reading time 6 min.

Ending the plastic cycle.

Our everyday lives consist of lots of little things that sometimes have a big impact when they’re all added up together. This relates to more than just the means of transport we choose every day to get from A to B. It particularly applies as well to the many small items we use or buy on a day-to-day basis. And, the majority of the time, these small items include some packaging too. It also has to be transported. On top of that, producing almost all things, including many foodstuffs, generates large amounts of CO2.

This all leads to small parts resulting in a large whole. And a negative outcome, ultimately resulting in a huge mountain of waste. Of plastic waste. And while it is no longer news, it is no less tragic: this plastic waste ends up in the sea and in many other places. Like in our drinking water, for example.

In EU countries, an average of 33 kilograms of plastic packaging waste is produced per inhabitant every year. In Germany, we are well above that average, at 39 kilograms per person. The largest proportion of plastic waste we produce can be attributed to packaging for the products we buy. *

The fact that our consumption of plastics has a considerable impact on the environment is no longer a subject of debate. Plastic is simply an omnipresent part of our lives. Particularly worrying is the use of plastic as a disposable product. As packaging, we encounter plastic everywhere we go, on a daily basis. Often without us being aware of it. And yet, it’s not at all difficult for each of us to reduce our own plastic consumption.

“It’s just a straw” – say 1.89 million people.

We can all play a small part in reducing these statistics and protecting our environment. For us, for others, for a future. Ensuring the mountains of rubbish we’ve created at least don’t reach any greater heights. With this in mind, we’ve put together some useful tips for how you can reduce plastic waste in your everyday life.

1. Reducing unnecessary disposable products, or cutting them out completely

Plastic plates and cutlery, drinking straws, chopsticks or hot drink stirrers. We only use them for a few minutes and then throw them straight in the bin. Is that really necessary? Wouldn’t it make more sense if we gave ourselves just a little more washing up to do after the picnic or party, protecting the environment and our wallet in the process?

Our suggestion: Opt for reusable dishes or serve food and drink that doesn’t involve unnecessary plastic. You could transport and offer food in resealable containers, for instance. And those of you who are too lazy to do the dishes after a party, or don’t have to worry about your party budget, can ask the drinks delivery company to lend you glasses. Many provide a delivery service and even take care of the washing up afterwards.

2. “Zero waste” shops

As customers in supermarkets and discount stores, it’s often almost impossible to purchase unpackaged food. Products are often wrapped in tons of plastic to make them stand out better. And even if we leave the packaging waste behind in the store – in nicely separated waste bins – it has to be disposed of and transported somewhere.

Our suggestion: We encourage you to support “zero waste” shops if you can. These kinds of stores already exist in many larger cities. You bring your own containers along and they are simply refilled in the store. There are also zero waste shops online, which only deliver their goods in cardboard boxes that have already been used. Otherwise, Hamburg’s weekly markets and shops with fresh food counters can all be a good alternative when it comes to avoiding plastic. Markets often have a reputation for being overpriced, but this is usually untrue. Just give it a try. There are already supermarkets too that are willing to pack their meat, sausage or cheese products into containers you bring along yourself. Just enquire at your local supermarket of choice.

Click here for a quick list of the “zero waste shops” currently open in Hamburg (German Website).

3. Reusable carrier bags

The idea of not using them is second nature to us now, but it still often proves tricky in practice: disposable carrier bags. Whether they’re made of plastic or paper – disposable carrier bags are an eco-disaster zone. Fortunately, plastic and paper bags are now used much less frequently at supermarket checkouts in Germany, and are often only available at extra charge.

Our suggestion: Reusable carrier bags are often offered in shops. It is best to take your own backpack or shopping bag with you when you go shopping. Fashionable fabric bags can be purchased at relatively little expense nowadays too. Fun, colourful or printed with witty sayings, they also fold up and fit neatly away inside any other bag you might have with you.

4. Reusable instead of disposable

We all know the feeling. Needing to grab something to quench your thirst on the go: in disposable bottles and cans. Quickly bought to go when shopping or eating out, they also create a waste problem despite coming with “Pfand” in Germany.

Our suggestion: Reusable bottles are, of course, more environmentally friendly than the disposable version. But things aren’t quite that simple: reusable glass bottles are only more environmentally friendly than plastic bottles if they haven’t been transported over long distances. The best thing you can do is to always have your own drink or reusable bottle with you, filled with tap water or another drink of your choice.

The “Initiative Refill Deutschland” (German Website) now includes 5,200 shops, stations and fountains located throughout Germany where you can refill your bottle. Wherever you see a Refill sticker, it’s possible to fill your bottle with tap water free of charge and avoid plastic waste.

5. Buy your fruit and vegetables packaging-free

It’s a quick and easy option to put our fruit or vegetables into those small, transparent plastic bags, to stop them rolling all over the place on the conveyor belt. Organic fruit is often shrink-wrapped in plastic in the supermarket. So much for organic being eco-friendly. Trying to shop in an environmentally conscious way can be filled with pitfalls.

Our suggestion: Most of the time, the plastic wrapping is completely superfluous, as fruits and vegetables often have their own protective layer or just need to be washed thoroughly. In the case of mushrooms, cherries, salad and the like, you can bring your own reusable bags or at least use plastic bags that you’ve already accumulated at home and can now use several times over.

6. “For here” rather than “To go”

Grabbing a coffee on the go, or something to snack on when you don’t have time to sit down and eat … we’ve all been there. Often it can’t be avoided and every now and then it can be very convenient. Sometimes there really isn’t a spare moment, or you’re just not in the mood to sit down anywhere.

Our suggestion: Nearly all shops and cafés accept reusable cups or cans you bring along with you. In many cafés you are even rewarded for your commitment to the environment and taking your coffee in your own reusable cup costs you less. Or you can simply take your time and drink your coffee in peace and quiet in the café. This is an even nicer and more relaxed way to avoid plastic.

7. Pay attention to ingredients in cosmetics

Liquid soap, peelings, shower gel, mascara. There are a great deal of microplastics hidden behind these names and products. Terms like polyethylene (PE) or polyquaternium (PQ) contain the small particles. Liquid synthetic polymers, meaning substances that are difficult to break down in the environment, are also hidden away in the cosmetics we use.

Our suggestion: Certified natural cosmetics don’t contain any petroleum-based ingredients at all. Solid soap can also be a good alternative for personal hygiene. Shampoo and hair conditioner are also available in soap form. When it comes to peelings, you can also use coffee grounds, sugar or sea salt. This sounds weird at first, but it really does work. Please pay attention to the ingredients when buying cosmetics, and read the small print. More information about this can be found in the BUND Shopping Guide (German Website).

Now discounter supermarkets are also beginning to offer customers the first refill stations for body lotions, for example, in cooperation with a well-known German cosmetics manufacturer. It will still take a good while though before this becomes widely accepted. Here too, it is up to us as consumers.

8. Make use of your clothes for a long time

Our sports and outdoor clothing is often made of synthetic materials that release microplastics with every wash. This can’t be completely filtered out in the sewage plant and ends up in our water system as a result. We constantly fill our drawers and closets up with new clothes as we’re simply fed up of seeing the clothes we already have. And, admittedly, some of our clothes aren’t always that great quality. That’s because we often end up buying T-shirts, blouses or trousers on the fly, during our lunch break or at the end of a long day, in a fashion chain store for next to no money at all.

Our suggestion: Holding clothes-swapping parties with friends is a lot of fun. This way your older clothes get a second lease of life and you avoid consuming more plastic. Second-hand shops and higher-quality boutiques also encourage the recycling of clothes. And if you don’t want to hang on to your clothes, donating them to local charity shops is also a great option. Having a stand at your local flea market can also be both enjoyable and profitable.

9. Separating garbage

Waste incineration produces greenhouse gases. If all of your garbage ends up in the same bin, it will be burned as residual waste and send these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recycling in itself can also consume high levels of energy, but it is still better because it uses raw materials such as plastic and metal more than once.

Our suggestion: Even if it can get tedious at times, making sure you always separate out your rubbish really makes sense. If you bring your glass and paper for recycling and make compost from organic waste, you will find that you hardly produce any rubbish at all in your residual waste bin. If your landlord doesn’t offer a bin for organic or waste paper, just ask nicely and this might well change.

10. Collecting garbage

Plastic waste in the sea, on the beach, by the lake, on the river bank … no matter where it happens in nature, it is always a sad sight. And yet it still happens all around us. In the end, much of our rubbish unfortunately end up in the stomachs of fish, whales and seabirds.

Our suggestion: Roll up your sleeves and start collecting rubbish yourself. Every piece of garbage you collect is one piece of garbage less that might end up clogging up an animal’s stomach. Action days like Coastal Cleanup Day (Geman Website), which takes place every year in mid-September, are a great way to meet nice people too. Or you can just collect rubbish while taking a walk. Simply carry a rubbish bag with you and then place it in the nearest trash bin once you’re done.

The best antidote here is of course to produce as little garbage as possible, or ideally none at all. Very important: don't throw your garbage on to the streets or green areas. Carry it as long as you'll find a carbage can. Even if it takes a while.

Stay clean. hvv switch

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