When it comes to being sustainable, lots of us deserve a big pat on the back.
We've got our heads mostly around knowing what goes in which recycling bin. We shop sustainably when we can, be that through charity shops, vintage shops, or choosing ethical brands. Shopping local has become even more important thanks to the pandemic, and reusable tote bags are a shopping essential.
But just as the seas are filled with tonnes of microplastic, so too are our lives. Here are some of the most common places you'll find plastic that you probably don't know about, and how to replace them with eco-friendly versions.
The first bitter pill is hardest to swallow. Yes, many of us have ditched the takeaway coffee cups but there is still plastic lurking in our morning cuppa – 11.6 billion microplastics, to be exact.
Standard tea bags are traditionally made from paper filters, which in theory should be compostable. The reality is that they're woven through with a plastic filter to help maintain their shape.
But the more polluting version is the pyramid-shaped teabag, made using nylon. Research by McGill University found that in the time it takes you to steep your pyramid-shaped teabag for a cuppa, 1.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano-plastics are released into your cup.
Factor in the fact that Irish people are the second-highest drinkers of tea in the world behind Turkey, according to a 2016 Statistica survey, and we have a problem.
Many brands are already working on phasing this out: beloved Barry's Tea teabags are sealed using an oil-based plastic called polypropylene, but they've promised to replace it with a more eco-friendly option. Meanwhile, Lyons has removed plastics from their packs of 40, 80 and 160 teabags.
There are some tea companies that are already using plastic-free teabags, such as Pukka, but the easiest way to cut out plastic from your cuppa is to use loose leaf tea and an infuser. You can also make up your own teabags by using plastic-free ones, such as from Bird & Blend Tea Co.
If you're a die-hard Barry's Tea fan, don't worry. Following a campaign to get the company to go plastic-free, the beloved brand has put plans in place to create 100% compostable plant-based teabags.
I know, yeah, I'm as shocked as you.
Beloved by children and adults alike, chewing gum is one of our oldest vices – spanning from the ancient tree sap chicle humans chewed on thousands of years ago. In 2007, a 6,000-year-old wad of gum was found in Finland, made from birch bark tar.
Fast forward to today, and chewing gum is mostly made with a polymer – a type of plastic made from oil – that leaves it non-digestible and water-insoluble, so no matter how much you chew on it, it will not break down.
The main type of plastic used is called polyisobutylene, a synthetic version of chicle that is also used in the production of inner tubes. This gives it its soft and pliable texture that makes it perfect for munching on.
Many brands have worked to offer an eco-friendly version of the popular sweet treat, and True Gum is one such company. Founded in 2017 by four friends, the company uses sap from gum trees grown in the Central-American jungle, and their gum is totally plastic-free, vegan and biodegradable.
Supermarket chain Iceland has also brought back non-plastic chewing gum made from chicle, and made headlines when it launched its new range. Something to chew on, right?
It should be obvious to all of us that envelopes with see-through windows to display your name and address contain plastic, but making sure your snail mail is eco-friendly can be a bit more difficult.
It turns out that most self-sealing and peel-and-seal envelopes contain plastic, due to the use of glue in the seal – which contains synthetic latex.
Of course, there's little we can do to stop larger companies or businesses sending us letters in envelopes containing plastic, but there are some eco-friendly swaps you can make for yourself, whether it's a lovingly written letter to a friend or a note to your bank you're sending.
Ideal Envelopes have a range of "eco padded" envelopes available on their website that promise to be "Completely recyclable, compostable and biodegradable". Even better? They come in a range of bright colours like orange and red, so you can add some personality to your post!