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How Did We Live Before Plastics?

Mass produced plastic has only been around since the 1950s, and yet there is already 7.9 billion tons of plastic in landfill or in the environment, and another 3.1 billion tons that is currently being used.

Plastic is around so much it’s hard to imagine how to live without it. Grocery shops sell products that are wrapped in packaging, from fruits and vegetables to toiletries, from pasta and rice to crips and biscuits; to remain fresh these products are wrapped in single-use plastic that will get thrown away the minute the product has been consumed. So how did we live a century ago, when plastic wasn’t everywhere?

We had alternatives: packaging was generally glass, paper or cardboard. When going shopping, people would bring their own bags to carry groceries, and meat, fish and cheese was purchased fresh from the counter, and wrapped in paper. We used metal or glass to transport liquids and items such as crockery and cutlery were washed and reused.

Our lifestyle was different. Meals were eaten at home or in restaurants, the concept of take-away wasn’t developed as it is today, so there wasn’t a need for disposable crockery and cutlery, or plastic containers to carry the food to its destination. We reused things instead of throwing them away. Nappies and period products were made of cloth and could be washed, clothes were mended to be used longer and appliances were repaired.

Arguably, it was easier in those days, as we didn’t know what we were missing. Now, to get anything plastic-free seems like more of a challenge.

However, small steps can be achieved, by bringing a metal water bottle to be refilled, carrying a reusable coffee cup, cooking meals at home and using a lunchbox to consume meals on the go for example.

More and more shops also provide the possibility to buy staple food from refill stations, as well as cleaning products and toiletries. With growing awareness from consumers, but also governments and companies, more and more possibilities will be offered, that will allow us to progressively go back to a life where plastic isn’t omnipresent.


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