4. Make an eco-swap

This challenge is all about making better choices when we buy things. Even small changes can make a big difference to the amount of CO2 and waste we create, and to our impact on habitats and species. By stopping and thinking about the effects of different products, we can start to reduce the damage our everyday purchases do to our Ocean.

2.5 billion single use coffee cups, 7.7 billion plastic bottles of water, 2.5 million tons of plastic packaging, 745 miles of cling film and 11 billion wet wipes. These are the staggering estimates of some of the things we use once and then throw away.

Our Earth’s resources are finite and yet we use more and more each year. The fossil fuels we use to transport, process and make products, contribute to climate change. Climate change is altering the temperature and chemistry of our Oceans, which in turn can harm the species that live in them.

When we mine, harvest or grow these resources it can mean marine habitats are damaged. This can be directly such as by trawling the bottom of sea beds or indirectly such as through pollution from industry and agriculture that may find its way from the land into water ways.

The waste produced from our everyday products can cause significant harm to our Oceans and of course we are now all aware of the impact of plastic waste. 

Scientists predict that plastic takes around 1000 years to decompose if indeed it ever does, which means the plastic bottle or plastic cutlery you used for lunch and threw away will be here longer far longer than you! Unlike other natural materials that compost or will eventually break down in the ocean, plastics do not fully decompose and instead break up into smaller and smaller pieces. Removing or reducing single use plastics is a simple and easy way to reduce your carbon footprint and to also lessen the impact of plastic waste on the Oceans. In the UK we send much of our waste to other countries and when this is not dealt with properly plastic waste has been left to escape into the environment and into the sea. We have all seen the sad pictures of the effects on marine life with animals eating or getting entangled in plastic.

But it’s not just single use plastics that create waste and use energy needlessly – other single use items made from card or paper such as paper straws still have an impact on our environment and create litter. If we  REUSE items it significantly reduces our carbon footprint and reduces the amount of resources we use. (Buying less stuff in the first place also helps!)

If you drink beverages on the go – then a reusable drinks cup could be a good eco-swap

Here are some eco-swaps you might like to try 

  • Use a reusable water bottle, coffee cup, sandwich wrap or small reusable bags to put your veg and fruit in when shopping instead of single use
  • Use reusable wipes instead of wet wipes
  • Make some cakes, biscuits and lollies at home instead of buying packaged items (swapping home made for packaged shop items)
  • Instead of buying a cheap plastic toy save your money to get something longer lasting and that you really using.
  •  Swap plastic wrapped items for non or less packaged items. Card and paper are more easily composted but beware plastic coated card. 
  • Instead of buying new items to make your eco-swaps check your cupboards first. You may have a glass or plastic bottle you can fill up as your reusable water bottle, you may be able to make your own vegetable and fruit bags and sandwich wraps from left over cotton. Small changes can make a big impact over time – and inspire others!

What do I need? 

  • Imagination and a can do attitude! Be inventive! And take time to read about the impacts of different products.
  • Try to reuse – so if you do not have a reusable shopping bag then have a look around for an old t-shirt that you could turn into one. If you are doing a beach clean you can try making our mini-beach clean bag out of a broken umbrella! 
  • Repairing a broken bike, skateboard or anything else you use might take a bit of your time but it means that you can continue reusing.
  • Use an old towel to make some reusable wipes, ask around and see if anyone has a spare reusable they no longer need.

How long will it take?

Making an eco-swap can be a one off change or can be a complete change in lifestyle.  Making eco-swaps is a change in how you use and buy things. You are asking, “Do I really need this thing and is it worth the damage to the environment? Can I reuse it and what happens to it at the end of its life?” These are good questions to ask about all the stuff we consume!

Where can I do this challenge?

The best place to start is at home! But you will find that you can gently introduce changes to your workplace, school or any sports or social groups you attend. Talk positively about the changes you have made to inspire others.

Things to think about…

If you have any single use plastic items such as straws and bags use these up and reuse as many times as possible rather than simply throwing out.

Remember that substituting one single use item with another still means that you are using resources and energy, items that can be reused are best whether it’s bags or straws or reusable make-up pads. There are lots of reusable products on the web but you can also try to make you own e.g bags/pads.

Beware greenwashing! Just because something says it is made from Bamboo for example doesn’t mean it is a better choice – some processes involve lots of chemicals and although there are claims that plant based plastics are biodegradable this is usually under specific conditions which are not found in the marine environment. Finding the best product can be confusing but do what you can with the information you find. Read our blog post about biodegradable plastic.

Can you swap and share rather than buy new? Overall if you use less stuff you are doing well! 

Carrying a reusable water bottle is a simple eco-swap and can be refilled safely even during the Corona Virus pandemic

Want to do more?

Eco-swapping items is just the start. Think about swapping your energy supplier for a green energy supplier, swapping your car journey for a journey by foot or by bike. Swapping a holiday abroad with a holiday closer to home.

Think about chemicals in products: Chemicals in everyday products such as sunscreen can cause damage in our oceans as can phosphates in detergents so learn more about Ocean friendly products. You can find out why chemicals in everyday products affect our oceans.

If you eat fish, think about the types you eat – are they sustainable or can you make a swap? Check out the MCS good fish guide – or try our alternative challenge.

All the well known environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will have advice on their websites about living more sustainably but also check out sustainable living sites such as Sustainable(ish) with Jen Gale and the Planet Aware Facebook page.

Learn about the Circular Economy from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 

Write to suppliers and ask why you can’t get replacement parts or repair your broken items. Ask if they can they reduce their packaging. Find out if you can get involved in your nearest Repair Cafe.

Singer song-writer Glenn Koppany wrote a song about refilling your water bottle! You can hear it here – along with a video we made in Ventnor. Sing along – it is very catchy!