Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money. – Indian Proverb

An estimated 12.7 tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. All of our rubbish from plastic bags to microbeads, more bags and everything in between, end up in our oceans having a detrimental effect on marine life and our environment. Plastic is travelling far and wide, filling our oceans to the brim and even ending up in far-reaching places such as in arctic ice!

According to the Surfers Against Sewage organisation, each mile of UK beaches are littered with 150 plastic bottles. They also state that ‘plastics consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied’.

But How is This Affecting our Marine Life?

It’s upsetting once you begin to learn how our actions regarding plastic are effecting marine life. Did you know that sea turtles mistake plastic bags for their prey: jellyfish? Research by the Center for Biological Diversity has proved that turtles go as far as to seek out plastic bags. Once a bag is consumed, turtles either choke to death or die of hunger. This is because the bag clogs their stomach. As plastic bags do not decompose, it’s free to be eaten by another poor turtle again. And the cycle repeats itself.

Studies suggest that plastic pollution washed up on beaches is affecting the reproduction of sea turtles.

Seabirds are also affected by plastic, and each year hundreds of thousands ingest it. This reduces the storage volume of the stomach. The result is starvation. Shockingly, it’s estimated that 60 percent of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic. But of course – this number is expected to increase by 99 percent by 2050!

Fish ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tonnes of plastic each year. Not only does this cause intestinal injury and death but plastic also gets transferred up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals, working their way up to humans who enjoy seafood. Marine mammals also ingest and get tangled up in plastic, including whales who are often found dead after taking in lots of plastic.

What Can We Do Right Now to Start Making a Change?

These straightforward tips are easy to implement. You don’t have to do them all. Taking on one new habit at a time might be a less overwhelming way to approach it. Becoming more conscious and making one small change still makes a positive difference.

1. Go for real rather than fake

Synthetic Christmas trees are not as environmentally friendly as real Christmas trees. If you can, getting a real tree will smell better and you will be able to recycle it when Christmas is over. For those who already have a synthetic tree, keep using it for as long as possible to keep it from becoming landfill.

2. Reusable wrapping paper can look really great

Brown paper, newspapers and cloth are all options for wrapping your presents. These options can all look aesthetically pleasing. You can also search for companies that do reusable wrapping paper for a more eco-friendly version of your favourite sparkly wrapping paper.

3. For tea lovers cosying up by the fire, buy Loose Leaf Tea instead of teabags

Teabags may be quick and convenient, but preparing a nice steaming teapot of loose leaf tea is a better option. Everyone loves a good cup of tea, especially here in the UK. We take pride in our love for tea. But plastic in your tea? Teabags are sealed using polypropylene, a plastic, to stop them from popping open in the box, or your mug.

Let me repeat: there is plastic in your favourite cup of tea. As these tea bags are not 100% biodegradable, they leave microplastics in the soil when you compost them. There are plastic-free teabags, but you might want to switch to loose leaf tea.

4. Cover your left-overs with foil instead of cling wrap

When covering all of your Christmas dinner left-overs, use foil instead. Foil is recyclable, whereas cling wrap is not. If you need to cover something in the microwave or fridge, then you can use a plate instead of reaching for the cling wrap.

5. Use a reusable bag for your Christmas shopping

At Christmas time we all buy way too much food. This can mean unnecessarily buying lots of plastic bags to carry this all home. Use a reusable bag or box for your Christmas shopping!

6. Not All Glitter is Created Equal

As pretty as tinsel and sprinkling glitter everywhere at Christmas is, these are actually made of plastic that’s damaging to our oceans because of its small size. Plankton and shellfish can ingest it as it works its way into our food chain. The good news is that there are eco-friendly, bio-degradable glitter so that you can still shine and sparkle with the knowledge that you’re not causing any harm!

There are natural alternatives for decorations instead of plastic baubles and decorations. Get creative with paper chains made from up-cycled waste material or turn to the woodlands and see what natural materials you can find to create your own decorations. No more plastic baubles!

7. Buy drinks in non-plastic packaging

Try to buy drinks in non-plastic packaging. If it’s unavoidable and your favourite drink is bottled in plastic, buying bigger rather than smaller bottle is better. Avoids using plastic cups, plates and utensils when all the family come round.

Will you be adopting any of these tips this Christmas? Let us know which ones you’re going to try?

Written by Jess Burman

Wellbeing writer

BA (Honours) in Writing