Until we consciously think about how much plastic we use, do we realise how much that actually is? From the wheelbarrows on the yard to the wrapping around our hay, can we make changes to reduce plastic use?
What makes plastic so bad?
Plastic in its synthetic form is a material that contains polymers; these give plastic its name and have the properties to be moulded and hardened into particular objects and designs. You can see the appeal; plastic is a versatile substance that is inexpensive to produce and may allow an item to be used for many years to come. However, the majority of items made from plastic today are single-use, disposable and of poor longevity, quickly filling up our rubbish bins and landfill sites.
Plastics break down, but some can take hundreds of years to do so, and even thousands of years for others. Over the period it takes for the plastic to complete this process, microplastics, which are tiny fragments of plastic, are leaked into the environment alongside the chemicals that have contributed to the making of the plastic. These seep into the surrounding environment, causing contamination and environmental toxicity; this can be through the ingestion of water and food, particles in the air and absorbed through the skin, causing harmful effects.
The methods needed to make plastic come from organic matter, which includes some fossil fuels; coal, crude oil and carbon, to name a few. Using these in the production chain contributes to our reliance on fossil fuels, causing an increasingly unstable climate and steering us away from sustainability.
There is some form of plastic in nearly everything we pick up around the yard, so what are the alternatives?
Bottles or Bars
Did you know that over 520 MILLION shampoo bottles are thrown out and end up in UK landfill sites each year? That is just in shampoo bottles! Shampoo, soap and conditioning bars are gaining momentum and starting to pop up in more commercialised ways. It makes sense, right? Why waste packaging and finances when a product has its own container? Bars are zero waste and bio-degradable, and any packaging they come in will generally be compostable.
Bottled products commonly have 'aqua' listed as their first (meaning main) ingredient, water! The majority of the water content in these products is 80% and higher, making a solid bar much more financially friendly as they can last three times as long with a higher volume of product.
Have you ever read the ingredients list and failed to understand half of what is listed? Forgetting that the skin is the largest organ is our biggest mistake, and that too goes for the horses. Products we put on our skin are absorbed into the body, just as it is absorbed into theirs. Chemicals such as parabens, sulphates, and silicone are commonly found in grooming products and fly sprays. Do you know if they are any good for your horse? They really are not!
Ingredients such as Aloe Vera, essential oils like Lavender, Orange and Peppermint, and Calendula are just a few examples of what can come straight from mother nature and into a product. Usually free from the harsh chemicals that may irritate and have a negative effect on your horse, naturally made products are a better option for your horse and don't come with an environmental price tag. A good rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients, the better!
Pretty much everything comes in some form of packaging, so consumers making mindful purchases go a long way in making your feelings felt in the collective consumer chain. The producer will only provide what the consumer continues to buy.
It is not always easy, but consider avoiding certain types of packaging and wastefully packaged products that are not biodegradable and harm the environment, such as the notorious plastic bag. Opt for reusable packaging such as refillable sacks, bags and bottles to avoid single-use plastic. Packaging made from organic matter is classed as biodegradable, and it can be composted if you choose not to reuse it, whilst cardboard and paper from sustainable sources is the most environmentally friendly option.
When making your next purchase, consider what materials are used in the product, and going one further, how is the product manufactured - ethically and sustainably?
A recent trend is upcycling, so why not apply this to things around the yard, giving items a new lease of life? Buying second-hand, fixing something or purchasing for longevity is an excellent way to prevent waste. We all want the best of the best for our horses; tack, equipment, and clothing. Purchasing good-quality items do not need to come at an environmental cost. If anything, they can bring along some benefits you were not expecting!
Phasing out the use of plastics may seem like a mammoth task, but little changes in how we choose to use things and what we as the consumer choose to purchase can go a long way in doing our bit toward a sustainable future.