Citizen Assembly South Tyneside (CAST) Logo

Plastic free - why and how?

Andrew Guy

March 2021

A walk through the supermarket aisles can sometimes feel like going plastic free is just a distant fantasy, while recent images of COVID-19 related face masks and gloves washed up on beaches remind us of damage caused by single use plastics.

But there are of course many benefits to plastic: it is tough, strong, cheap and provides good protection to the products we buy. The trouble with plastic is that it never decomposes. If Henry VIII, born in 1491, bought his shampoo in a plastic bottle, his single use plastic packaging would still be in existence today! Imagine that in a museum! In fact, every bit of plastic that has been made is still around, unless it’s been incinerated.

Plastic does shrink in the environment but only via photodegradation. The photons from sunlight pulverise the plastic polymers into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually ending up as a single molecule. And because we use so much plastic, it’s overflowing into our rivers and seas.

So, does this mean we need to rid our world of plastic completely?

Nope! The inability for plastic to decompose is a very good thing for a lot of applications. In vehicle manufacturing it helps to shed weight, thus saving fuel. Even in single use form, plastic is very useful within medical applications. But it's plastic bags, bottles, takeaway containers, and plastic straws where the problems start. They are typically used once, and sometimes just for a few minutes – then discarded. In South Tyneside, non-recyclable plastics will end up in one of two places, an incinerator on Teeside with the toxins released into our environment, or directly dumped into our environment via littering… either way, it’s not going anywhere.

So what can we do?

It’s rather simple, stop buying it! But how?

Step One - go plastic free in the bathroom

This is something I have recently done, and apart from the fact it’s plastic-free, I am loving how decluttered my bathroom is! I have swapped my body wash for good old-fashioned soap. And I’ve ditched bottles of shampoo for shampoo and conditioning bars. They last so much longer and are a fraction of the cost of a bottle of shampoo. I’ve also ditched the plastic toothbrush and swapped it with a bamboo one. You can even purchase toilet paper that is wrapped in biodegradable packaging. Have a look at some of these sites and stores for plastic-free alternatives:

Step Two – shop at local markets and stores for food

Supermarkets are one of the biggest outputs of single use packaging. I often ask myself why certain fruit and veg that already have a natural protection to the world have a second layer, of plastic? It’s down to the volumes of sales. Often these products are stored in massive refrigerated warehouses and shipped from all corners of the globe, the packaging allows them to keep it free from dust and add gases which extend shelf life. If you want to go plastic free…it’s best to avoid supermarkets.

South Shields Market - local businesses are desperate to bounce back after the recent lockdowns and uncertainly surrounding the Brexit trade deal. Let’s help them by shopping local - more often than not its cheaper, and you can control your food waste easily as you can buy exact quantities. Greengrocers, butchers and market stalls regularly buy their produce locally so you can cut down those food miles too!

Step Three – rid your life of plastic water bottles

In the UK alone, we buy enough plastic water bottles every week to wrap around the entire circumference of the globe! It works out at an eye watering 7 billion bottles per year. And yet we have the best tap water quality on the planet! Get yourself a refillable water bottle. Don’t like the chlorine taste? Simply fill a jug of water and pop it in your fridge, 3 days later and all the chlorine in the water should be gone. Northumbrian Water takes part in the Refill Campaign, organised by City to Sea, you can refill your water bottle for free, at any participating location. They also have a handy app to find the nearest refill location. A life and money saver in summer! More info on the Refill campaign:

Step Four - get involved!

Join the Plastic Free South Tyneside Facebook Group, a group of local residents sharing tips and hints on how to reduce single-use plastic consumption. They also work alongside Surfers Against Sewage to arrange local beach cleans…us Sanddancers love a clean beach!

  • Plastic Free South Tyneside Group
  • Citizens' Assembly South Tyneside - we're currently working on a range of issues including supporting local takeaways to switch to environmentally friendly forms of takeaway packaging, raising public awareness and requesting more bins in our area.