots. Besides avoiding the plastic sleeves they come in, you’ll only use what you need, and save a few dollars every time you hit the shops.

2. Don’t smoke.

Other than the obvious health implications, cigarette butts are not biodegradable and poison the water. There are more chemicals in a cigarette butt than there are in the tobacco. I see perfectly reasonable people who would never otherwise litter throw their cigarette butts into the drain. It counts!

3. Challenge yourself to never buy bottled water.

We’re lucky enough to have some of the best tap water in the world. Buy a few reusable water bottles, and get in the habit of filling one up before you leave. You can leave one in your car, your backpack or your handbag. It’s also a great idea to bring one on your travels.

4. Eat less meat.

This is a tough one for Kiwis (and Aussies) – it’s hard to find a cupcake without bacon on it – but the meat industry is responsible for massive amounts of packaging, water use, atmospheric carbon pesticide, herbicides, the list goes on. We know now that eating less meat is better for our bodies too, so it’s win-win.

A great way to introduce yourself is to adopt a new routine like ‘meatless Mondays’, or committing to two meat-free meals each day. The Reducetarian website has some great recipes, challenges and support for those who want to make a change.

5. Finally – get outside more.

Nothing opens your eyes to packaging like a 3-day hike, (or bike, or kayak) into the wild — because if you pack it in, you pack it out, and you really notice and learn to hate the packaging.

Enjoy the amazing natural beauty we all have at our fingertips — get to know and love the places we’re trying to protect.

Oliver Vetter is the Programmes Manager at Sustainable Coastlines in New Zealand. Oceanographer turned educator, Oliver's scientific background and diving experience around the Pacific gives him a unique global perspective on the issues facing our coastlines.