Tackling Plastic Pollution: When You Can’t Reuse It, Refuse It

March 3, 2021

This article is part of the Consumer Council of Fiji’s World Consumer Rights Day campaign themed “Eliminating our plastic footprint”. The 2021 WCRD campaign is focussing on 7Rs: Rethink, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle, Repair, Restore and Replace. This 7-week campaign aims to help influence consumers to re-evaluate their consumption habits to minimise plastic use, recycle plastic where possible and demand more sustainable alternatives from businesses and governments.

 Is it necessary to refuse plastic?

Over the years, consumers have become over-reliant on single-use and disposable plastic products. Whether it be using plastic plates, forks and spoons for a family get-together or rushing off to work and buying food or snacks on the go, we fail to realize that majority of the plastics were are surrounded by, cannot often be reused.

 Since single-use plastics such as plastic bags, bottles, straws and bottle caps are often designed for use and throw, its non-biodegradable features take years to disintegrate thus, it contaminates our soil and water in the process. These plastics are gradually broken down into smaller pieces of plastics called microplastics which is a major source of pollutant in the ocean, and practically impossible to remove. It is expected to be present in the environment for hundreds and thousands of years with severe effects on the marine live as well as human health.

Did you know?

Right now, there are more microplastics in our waters than there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy? …and just so you know, there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way Galaxy!
Source: UN News 

These microplastics are omnipresent in our daily lives: from washing products to beauty products – its presence is almost everywhere.  Research has shown that microplastics have been found in nearly all possible natural environments – even in the air that we breathe in.

How can we refuse plastics?

Refusing goes hand in hand with reducing plastic. This is because consumers can cut their plastic consumption by refusing to accept products which has plastic associated with it. While this may be a small step for consumers, it definitely will have a big impact in the long run. Here are ways we can all make a difference.  Refuse;

  1. Anything that is not recyclable or is difficult to recycle. Check the labels to see if the products you are buying contains polystyrene or if can be recycled.
  2. Single-Use Plastics: disposable bottles, cups, lids and flatware are designed to be used once and thrown away, going straight into the waste stream. Bring your own refillable water bottle and an insulated coffee cup with you. Take reusable metal flatware to picnics.
  3. Plastic Cutlery: usually at family gatherings, most consumers opt to use plastic plates, plastic forks and knives as it is convenient, and takes less efforts to clean as it can be tossed in the trash.
  4. Paper napkins: use washable cloth napkins. Use cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues.
  5. Disposable diapers and wipes: washable cloth diapers and wipes have been used since time immemorial, and owning a washing machine and dryer eases the process. Disposable diapers are difficult to dispose of, as they do not biodegrade easily or quickly. Consider using them just for overnight and for traveling with your baby.
  6. Refusing products with excessive packagingA large portion of plastic pollution is derived from the packaging of products that we buy. Therefore, consumers must make smarter and sustainable choices by turning down such plastic products such as straws, cutlery and individual food products wrapped in unnecessary plastic. By reducing our demand for plastics at this level, retailers and suppliers will get the message and make changes for the better.

 Want to refuse plastic but don’t know where to start?

Here is a list of items that you can refuse today: plastic straws, plastic water bottles, plastic shopping bags, plastic produce bags, plastic/styrofoam takeaway containers, plastic wrap, plastic cutlery, plastic cup, and cotton swabs with plastic stems.

How can businesses promote to refusal of plastic?

Businesses which produce products that have plastic associated to it can provide consumers with better options and incentives for recycling their plastic products. This may be an effective approach to addressing plastic pollution at a household level, while at the same time, reducing the overall plastic production. Some examples of such incentives include encouraging recycling by rewarding consumers who are putting an effort to recycle plastic bottles.

Additionally, businesses can also experiment with their products and opt for raw materials which are alternative to plastics and are environmentally friendly. These include going paper based, wax based, bamboos, wood, natural fibre and stainless steel, to name a few. However, this requires an open mindset and a commitment to tackle plastic pollution. This means that businesses may have to invest in a research team or venture out into new product ideas which guarantees minimal plastic pollution.

For any consumer issues, or more information on our campaign against plastics, consumers are encouraged to contact the Consumer Council of Fiji on our toll-free number 155 or email complaints@consumersfiji.org  Alternatively, complaints can be lodged via the Consumer Council of Fiji Mobile App available for download on Google Play Store or visit any of our offices in Suva, Lautoka or Labasa.