Plastic bag holding one use plastics

10 Easy Plastic Swaps

Plastic Free July may be over, but the need to reduce our plastic usage is still going. WWF says that 130,000 tonnes of plastic end up in our waterways and oceans yearly. Plus, the average person is now eating 70,000 microplastics a year! It’s a pretty scary reality.

So! Why not consider these easy (and often cute) swaps?

It can be pretty overwhelming trying to change everything all at once. Focus on one thing every month, then move on to another! Every little swap still has big impacts! We are all on a journey, and big changes take time. Be kind to yourself.

Swap One: Plastic Straws

Lately, straws have been all over the media. But, it’s because 2.47 billion plastic straws end up in landfill. Straws are so light, once they’re dropped, they can easily blow into waterways. That’s why we are seeing so many horror stories like the poor turtles with straws lodged in their nostrils.

Swap: The best alternative is not using a straw at all! But, if you prefer straws, look into the alternatives! Consider a glass, bamboo, stainless steel, paper, silicone or even pasta straw!

plastic rubbish washed up on shore

Swap Two: Cling Wrap

Cling wrap is often used once and thrown away. It’s difficult to recycle, picks up a lot of bacteria and sea life often mistake it as food.

Swap:  So many options! Instead of wrapping leftovers, put them in a container instead! We knew we saved those takeaway containers for something. You can also buy Beeswax Wraps or Vegan Reusable Wraps in heaps of cute patterns! Both can even be composted at the end of their life, winning!

Sandwich in metal reusable tin

PS: You can get this awesome container from The Shop.

Swap Three: Coffee Cups

It’s no secret that Australian’s love their coffee. If all the coffee cups we used each year were lined up, it would stretch around the world, twice!! Australian’s are throwing away around 1 billion disposable coffee cups every year.

Swap: Buy a reusable coffee cup! There are so many cute designs, different sizes and different materials available. You can even use a mug you already own. Or, make yourself a coffee before you leave home to avoid the plastic, and spending the extra money.

We’re lucky here at UNE, Café Life uses commercially compostable materials for just about all of their prepared food and drinks packaging. However, reusable is still the best option, so take your own mug to Café Life and get your drink 0.50c cheaper! Who doesn’t love saving?

Swap Four: Drink Bottles

In 2017, a million plastic water bottles were being bought around the world every minute. It can take 1,000 years for a plastic water bottle to degrade. Even then, they stay in the environment forever as microplastics.

Swap: A reusable drink bottle. If you are like me, you have a cupboard overflowing with free water bottles from events. Otherwise, buy yourself one that you enjoy bringing with you. It will not only save the environment but also your wallet. UNE also has free drink bottle refill stations all around campus (including one outside our office).

Swap Five: Shopping Bags

As we know most states around Australia have introduced a ‘plastic bag ban’. Yet, most supermarkets still sell plastic bags for 15c. Plastic bags are still one of the top five items found in beach and river clean-ups. Often they are consumed whole by turtles, dolphins, and whales. 😢

Swap: To combat this, look into stronger and more durable reusable bags. There are so many different types, materials, and patterns available.

To help you decide which bag is best for you, Canstar Blue has developed this helpful guide.

My advice is to have a few in different places like your handbag and the backseat of your car. If you do end up with a 15c plastic bag that is now unusable? Drop it into a Redcycle bin (Armidale has them at Coles and Woolworths) for it to be recycled into something else!

plastic bags

Swap Six: Produce Bags

Once you’re looking, you realise just how much plastic surrounds a weekly grocery shop! Plastic produce bags are something else that can be sometimes quite unnecessary. Do your bananas, that have their own protective skin, really need a plastic bag?

Swap: For the things that do need a bag, buy some mesh produce bags! You can find them super cheap on eBay. Then just wash and reuse! If you do forget and grab a plastic one, you can drop it into Redcycle as well.

Swap Seven: Napkins

Paper napkins are great because they’re compostable. There is still a lot of trees being cut down to supply everyone with those napkins though! And, some napkins are coated in a light layer of plastic for strength. 😖

Swap: Cloth napkins! They look fancy, chuck them in the wash with your tea towels to reuse, and they’re only a few dollars from Spotlight. Win, win, and win in our books.

Swap Eight: Toothbrush

In Australia, over 30 million toothbrushes end up in landfill each year. Toothbrushes have plastic handles, bristles, heads, and packaging that will never biodegrade.

Swap: Biodegradable toothbrushes! A lot of companies are now creating toothbrushes made out of natural materials such as bamboo. Better yet, you don’t need to search the internet for one. Both Coles and Woolworth’s stock bamboo toothbrushes!

bamboo toothbrush

Swap Nine: Tea Bags

The unassuming tea bag actually contains plastic! Shocking I know. Plastic is used to seal the tea bag shut, and a lot of the big brands are using it!

Swap: We know how convenient the humble tea bag is, so just google your favourite brand and see if they offer a plastic-free option! As a recent convert though, don’t dismiss loose leaf tea. 100% plastic-free and it tastes so much better! You can brew it in a pot, use a metal diffuser, or even reusable tea bags!

Swap Ten: Pads and Tampons

An individual uses approximately 11,000 disposable pads and/or tampons in their lifetime. Multiply that by everyone on the planet who gets their period and you’re looking at around 200,000 tonnes of waste per year!

Swap: You can now buy reusable pads and panty liners! They come in different sizes, shapes, absorbency, and patterns! For the tampon users, try out a menstrual cup! For more information on menstrual cups, head to our last blog post.

Being more eco-friendly can be seriously daunting, but most of the time it’s just about reusing what you already have!

However, if you’re a sucker for cute patterns like me, head to The Shop located just next Safety and Security at our Armidale campus. They are stocked with a huge eco-friendly products, and might even inspire you to find more swaps!

Lastly, we wanted to give a little shout out to our friends at Tune!FM who have just started creating a range of amazing blogs that take a deep dive into environmentally conscious living!! Check them out here!


Our team are here to support students online and in person. If you’re struggling, please reach out.  We are here to make sure your UNE experience is the best. You’re never alone.

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