• Reuters


Faced with shops full of food and other goods swathed in plastic, families across the world are trying to reduce its use and recycle wherever possible to lower its impact on the environment.

People from Yokohama to Athens are trying to play their part as the war on plastics becomes a hot political topic and governments work to outlaw single-use items such as drinking straws and cotton buds.

Eight million tons of plastic — bottles, packaging and other waste — are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, the United Nations Environment Programme said in December.

The impact hit home for Eri Sato, 32, when she lived in Canada and volunteered to clear up debris swept across the ocean from Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region in March 2011.

“It was the first time I realized how plastic waste pollutes the oceans and beaches all over the world. I think there’s no escaping the plastic waste,” said Sato, who now lives in Yokohama.

How to cut down and eventually eradicate it is the question.

“Since plastic is dominating our daily life, it would be very difficult to stop using it. But if someone somehow makes it like a habit, we think we could stop buying altogether,” said Alexandra Patrikiou, 39, in Athens. Patrikiou says she works hard to recycle paper and glass and buy recycled products.

Her comments were echoed by Brandy Wilbur in Wenham, Massachusetts.

“When shopping, I do try to buy products with minimal packaging, but that is challenging too. Everything is packaged,” the 44-year-old said.

While governments and retailers started clamping down on plastic bags through bans and small fees more than a decade ago, the focus has now increasingly turned to eradicating throwaway items such as straws and take-out food and drink packaging.

“It is really the small, single-use plastics that stick around for a long time and leach into everything,” said Audrey Gan, 31, in Singapore.

“If we are really craving for a drink of bubble tea, we bring our own containers to avoid the plastic cup and straw they come in.”

Like other families, the Joshi family in Mumbai has already started taking measures such as using bamboo toothbrushes, unpackaged shampoo bars rather than bottles, and taking containers to restaurants to bring home any leftovers.

“I carry my own spoon, fork and stainless steel straw to avoid single use plastic cutlery,” Mugdha Tanmay Joshi, 32, said.

For some, it is a personal battle, overcoming the preconceptions of others as they try to do their bit.

“They say ‘are you part of this green movement.’ … They don’t understand it. Also not using plastic bags for vegetables is considered disgusting, they hate it … but I still do it,” said Tatiana Schnittke, 39, in Jaffa, Israel.