There are many ways you can help take better care of the natural environment even when at home. Being conscious of what household items you use and how you dispose of them is another way to have a positive impact. In fact, a directive by the European Union (EU) called the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) banned items such as cotton-bud sticks, plastic cutlery, balloon sticks and expanded polystyrene food containers and cups, from 2021. Part of the reason is that these are products very likely to be littered or escape from our waste streams into nature.
A rule of thumb for how plastic travels from our homes: any plastic that goes down the toilet or the sink ends up in the oceans.
Cotton-bud sticks, sanitary products, cleaning wipes and even contact lenses: Things we use every day often go down the drain with our morning or evening cleaning routines. These are all plastic items (yes, even cleaning wipes contain plastics) that float, causing issues in our wastewater treatment systems. In addition, during extreme weather, stormwater can cause overflow, which means pieces of plastic that float will escape into nature. And this is the reason cotton-bud sticks and sanitary products are also very often found on beaches – because they’re thrown down the toilet, and not in a garbage can. So now you know where they go!
Beauty products: Several countries have banned microbeads in toiletry products, typically found in wash-off scrubs, toothpaste, or home cleaning products. Such microplastics easily wash down the drain and are so small that wastewater treatment mostly can’t capture them, putting the tiny plastic beads on a one-way ticket to the ocean. By switching to alternatives, you can get clean teeth and fresh skin from natural grains that won’t harm our oceans.
Glitter: For summer and the holiday season, a little glitter adds extra sparkle to our lives. Unfortunately, glitter is actually made of plastic, and these shiny pieces of microplastics are very hard to clean up. Have you ever tried picking up glitter from the grass? There are biodegradable options, and natural glitters – just be aware that "bioplastics" are still plastic and won’t degrade in nature. Eco-brands will often have options that can still put a sparkle and spring in your step.
Microfibers: University of Plymouth has found that the clothes we wear release hundreds of thousands of microfibers in laundry. These fibers are so small that they easily flush out with the wash water and pass through filters during wastewater treatment. Once they end up in our oceans, they are nearly impossible to clean up. But, there are several things you can do at the source, right in your own washing machine. You can use a special washing bag for synthetic fabrics, install a filter directly on your machine, or use "laundry balls" that capture the fibers in the wash.
We at TOMRA hope that you join us in taking action for a happier planet with a healthier natural environment.