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The best environmental advice I’ve ever had

Many years ago, I was seeing a friend – Cynthia Edwards, the permaculture teacher – off at Heathrow airport on her return to the US. We stopped off at a coffee shop while we waited for her plane to board. I sugared my coffee and reached for the default stirring implement – a small plastic wand with a slotted paddle at the end, hundreds of which were sticking out of a tub on the counter. Gently, she put her hand on my arm and gave me the best piece of green lifestyle advice I’ve ever had; “Don’t use plastic if you can use something else.” She picked up a metal fork, turned it upside down and stirred my coffee with the handle.

That was back in 1992, and that sentence has popped up in my head every time I’ve picked up a plastic artefact ever since. It’s a stunning piece of advice, and universally applicable; you want to buy a shirt? Look for a pure cotton one; avoid polycotton or microfibre unless the functionality it offers outweighs the environmental cost of the material, or can’t be achieved with a cotton garment. Ditto with any consumer item. If you’re looking for a radio or hi-fi, favour the one with a metal chassis rather than plastic. A kitchen knife? Get one with a wooden handle (as another friend said, “What’s the point of having a blade that will eventually rust away attached to a handle that will last forever?”).

Try it. Every time you pick up a plastic item or one with plastic components, think to yourself, “Don’t use plastic if you can use something else.” Ever so subtly, but ever so effectively, it’ll change your life.