Jessica Bines, 16, from Watlington, gives her top tips for cutting waste.

DID you know it takes 100-1,000 years for a plastic carrier bag to biodegrade?

As many of us unconsciously acquire piles of bags at home, we forget the amounts of oil and other non-recyclable materials involved in their production.

We are clogging up landfill with plastic and non-recyclables just because we forget or don’t want to carry a reusable bag with us.

Since the introduction of the plastic bag tax, usage how gone down, but we could still do much better.

Fabric bags retain their shape and last multiple uses compared to the flimsy bags given out by shops.

We also need to stop buying produce which is unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, and thankfully there are now hundreds of new opportunities as shops act against plastic.

Many stores across Oxfordshire offer refill services as well as having opportunities for people to bring their own containers, reducing the need for packaging – especially on non-perishable items such as pasta, nuts and dried goods.

And, over the last few decades, recycling rates have been rising.

In 2000, data showed recycling rates of 12.3 per cent, and by 2016, rates had risen dramatically to 42.9 per cent.

This shows how society had made conscious effort to recycle and make the right decisions, and hopefully by 2020 these numbers can be even higher.

However, recent studies have shown that recycling rates have plateaued and waste rates have increased.

This should not be ok – landfill sites should be decreasing in size and need.

Therefore, as a society we need to do more to make a greater impact.

Maximising household recycling.

This is the number one tip for residents in Oxfordshire.

Even though we are already quite successful with our amounts of recycling compared to other counties, we can do more.

Why not have both a recycling bin and a waste bin in your kitchen, garage and bathroom so there is always an option around your home.

Food waste is another major worry in today’s society.

Did you know that 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables are thrown away before they even leave the farm?

This is a hugely shocking figure, especially as it is still unknown how much is still thrown away when it is too late to eat.

People often dismiss misshapen and oddly-sized produce as they don’t think that it is suitable and would rather a ‘perfect-looking’ carrot or potato.

These are the types of things that should not be thrown away – once it’s prepared, it all tastes the same.

What about making jars of jams or pot of soups?

Also, instead of throwing out-of-date produce into landfill, use the food bins provided by the council or use it to create compost for your garden or allotment.

Household food waste makes up 70 per cent of the UK’s post-farm-gate total but this figure certainly should not be this high.

By reducing the amount of food waste you produce, each household could save up to £700 per year as well as making less waste for the environment.

Don’t over buy!

Love your food lists and meal plans: they help cut shopping bills and reduce the amount of excess food in your cupboards.

If we only buy what we actually eat, we will not have to throw away expired food.

Think about batch-cooking and freezing extra portions: this saves excess produce and means you will always have something available to defrost – saves you from ordering that unnecessary takeaway and all the plastic that comes with it.

Think LOAF when out buying food: Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly, Fairly traded.

Is it local, organic, animal friendly and/ or fair trade?

Just by being aware and conscious, you can have an impact on the environment.

Try to eat seasonally when possible and make use of your leftovers – the fewer food miles required, the less CO2 used in preparation and delivery.

Also, try to buy locally: Oxfordshire is covered in farmland with plenty of fresh produce available to buy and eat throughout the year.

Local foods mean more nutrients and less packaging: better for you and the environment.

We, as a community, are responsible for our future and we are the only ones who can make a difference.

The Earth is our only home and if we continue to disregard the little things, they will eventually build up to a mess that we will no longer be able to solve…

Remember to always carry an extra bag with you to the shops and only purchase what is necessary.

Jessica Bines is a member of the National Citizen Service (NCS) group. For their phase three Social Action plan they are raising awareness about recycling and food waste. As part of this, they are trying to set up a link between Costa Coffee and Olio as a way to reduce food waste and redistribute surplus food to those in need.