The problem with single use plastic is something that has been infiltrating our news streams, our Twitter stream, the radio and the old telly box and it’s something that as a mum, a nurse and a human being on planet earth that has given me cause to question how I use plastic.
Did you know:
- The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be nearly 5 million tonnes. (WRAP)
- Most families throw away about 40kg of plastic per year, which could otherwise be recycled.
- Recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours
- It takes just 25 two litre pop bottles to make one adult size fleece jacket.
- The use of plastic in Western Europe is growing about 4% each year.
- 13 billion plastic carrier bags are used in the UK each year. Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year.
- Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose.
- All types of plastic are recyclable.
- Over 50% of litter found on UK beaches in 2008 was plastic litter, an increase of more than 120% since 1994.
- 75% of post consumer plastic waste is sent to landfill.
(Plastic facts from Plastic Free UK)
Now I am not usually one to jump up and down about being green, I wouldn’t call myself an eco warrior and I the thought of going plastic free both in my home life and my work life scares me. However our love affair with plastic is both ruining our planet, our health and our even our mental health (with our environments filling up with plastic waste) and I think that this is something we can all take action on.
Being green at home for me is about the small things… I try to make plastic free choices and where I can’t I religiously reuse or recycle. Some of the things I have found myself doing lately are:
- I take my own reusable water bottle wherever I go
- I take my own coffee cup wherever I go
- I have lots of bags for life and have got into the habit of keeping them in the car .. as there is nothing worse that getting to the supermarket and realising you have left all the bloomin’ bags at home.
- If a cafe gives me single use plastic I take it home to reuse until it breaks and then I recycle … I have a growing collection of plastic utensils that are great for picnics and packed lunches.
- I refuse plastic straws
- I am currently trying reusable sanitary towels …. they are pretty good!! Honestly .. they are!!
- We are trialling bamboo toothbrushes as a family – will let you know how that goes
- We are learning and working out how to make eco bricks … lots of details here … ecobricks are a way of reusing plastic bottles, you basically pop all sorts of plastic waste (from plastic bags to crisp packets) into a plastic bottle and then the bottles are used for bricks.
- We are using bars of soap at home instead of liquid soap…. interestingly we found that we had a rather large stock of soap bars from christmas and birthday toiletry gifts.
All of this is relatively easy to do as an individual or a family …. but what about being green at work?? How, as a nurse, can I make greener decisions? It becomes slightly more complex as it’s not just individuals who are involved but organisations, policies, procedures, preferences, health needs and sometimes reluctant colleagues and patients. But I genuinely believe that the same principle applies … it’s about the small things. At the care home that I do bank work in se now have recycling bins in the treatment room. Recycling medicine bottles and boxes does have some challenges, you need to remove any identifying labels and rinse away any residue medication, but it really takes no time at all to be honest. I have also found myself questioning “do I really need to use that disposable plastic cup for that patient?” more often or not it’s nicer for people to drink things like movicol or dispersible paracetamol from a regular glass or cup, both of which just need rinsing out afterwards. Then there is the question of to use or not to use the demonised plastic straw …. many supplement drinks come with their own plastic straw, but again many people prefer to drink these from a glass. The supplement drink packaging can be recycled and the straw can be kept for someone who really needs to use a straw. I have found myself quietly questioning my practice re plastic straws and whilst there are some patients who really do need to use a straw to drink there are many who do not and perhaps just by asking the question “do you need a straw?” we can cut down on a small amount of single use plastic on every shift. Now I am no angel, and here is where I have a confession to make … I have often used plastic straws as stirrers for movicol or paracetamol (or other dispersible medications) …. I know, I know it’s simply wasteful and not remotely green … you will be glad to know though, dear reader, that I have stopped this practice … I now ensure I have a healthy supply of spoons before starting any medication round.
As Kermit The Frog once said .. it’s not easy being green …. and being a green nurse can be incredibly difficult, nevertheless I think that we can all make small changes to our practice and together they will make a huge difference. I firmly believe that being a nurse isn’t just about nursing the patient in front of you, it’s also about doing a little bit every day to ensure that the planet with live on is a healthy place for all.